What I like about Robin Murto is that she’s passionate.  She, like many in the wine industry, has a second job (oh wait, she just retired this spring), but get her talking about farming her 17 acres of Pinot Noir and one acre of Pinot Gris, and her eyes twinkle with excitement.  This was most evident to me when a friend and I spent an hour with her on her vineyard tour.  Because Pinot Noir, probably more than any other varietal, takes much of its character from the growing conditions, the farmers play a pivotal role in the wine making process.

On the tour through the vines, Robin explained that she and her husband Mike bought these acres back in 1991.  They were off to a good start with a rich vineyard that had originally been planted back in 1978, which makes it some of the oldest Pinot Noir in the valley.  They have added more vines over the years and do much of the farming themselves.  Robin humbly admitted that Mike is the better pruner and explained the time consuming process of making sure the vines send all their energy to the best grapes.  She told us of their efforts to deal with their wildlife woes.  The hawk in the tree keeps the grape-eating bird population down but netting- only on one side of the vines -is still necessary to protect the grapes.   And then there’s the guy you call to take care of the gophers, Caddyshack style… I think I know quite a few men who would like that job.

I have a pretty good understanding of wines, but walking around the fields with the farmer gave me a better grasp of some of the more intricate matters of getting great grapes with which to make great wine.  The Murtos sell most of their grapes, but keep some for their own label, Cleo’s Hill Wines.  We wrapped up our tour in Robin’s kitchen to taste the 2006 Pinot Noir, just 140 cases made and the 2007 Pinot Gris, just 70 cases made.

Tours daily at 10:30am, April through October by appointment.  You can get ahold of Robin for your own tour by phone: (503) 538-5302 or through their website… if you go in spring or fall, it doesn’t hurt to have not-so-perfect shoes to tromp around in.

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