The lazy rolling hills of Jackson County, Oregon offer diverse climates, nutrient-rich soils and elevations ranging from 1,500 to 2,100 feet. It’s a prime environment for vineyards and the heart of Oregon Wine Country. So it’s no surprise to see 13 distinct vineyards growing 29 varieties of grapes dotting the hillsides that stretch from Talent to Jacksonville. What may come as a surprise, is how the Moore family has built their sprawling compound of twisting vines into one of Oregon’s premier producers of wine grapes.
Adapting to a Changing Environment
Don and Traute Moore, along with their son Michael, have spent more than 25 years working in these fields. Their commitment to experimenting with irrigation and growing methods puts the focus on the quality grapes over quantity and generates demand from more than 30 Oregon winemakers.
As severe drought conditions plague the Rogue Valley, reservoirs have dipped to record lows in recent years and irrigation district managers work to forecast when the water will run out. In this environment, water management can make or break an operation. The Moore Family has worked tirelessly to move Quail Run’s system away from traditional drip irrigation, where water application is inefficient and a huge amount of excess water is lost. Instead, they’ve introduced “deficit irrigation,” which involves carefully tracking soil moisture using probes and shovels and monitoring plants closely, adding water only as is needed to keep them from shutting down. The Moores’ irrigation strategy has reduced Quail Run Vineyards’ water use by roughly 33 percent.
The Critical Role of Technology
Plant stress plays a large role in the process of winemaking and the ideal amount varies from vineyard to vineyard. The amount of stress plants endure can have an effect on the quality and health of the crops, which in turn can influence the taste of the wine. Quail Run relies on instruments like porometers, pressure chambers, and evapotransporation gauges to closely monitor their crops. This helps them to make even better use of limited water resources, and to ensure crops are being exposed to an appropriate amount of plant stress.
Far Reaching Benefits
Deficit irrigation offers significant environmental benefits as well. One benefit is reducing excess runoff into streams—which can be detrimental to stream water quality and the aquatic species that live in them, by increasing water temperatures and sediments that cloud the water. There is also less migration of weeds and plant disease from field to field, and the obvious economic and environmental benefits of using significantly less water.
Finding The Perfect Balance
The Moores’ goal has always been to develop the highest quality grapes, while maintaining a commitment to environmental stewardship at Quail Run Vineyards. Their innovative management of lands and water resources allows them to produce premium grapes matched to the soils and elevations where they thrive and to responsibly manage their land. With a list of awards from their own South Stage Cellars and numerous other winemakers, and a LIVE certification—the internationally recognized standard for environmentally and socially responsible winegrowing—the success of Quail Run Vineyards’ approach tells its own story: in a region with limited water resources, the Moores’ efficient and effective water management is an outstanding example of successful business and conscientious stewardship.