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Wineman’s Toast | La Toscana rescue coming to fruition

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Tom Stanton, left, and Seth Cohen take a break while rejuvenating the La Toscana vineyard.

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Our La Toscana Vineyard rescue program went well over the summer months. Since writing about my effort to recruit some amateur winemakers to revive the half-acre vineyard near Dryden, a few of us have done well in bringing it back to life while teaching each other what we know and learning through doing.

The vineyard was seriously damaged by cold weather last winter and hasn’t been well maintained the past few years since La Toscana Winery closed due to the poor health of its owner and winemaker, Warren Moyles. Warren and Julie Moyles contacted me last spring to see if I could help get the vineyard back to health and manage its reduced crop this year.

La Toscana, using estate-grown and purchased Columbia Valley grapes, produced award-winning wines for many years. It was one of North Central Washington’s first wineries, bonded in 2001.

A blog I wrote earlier this past summer attracted a few people who were eager to help and turn the endeavor into a learning-teaching experiment. Thanks to Seth Cohen, a recent Cashmere transplant who has taught viticulture at colleges and worked as a consultant for both wine and beer industries, we had some serious academic help in pruning and retraining the damaged vines. He also wields an accurate weed whacker and pruning shears.

Tom Stanton, a Leavenworth chiropractor who has made wine from local grapes the past several years, came on board later this summer and has provided much energy and enthusiasm to keep the crop growing. A couple others, including Tom Bowling, another recent transplant who has planted his own four-acre vineyard in Sunnyslope, have been involved and plan to help more come harvest.

Several rows of Merlot vines were devastated by last winter’s freeze and have restarted from new shoots. With this summer’s regular drip irrigation, fungal and nutritional sprays, pruning, weeding and training to a solid four-wire trellis system, the vines should start producing a crop again next year.

Cabernet Sauvignon weathered the winter best, especially five rows in a higher, slightly warmer part of the vineyard. The Cab Sauv will be the heart of whatever production is harvested this year, probably less than a half-ton of grapes. That’s a sliver of the vineyard’s past full production. Enough to make about a barrel of wine.

Two rows of Cabernet Franc survived but the crop is spotty. One row of Lemberger looks very good, as does a single row of Sauvignon Blanc. A row of Riesling has a partial crop, while rows of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Semillon were all hit hard and may take a couple years to fully come back to production.

Tom Stanton, Tom Bowling and I got the last of the bird nets up on rows worth protecting Sept. 7. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for sugars to come up. We’ll probably be able to pick the Sauvignon Blanc and Lemberger later this month and the Cabernet Sauvignon in early October.

The project has required some work and time, but it’s been educational and fun. Of course, there’s been some wine involved. Once harvest starts, there’s sure to be more.

The Moyles have the one-acre property that includes a home, former bed and breakfast and winery up for sale. The fate of the vineyard is unknown. But there will be more pruning and training to be done for those who want to participate. There’s a chance that the vineyard could continue to be a fertile learning center for budding viticulturists and winemakers next year.