November 16, 2010

Toast a glass of Rockchuck Red

At the Spokesman, when we hear the word “rockchuck” our ears naturally perk up. As founders of The Royal Rockchuck Society of Redmond, we pay attention to any potential opportunity to help the much-aligned marmot get the respect it deserves.

So when a home vintner walked in our door with a bottle of Redmond-created “Rockchuck Red,” you can bet we noticed.

While Dan Tippy, 58, has been home-brewing beer for many years, he only began dabbling in wine a few years ago. A retired soil scientist and Bureau of Land Management supervisor, Tippy was invited to join his son Patrick’s wine experiments and was soon hooked.

“There’s lots of chemistry in wine making, the grapes are different every time,” says Tippy, who opted to call his syrah-cabernet blend for the last three years “Rockchuck Red.”

“I wanted a name that said something local,” Tippy says. In a couple of years the northwest Redmond resident’s wine will get even more local. So far Tippy’s had to buy grapes in Washington State for his homemade wine but soon his 80-feet of Redmond-grown grapes will begin bearing enough fruit to ferment.

His 16-plant investment has morphed through the years, as fickle Central Oregon winters cut a wide swath through his mostly European grapes.

“I’ve probably lost 20-30 plants since I started in 2008,” he says with a rueful smile. “I probably wouldn’t have ever gotten a crop from them, they need about 180 frost-free days and we have like 90.” He’s concentrating on more French-American hybrid grapes now, varieties commonly grown in northern states like Minnesota and New York.

It’s been a steep learning curve for Tippy, who’s since joined the Winegrowners Association of Central Oregon (WACO) to better network with more experienced grape growers in the region.

“As an amateur it can be frustrating,” he says. “My wife has her eye on the rows where my grapes are in the backyard. She says when they all die she’s putting in a rose garden.”

His winemaking/grape-growing efforts have ramped up since retiring last year (“I have more time to spend with ‘the kids’”). After a visit to South America he got excited about a local grape variety there, malbec, and has planted several vines in his Redmond grape patch.

“I guess I didn’t realize how complicated it all was,” Tippy says. “I mean they give out degrees in this stuff.” His wife Tara doesn’t share his interest in the finer points of grape chemistry but she functions as his “official taste tester” and will no doubt be pressed into action when he bottles his first Redmond-grown grapes.

“There’s a lot of potential for wine-making in this area but I think the wine it produces will be very different from what most people are used to,” says Tippy. Regarding Central Oregon’s notoriously poor soil quality he adds “Some people say the more a vine suffers the better the wine but I think the better the winemaker, the better the wine!”

Tippy’s 2010 blend has not been named yet; it’s sitting in glass jugs in a cool bedroom closet right now. It’s certain it won’t be Rockchuck Red, however. That vintage has come and gone and its creator is on to bigger and better things.

-- story by Leslie Pugmire Hole

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