Meet the Winemaker: Adam Campbell of Elk Cove Vineyards

adam campbell
adam campbell

All photos by Christine Campbell.

The drive to Elk Cove was up and over low lying mountain foothills, around tight corners forested on either side with old growth trees, up and over more hills until I reached the sign out front. I turned down a narrow, gravel driveway and took in the breathtaking view. I was anticipating my interview with Adam Campbell (editor's note: no relation) of Elk Cove Vineyards for over a month.

It was a gorgeous, hot summer day on July 28th.  The Willamette Valley was experiencing a hot spell and it cast a dusty glow over the valley. Located in Gaston, Oregon, 25 miles west of Portland, Elk Cove Vineyards has been operational since 1974.  Pat and Joe Campbell, Adam’s parents, were inspired to name their vineyard "Elk Cove" after a herd of 50 elk wintered in their valley just beside their trailer/make shift home.

Elk Cove Vineyards, like most Oregon wineries, is very passionate about Pinot Noir and it makes up the majority of their wine.  I sat down with Campbell and enjoyed meeting a talented yet incredibly humble, award winning, winemaker.

Christine Campbell: Historically, what grape varieties did your parents plant?

Adam Campbell: They planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Burgundy was the model and they          liked to drink these wines.

CC: Did your family have a background in grape growing?

elk cove tasting flight
elk cove tasting flight

AC:   I actually come from a farming family. My Grandfather was a pear-farmer and my Mom grew up on that farm, working the land.

CC:  And your father was the original winemaker?

AC:  Yes, my Dad was the winemaker for 20 years and then I took over.  I grew up running around these vineyards right here.  I learned a lot from seeing their successes but also their failures.  I feel very fortunate that I can ‘mine’ those experiences for informing what I do now/today.

CC:  How many acres do you currently hold?

AC: We started out with the 200 acres we have here but only 50 acres are appropriate for grapes. We currently have 300 acres of vineyard property spread out across Mt. Richmond, Parret Mountain and the Chehalem Mountains AVA as well as the estate grapes here onsite.

CC: What do you look for when you are acquiring new vineyards?

AC: I look for different soil types and elevations. I like the differences and the diversity it leads to in the cellar. I love the Willakenzie soil that is on our estate site. I like it for the backbone of our blends. I also like working with    loess soil and Jory/volcanic clay soil.  We plant Pinot Noir on every site and I like the different expressions that the soils and elevation bring to the wine.

CC:  Have you noticed any new trends in winemaking the Willamette Valley?

AC: People are still passionate about Pinot Noir but there is now more of a focus and excitement on Chardonnay.  I am seeing more of it being planted.

CC:  I have noticed that many of the wineries are practicing sustainable growing and making an effort to reduce waste and protect the environment.

AC: It is really cool that it is a part of our culture here to be sustainable and not just in grape growing.  Elk Cove is ‘Salmon Safe’ which takes into account run-off issues, we also have a solar project that provides 50% of the energy we need. We use biodiesel in all of our trucks and tractors and    have a living wage for our employees.  Everyone here in the Willamette Valley is doing something in his or her own way.

CC: What is your current case production?

AC: We do between 35,000 and 40,000 cases a year.  I have a really great associate winemaker, Heather Perkin.  There comes a point if we go over in production, we will not be able to taste each barrel of wine.  We want to taste all the barrels so we watch to ensure we can continue to do this.

CC: When not drinking your own wine, what other wines do you enjoy?

AC:  I really love Alsatian white wines. Burgundy is still the benchmark for any Pinot Noir producer. I try to get together with friends and we all bring a great bottle from around the world to share.  I also love drinking my friends’ wine from here in Oregon.

CC: One final question, what are you most proud of?

AC: I think definitely taking over from my folks and growing the business in the same vision that my parents had for Elk Cove. We grow 90% of our grapes and I love planting. Sometimes I feel like an explorer – always trying to find that perfect location and searching out new locations.

soil - do not eat elk cove
soil - do not eat elk cove

Elk Cove Vineyards wines to try:

2013 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley – perfect with seafood.

2012 Riesling Estate – hello oysters on the half shell.

2013 Pinot Noir Rosé Willamette Valley – a warm weather must-have.

2012 Pinot Noir Five Mountain – excellent for autumn and Thanksgiving.

2012 Pinot Noir Reserve – a very special wine for a very special occasion.