There’s a sign high on the wall of Central Oregon’s Maragas Winery that defines the word beatnik: “One who thinks and expresses freely by rejecting conventions and mainstream standards and therefore thrives on creativity and appreciates art and beauty.”
Winery owner Doug Maragas, who gave up a successful career as a trial attorney in Ohio to follow his family passion for growing grapes, is proud to be called a beatnik. He has also become quite a showman, not to mention a scientist.
I spent yesterday afternoon stomping grapes in a large tub at the Maragas Winery, a half hour’s drive north of Bend in the shadow of Smith Rock. Guitar master Lino and his band provided background music as I lifted first one foot, then the other, and aerobically stomped skins and stems, splashing grape juice up my legs and onto my shorts.
Inside the winery’s big red production barn, Doug’s wife Gina, partner Walt Freund, organic farmer Gary Bishop and a slew of other supporters were pouring tastes of wine and local beer for hundreds of party goers. Chef Kristin Yurdin of Terrebonne Depot cooked ahi-tuna tacos, pulled-pork sandwiches and other delicious food as children frolicked on the nearby lawn. If Doug Maragas has his way, and he usually does, the Grape Stomp will be an annual event.
For the next two weeks, through September 18, he’ll be bottling the 2006 vintage of Swingin’ Zin, his popular zinfandel. In fact, he’s asking for community assistance: Wine aficionados can spend the day bottling the fermented grape juice, and their $15 fee will get them lunch and a signed bottle that they themselves fill. The winery website, www.maragaswinery.com, offers details.
But Doug’s ultimate vision for the Maragas future lies in sparkling wines. A four-year experiment, which began soon after he bought his 40-acre Jefferson County farm, supports that plan.
In 2006, Maragas planted 40 traditional varieties of European wine grapes on a 2 1/2-acre section of the farm. Despite a widespread belief that grapes would not succeed on the High Desert, despite winter and spring weather that challenged farmers, even though he left his plants unprotected from the elements, he achieved a great survival rate among the vines.
The most successful grapes were muscats (four varietals with 92% to 99% survival) and German whites (gewurztraminer 100%, riesling 97%), followed by pinot meunier (96%), pinot gris (94%), zinfandel (88%), pinot noir (81%) and chardonnay (74%).
“The traditional varietals of French champagne are pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay,” Doug said. “In Italian sparkling wine, muscat is traditionally used. Since grapes for sparkling wine are picked approximately one month early, so the sugar content is not too high for the secondary fermentation, they are a great match for the relatively shorter growing season here.”
Over the next two years, Maragas said, he will convert 20 additional acres of his farmland into vineyard and plant it with grapes to make sparkling wine, as well as the pinot gris and zinfandel which have already established his winery’s name. Eventually, Maragas said, he plans to convert additional acreage into a sustainable organic farm with the assistance of Bend’s Bishop Farm.
The grandson of a winemaker from the Grecian isle of Crete, the son of an Ohio artist whose “beatnik” design style still graces the wine labels, Maragas established his winery in Bend in 1999. Initially, he produced still wines with grapes from California’s Mendocino County; now, he is glad to be able to grow his own grapes.