Each November we celebrate International Thomas Day. Never heard of it? Well, that's because we made it up. Its dubious founding aside, ITD is the day we celebrate the arrival of the newest vintage of Thomas Pinot noir, quite possibly the least known and most sought-after Oregon Pinot noir.
John Thomas makes roughly 600 cases of Pinot noir each vintage. He has never hosted a public event and rarely admits visitors. In 30+ years of production (he first planted the vineyard by himself in 1984), he has made wine exclusively from his tiny estate vineyard. Below, JT in the vineyard, photo by Jean Yates.
At Thomas, everything is simple, functional, and carefully thought through. It's all business, on a charming and a bit idiosyncratic scale.
The winery, built into the vineyard hillside, is covered by a dense layer of sod and wild flowers. Part Euro, part Hobbit-looking plaster covers the outside walls in a shell-like pattern.
Inside the cavelike winery, the entire production - bottled wine in case boxes and barrels of unreleased vintages - sits on a cool floor, part of it concrete and in the barrel "room," pebbles. Slipping through equipment, boxes, tools, tanks, and barrels in the near dark, the world drops away and the wine becomes all.
John's micro-vineyard, with only 4 acres planted to vine, was heavily impacted by Phylloxera. Replacing the damaged vines plant by plant, row by row, the vineyard is now healthy again and beginning to produce normal yields (vintage dependent, of course).
John's vineyard is the product of his own hard work. The vineyard and winery are one man show, though John brings in help to harvest grapes when they're ready.
Demonstrating how to plant a grape vine, he showed me how the process goes, planting a new vine. The sun beat down in 90 degree heat as John drilled each hole, planted the new vine, attached the trellis, and then did it again. "Do that 3000 times, and you have an acre of vineyard", he says.
Planting and maintaining a vineyard is backbreaking work. John thought a lot about his vineyard's design before planting.
Back in 1984, he says, "I was most influenced by the vineyard practices in France - and they trellis low." Since he would be planting the vineyard alone, he thought about how low he could go, and stuck a piece of tape about 18 inches above the floor on the side of his refrigerator. Each time he passed he'd reach down, checking to see how it felt to do what he'd be repeating tens of thousands of times in the vineyard.
"I decided that the French style was a bit lower than I wanted..." he commented with a chuckle.
Excerpted from an article by Jean Yates, with edits by Marcus.