"What do I do for fun? I drink wine of course!" Q&A w/ Berelyn Bales, at Echo Ridge Cellars | Oregon
Updated: Feb 1
Beginning with a distinctive vineyard site in Echo, Oregon, (elevated high above the Umatilla River to the east and Alkali Canyon to the west), as well as an uncompromising commitment to hands-on, cutting-edge farming practices, Kim and Jay Bales now farm a total of 60 estate acres at their own Firethorn Vineyard.
Echo Ridge Cellars award-winning winemaker and viticulturist, Billo Naravane MW, leans on the highly sought-after Trillium, Sunset, Riverview and Lookout blocks for their wine program. Wines that reflect the distinctive terroir of their estate vineyard site are the result of such selection and purpose.
Q | How did you end up at the winery?
A | In 2010 Jay and Kim had been interested in owning a vineyard and spending their twilight years growing grapes. Well, that romantic idea turned into a lot of work when we found a beautiful vineyard for sale in Echo, Oregon. The vineyard is 60 acres that sits on a bluff above the Umatilla River and the little historic town of Echo. We jumped in feet first making wine in 2010 and when Kim had the vision of turning an old grain elevator into a tasting room, it led to where we are today. I joined in the summer of 2012, helping to make the wine that fall and moved here full time in 2016 to be stuck in the winery ever since.
Q | What is your role?
A | I would say that I am “winery operations manager” but I do more than that. I am also in charge of the fermentation process managing the winemaking from the vineyard to bottling. When I have time, I try to help at the vineyards or in the tasting room with Kim. Besides that, we are the contact for sales, events and all else.
Q | Everyone talks about terroir. What makes yours unique?
A | The vineyard is located above the Umatilla River in Eastern Oregon. The basalt cliffs support a layer of granite and basalt silt from the Missoula floods. The top layer of the soil is wind driven loess and the grapes enjoy free draining soils and aspects suited to each clone.
Q | What do you do to keep your wines and land healthy?
A | We have surrounded ourselves with quality people. From our viticulturist to our knowledgeable labor contractor who supplies us with quality employees to work in our vineyard, we like to believe we run a first class operation. With periodic soil and leaf sampling we can monitor the needs for our plants and soil before, during and after harvest each year. For the plants during the growing season we can provide folliar applications for plant health and during the off season, adding compost to the soil is a way of having the right nutrients in the soil.
For winery practices, we keep a very clean winery. Everything is sanitized before and after use. We keep our barrels topped up as to keep the unwanted oxygen out and use argon gas to move wine during rackings. SO2 is added every 80 days to ensure the wine is clean.
Q | How many different grape varieties do you work with?
A | We work primarily Bordeaux varietals (our location and climate are similar to the Bordeaux region and we sit right near the 45th parallel). About half of the estate vineyard is Cabernet Sauvignon. We also grow Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah at the vineyard. All grapes are sourced from our 60 acre vineyard.
Q | If you use nonindigenous grapes, what is the reason?
A | We use Vitis vinifera grapes which have been used for thousands of years in Europe. Because of the small demand for North America’s indigenous grapes barely anyone actually uses them. However, they are tolerant to phylloxera so they are commonly used for rootstock and the V. vinifera is grafted to them.
Q | What is the most difficult part of the wine business?
A | For us, as a small business, the most difficult part of the wine industry is the fact that we are a three man team for the most part. So juggling marketing, sales, running the tasting room, coordinating events, managing the vineyard and producing wine in the winery can be difficult. Hopefully as we grow we will be able to outsource some of these responsibilities.
Q | What are your goals for the winery?
To be a destination. We want to be known for our great wine and tasting room atmosphere, our events and venues. Where people want to visit and buy our wine.
Q | What impact is climate change having?
A | As with all of the Northwest/West, we are now dealing with the smoke from wild fires. This problem is so new it is hard to tell what the long term effects of “smoke taint” will have on wines in the region. So far, our vineyard has not been effected as bad as most of the wine regions in western Oregon, Washington and California.
Q | Tell us something about your region or area (history, music, art, etc).
A | We are located in Eastern Oregon right along the Oregon Trail. There are several sites in and around town. Neighbouring us is also Pendleton, Oregon, known for the Pendleton Round-Up which can bring upwards of 30,000 people to visit a year.
Q | What do you eat at home with your wine?
A | We normally have a freezer full of wild game so it’s pretty standard to have elk or deer backstraps with a glass of red wine.
What do you do for fun?
A | Drink wine, of course!
All photos from Echo Ridge Instagram
Echo Ridge Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Columbia Valley | Oregon
This is an outstanding Cabernet with a classic profile. It has serious structure with notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, mint and lead pencil. The aromas are intense and completely captivating, particularly the scents of cassis that jump out of the glass. This is a very balanced wine with firm tannins and crisp acidity.
Great to pair with rich red meats, you would be hard pressed to find a better pairing for a dry aged ribeye.
Echo Ridge Cellars La Reponse 2015, Columbia Valley | Oregon
This wine offers complex aromatics of cassis, black plum, violets, blackberry, gravel, smoldering incense and espresso. The palate follows through on the aromatic complexity with notes of cases, black plum, blueberry, grilled herbs, violets, truffle, cigar tobacco, and gravel. The wine exhibits beautiful balance with lively acidity and refined tannins. The long finish echoes notes of cigar tobacco, blackberry, dark chocolate, and gravel. This wine is absolutely delicious now but it will gain in complexity over the next 6-8 years.
The noticeable tannins make this blend an excellent choice to match with steak and other red mets. Keep your seasoning simple and stick to salt and pepper.
Echo Ridge Cellars Three Blondes & A Boy, Columbia Valley | Oregon
Named for the Bales’ children, Three Blondes & A Boy is a beautiful red blend offering notes of black plum, anise, cigar tobacco and a hint of coconut on the finish.
The noticeable tannins make this blend an excellent choice to match with steak and other red mets. Keep your seasoning simple and stick to salt and pepper, let this wine be the dominant flavor you’re enjoying.