Johan Vineyards is a gorgeous vineyard near the Hotel with biodynamic and delicious wines. We love to send our guests to Johan because we know they will have an incredible experience.
We were able to interview Morgan Beck, the lead Winemaker and General Manager to learn more about Johan.
Independence Hotel (IH): What is the philosophy of Johan Vineyards, and what is your position/role?
Morgan Beck (MB): Johan Vineyards is a certified-Biodynamic estate vineyard and winery, located in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA. As winegrowers, we have a very intimate connection to our site. With each growing season, we mature and evolve with the farm and find ourselves continually refining our approach in order to develop a more honest and true farm individuality. Our winegrowing is guided by the objective to authentically interpret our farm’s identity through the creation of wine. We believe the sense of place, the essence of our farm, is best expressed through our deep commitment to Biodynamic farming practices, native-yeast fermentation, and minimal intervention in the cellar.
I came onto the Johan team in 2015 and started as the assistant in the vineyard and cellar, working with the longstanding Winegrower, Dan Rinke. I worked with him directly for the first few years, learning the property, the wine philosophy and the in’s and out’s of the winegrowing process and pouring in the tasting room on the weekends. I took on the nationals sales position in 2017, and became the Winemaker in 2018. Our bookkeeper moved on in summer of 2018, so I hopped in and worked in the day-to-day bookkeeping and financial planning side of things for a year before hiring our current rock star Office Manager, Kattie. As of spring of 2020, I was promoted to General Manager to help oversee all of the components of the business as well as run sales and make the wine. As our business grows, we’ve hired some incredible team members to help us grow the business we want to become — it’s a lot of work but definitely a very fulfilling place to work.
General Manager and Head Winemaker, Morgan Beck
Use of horn manure in biodynamic process
IH: What do you think separates Van Duzer Corridor wines from the rest of the Willamette Valley?
MB: Named after the prominent natural gap in the Oregon Coast Range, the Van Duzer Corridor AVA is defined predominantly by its unique microclimate, as one of the coldest and most wind-exposed portions of the Willamette Valley. The Corridor acts as a funnel allowing cold Pacific Ocean influence into the valley, and maritime winds beginning about 2pm daily on warm summer afternoons. This moderating effect helps to prolong ripening intervals and maintain acidity throughout the growing season. Persistent winds also tend to thicken grape skins and limit yields, leading to wines with greater concentration and structure. Vineyards are planted on a mix of marine sedimentary soils and Missoula Flood material. The soil composition, cooler temperatures and effective winds allow for mature tannin formation and vibrant acidity leading to wines rich with tension and restraint.
IH: Do you have any advice for a first time wine taster?
MB: Don’t think too hard about it and don’t feel like you have to “find something” in the wine like the classic tasting notes you always hear about. Your smell and taste is linked to all of those file folders of memories in your brain….just listen to what your gut is telling you when you taste. If it’s as simple as “I like this” (or not), be ok with that and enjoy the wine for what it is in that moment for you and the people you are sharing it with!
With each growing season, the team at Johan says they mature and evolve with the farm to develop a more honest individuality.
At Johan, they believe the sense of place, the essence of their farm, is best expressed through their deep commitment to Biodynamic farming practices, native-yeast fermentation, and minimal intervention in the cellar.
IH: What has surprised you the most about wine? And what about this industry brings you the most joy?
MB: The incredible and collaborative community in the wine industry is one that I could have never imagined. It spans across the world, and the colliding circles of people who have traveled and worked abroad are always amazing to me. I love the people I have had the opportunity to meet while forging my path in this industry, and the Oregon community is by far the best place I’ve had the opportunity to work, grow and live.
IH: This might be a naive question, but do you think winemakers can tell if it’s going to be a good vintage before they sip the wine? (From how the harvest went, or any other clues along the way?)
MB: HA! This is a funny question, but yes, I’ll say that I think winemakers call the vintage before the wine is even made. There’s a “feeling” around each vintage, but I’d say that a vintage that was great for one winemaker might not be great for another. There’s so much that goes into a vintage that is far beyond the climate, growing season, and chemistry of the grapes…. your personal energy and attitude and the people you’re working with are equally as impactful for the given vintage than those components that we most often hear about.
Barrels at Johan stacked against a dramatic sky
IH: How has Covid-19 changed Johan Vineyards, and are there any practices you’ll keep after quarantine lifts?
MB: When the Covid-19 restrictions began, we moved to appointment only tastings to help with social distancing and ensure a safe environment for our guests. We hope to continue with this format even after the restrictions are lifted. Through private tastings, our guests are able to experience the wines we produce in a comfortable and intimate setting with the focused attention of one of our hospitality associates.
IH: What (other than Covid-19) do you think has been the biggest change in the Oregon wine industry since Johan opened? How has the wine evolved, and how has it stayed the same?
MB: The wine and property have evolved with time in so many different ways. This project started with our owner, Dag Sundby, coming from Norway and purchasing a piece of property as a family investment that was planted to wine grapes, an industry he knew nothing about but knew it was a good investment. He hired team members along the way and gave them the space to grow and learn with the seasons. His team has shaped what the business is today, with the grafting of non-traditional grape varieties, new branding and labels, and at the core, an ever-evolving approach to regenerative agriculture and farming that is pushing the boundaries of what is possible in our area.
Outdoor tastings at Johan, during Covid and beyond
Johan’s new branding and labels by Hong Zhong create a unique and artistic look
IH: Yong Hong Zhong’s illustrations for your wine labels are absolutely stunning. How did you end up working with him?
MB: We actually found Zhong on Instagram of all places! We love his work, and once I met him, I realized we really connected on the desire to capture an artistic expression of a place — he does this through painting and we do this in the crafting of a wine. It’s been an incredible experience working with him….I start by creating a mood board and writing down my goals and “feelings” that go into crafting a wine, what I look for when blending the wine, and what the desired experience is for the consumer when they work through a bottle of the wine. I taste in colors, so I often have an idea of the color palette I’m hoping for, and some ideas of a specific phenomenon or event that happens on the property that invokes the same feelings that I feel when making/tasting the wine. It’s a really fun and unique process working through the creation of a label with him…I never thought it would be as fulfilling as it is!
IH: Can you tell me about the Johan Vineyards Farm Share? The website mentions it’s sold out for this season, but a waitlist is (hopefully) still available. How does the Farm Share work, and how does it connect to your website’s motto, “what grows together, goes together?”
MB: We have had an overwhelming response to our Farm Share this year. We offered a limited number of spots to our friends within 50 miles of the winery, which sold out in just a few days. Our farm share offering includes a monthly share of fresh, organic/biodynamically grown Johan produce, in addition to a curated selection of wines to complement each shipment. We believe there is something special about pairing wine with produce grown from the same land. We hope by offering food grown on the same land as our vines, people can really see how our holistic farming approach is put into practice.
Label artist Hong Zhong at the vineyard
Johan’s farm share program
IH: Did I see correctly that your tasting room includes “an ever changing selection of five wines featuring current and past releases?” How often does the flight change, and what’s the oldest year Johan has featured on a current tasting menu?
MB: We change the tasting menu each month. We make a ton of wines, so there are plenty to rotate through and keep our customers excited and involved. The goal is to incorporate a combination of new releases, and maybe a library selection or two. We always have wines that “pair” with the season, whatever veggies and food is coming out of the garden, and always have a mix of non-traditional wines as well as the classics — something for everyone!
IH: How often are new wines produced?
MB: I keep saying that we will stop making new wines and just focus on the twenty-something wines we make each year. Every year is different though, and with each year our site changes, our team grows, and I think that making new wines keeps our energy fresh and allows us to push ourselves, as well as the potential of the site to continue to evolve. With that said, there’s always a new wine that is born each vintage!
IH: Aside from drinking great wine on your property, you can also hike Johan Vineyards Pond Trail. Is the trail open to everyone? Must you complete a tasting beforehand or be a member? And if you buy a bottle, can you drink it on one of the trail’s picnic tables, or is it better to leave the wine in the car?
MB: Our pond trail is open to the public, but we do require a reservation for guests to join us on the property, whether tasting or strolling the trail. We hope to have picnic tables around our pond trail this summer for guests to enjoy a bottle or glass at their leisure. We have a truly magnificent piece of property at Johan and we hope to share it with guests outside of a tasting room experience. Keep an eye on our website for exciting updates to our tasting room program!
Johan’s grounds include a lake, picnic tables, gorgeous views and more than vineyards to explore.
IH: The names of your wines are adorable, although “All Ewe Need Is Love” and “Jazzy Juice” are definitely my favorites. What goes into the process of creating a name? And if you created a wine….
MB: I’ll mention a process of creating a new wine name and label we’re currently coming up with!
A. What kind of wine would it be?
We have a new white blend coming out this summer! We are always short on/selling out of our white wines!
B. What would you call it?
The new white blend will be called Disco Chicken. I love disco music and we have a big ‘ol flock of chickens that have a bunch of character! One of our roosters is named Popcorn, and has feathers on his feet that make him look so goofy when he’s running around trying to wrangle his curious hens.
C. What would you want the illustration of it to look like?
This wine will be a focus and centerpiece of Popcorn in a disco pose like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and will have a bunch of his lady hens all around him dancing… with a big old disco ball above them!
IH: Is there anything else you’d like to share about Johan Vineyards that I haven’t asked about?
MB: This place wouldn’t be where it is today without the incredible team we’ve put together in the last few years. That is by far the thing that has kept me here and excited about this place that we all work so hard at everyday. Without a good team, the business wouldn’t be able to navigate these wild last couple of years we have had. A strong team resilience.
IH: Do you know any good wine jokes?
MB: What’s the best way to make a small fortune in the wine industry?
…Start with a big one.
IT’S A LABOR OF LOVE!
It takes kitties, dogs, and dedicated people to make great wine! A trip to Johan to experience their wines where it is grown, is a must do!