Lee and Vicki Mankin are on a journey, one that began with a dream 39 years ago when Lee was studying in Italy. He fell in love with vineyards and wine, recalling that his first introduction was to "Italian countryside red wines, rustic and bold." The dream was that one day he would grow wine grapes.
Like the process of wine-making itself, the dream took time to age and didn't start to become a reality until he retired from dentistry in 1997.
After searching throughout the Pacific Northwest for the right piece of land, he found it 10 years ago in Oregon's Rogue Valley. The acreage was on Carpenter Hill, a historic landmark in Medford. It had been a pear orchard since the turn of the century and had the qualities Lee sought. The steep-facing southern slope with well-drained soil would help to concentrate the flavor of the fruit, and Medford has the perfect climate to encourage the Merlot vines to produce an excellent wine grape -- the diurnal effect of cold nights and extremely warm days helps ripen the grapes.
Finding the land was only the beginning, and the easiest part. Next came the planting. Employing sustainable farming practices that earned them their L.I.V.E. and Salmon Safe certification three years ago, Lee and Vicki began planting the vineyard. With the help of their vineyard hand, Hector, the first five acres of Merlot vines were planted and the dream was officially becoming reality.
They now have 42 planted acres and their grapes are recognized as of the highest quality. Taking the dream one step further, they have set aside some of the fruit for their own use and in 2004 they made their first wine. Since then they have made two red wines, a Merlot/Petite Sirah blend called Tango Red, and a 100 percent estate grown Petite Sirah.
"Getting the best from any vineyard takes years of study and trial and error," said Lee. "It's a life-long quest that can be very rewarding. Ours is a young vineyard and we have just begun the journey."