Don and Traute Moore: building a winemaking legacy

Alyson Marchi-Young
Wed, 12/27/2017 - 12:00pm

In the late 1980’s Oregon’s wine industry was still in its infancy. In Southern Oregon there were only a handful of wineries when Don and Traute Moore started planting their vineyards. “When we came to this work, we knew nothing about planting grapes” mused Don. But through trial and error, testing, learning, adaptation, and a dedicated crew by their sides, the Moore’s persisted and have become a regional powerhouse for wine.

Now, with 28 regular grape varietals, Quail Run Vineyards puts the world of wines at our fingertips. “We brought grapes from all over the world,” says Traute. “In the early years, we’d move the grapes around to find the best place for them. It’s been a 28 year learning process.” Growing global wine varietals in a small region is helped when that region has diverse topography. Quail Run has 15 distinct plots that allow for a variety of elevations, environments, and soils.

Over the years, the Moores would test blocks of wine grapes to find that perfect combination of environmental factors that brings the best out of the grapes. Sometimes a varietal would not do as well as its native source, while others flourish. For instance, they planted 5 Pinotage grapevines, originally from South Africa. Don was not enthusiastic. “It wasn’t really good,” he confessed. But, they tested the vine anyway, an experiment. To their surprise, the grape did incredibly well in the Rogue Valley. It’s now one of Don’s favorites - a “happy accident,” he says.   

As the industry started to grow, they brought in consultants from around the world, which was especially critical in those earlier years when little wine grape growing expertise was available locally. They learned “you have to be very involved with the plants themselves. The quality is much improved,” according to Don. With around 380 acres of vineyards now in Quail Run’s portfolio, a team of 25 permanent farm workers tends to the lands and crops. “They are fabulous.” Traute exalts. “They are observant and careful, and know what they are doing. I can’t speak more highly of them.”  

A point of pride for the Moores is the quality of their workforce and the closely held relationships they’ve developed over the years. Even as the agricultural industry grows and changes, their workforce has stayed with them, some employees have been there for nearly two decades. Now too, the management of Quail Run Vineyards has changed hands. The Moore’s middle son, Michael, has taken over the daily management of the business, after helping them launch their own wine label - South Stage Cellars - in 2008.

In many ways, Quail Run Vineyards mirrors the changing face of the wine industry. In Oregon, it’s growing, and attracting a new generation. “There are a lot of young people in the industry now too. That’s good,” exclaims Traute. Don adds “We have got excellent young winemakers here, they make some of the best in the US, and we are very proud of them.” Where Don and Traute were learning on the job about agricultural practices and grape cultivation, the next generation has new challenges. Marketing to export southern Oregon wines is paramount to the business. It’s a particular challenge because they are further away from a large urban core. They are always looking for ways to streamline the process of getting their products to market.     

Another challenge, which has global impacts on agriculture, is climate change. Don sees how climate has already shifted the wine industry. “The epicenter of the premium wines in the US is now coming from Oregon and Washington instead of California. In California the land is expensive, and the grape quality is declining because of blight like Red Blotch and the warming climate.” They now sell grapes to California wineries. Climate also impacts how they choose to manage their crops. “You never feel, with agriculture, that you’ve got it. And with climate change you have to adapt to that,” states Traute.

There is one other element Don and Traute are seeing - population growth in Oregon. Before Oregon’s land use system was in place, much of the agricultural land in southern region of the state was already parceled off. “There were not a lot of large lots left, so we really want to preserve that,” says Traute. “Don and I were involved early on in land use - at the beginning when they were talking about preserving the agricultural lands. I remember driving into areas with road signs that said ‘Agricultural Zone’. That’s a good idea, you know that you don’t have houses there, and you don’t have people there.” Trying to preserve lands is hard with people moving in.

That’s why Don is happy to see solutions like smaller homes being built closer together on lands that aren’t agricultural. “What they are doing (in Talent, OR) is making smaller houses. More, smaller units on non-agricultural land. In Ashland they are allowing people who have extra space add small units on their property. These things help create more concentration of people, and less expensive housing. Like so many other places, rents are going up. That needs to be addressed.”

Even with these new challenges, the Moores are optimistic about Oregon’s future. They love spending time in their community, with their family, and out in the natural world. They believe that what they love about Oregon will continue to flourish when groups like 1000 Friends of Oregon successfully fulfill our missions. “I think your organization was founded on the idea of keeping Oregon beautiful, and preserving the natural scenery. That’s what we want to support.” Don and Traute have generously supported 1000 Friends for many years, and have contributed to 1000 Friends again. We are proud to announce that South Stage Cellar wines will be served at our 2018 annual McCall Gala.

Thank you Don and Traute.