Monday, March 19, 2012

Big Table Farm: Living the Dream

There is something endearing about a sweet newborn baby with a surprising shock of black hair. Equally unexpected is the bright pink Victorian home that sits among the rolling hills and green pastures at Big Table Farm. Built in 1900, this distinctive house belongs to Brian Marcy, Clare Carver and their dogs, Clementine and Levi. A homestead like setting, the 70 acre farm in Gaston, Oregon has a vegetable garden, chickens, pigs, cattle and draft horses. Modeled after the sustainable farming practices in Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, Brian and Clare endeavor to create a setting where the farm animals have a quality life, each day a good day - at least until the time comes, for some, to become a quality meal, making someone else's day very good. The view from the house looks out toward a sloping hillside of trees. They hope to eventually plant a vineyard in this sedimentary soil.

Brian and Clare set out from California in 2006 to find a place just like this – their own land where they could plant a vineyard and live a sustainable life. This is a dream come true, but it entails full days, hard work and dedication. Brian is the winemaker, and began his winemaking career in Napa around 1996. He also spent time in Australia making wine. For the time being, they source grapes from remarkable vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Brian works closely with the vineyards to see the best possible quality. Marketing and business tasks add to the list of responsibilities.

Clare also wears many hats, one being that of an artist/graphic designer. She is an accomplished fine art painter, and many of her paintings, depicting daily farm life, dress the interior walls of their home. Her studio occupies part of the main floor. The wine labels showcase her exquisite artwork. Each letterpress label is applied to the wine bottles by hand. She has designed award winning labels for many other wineries. Much of her daily routine is filled with farm chores and caring for the animals. Some animals make cameo appearances on the wine labels. All of this, and she still finds time for competitive plowing with the draft horses.

Besides functioning as an office and art studio, the pink Victorian is also a tasting room on occasion. A long, tall table draped in red and white linens serves as a tasting bar in their front room. First up is a Pinot Gris – and, surprise, it is orange! The color comes from being fermented with the skins for a time before pressing off the juice. This is a unique wine that pairs wonderfully with crab and seafood. The grapes come from the Wirtz Vineyard. Some of this site’s other vines were planted in the 1960s. Next is a dry Riesling, the grapes coming from Brooks Estate Vineyard, another site with areas of older vines, original plantings dating back to the 1970s.

The three 2010 Pinot Noirs each have their own virtues. The first is a Willamette Valley Pinot, a blend from the Johan, Wirtz and Pelos Sandberg Vineyards. This approachable wine is a richer style Pinot, nicely balanced with spicy flavors. Second is the Pelos Sandberg Pinot Noir from Don Sandberg’s vineyard, a meticulously cared for site which he tirelessly oversees. Opulent red fruit flavors and tannin structure harmonize well. The third is sourced from the Resonance Vineyard and is comprised of 3 clones: Pommard, 777 and Wadenswil. Resonance Vineyard wines have an ethereal quality to them, and this is no exception. Want a tip for distinguishing which Pinot is which by simply looking at the label artwork? Each vintage of Willamette Valley Pinot is always adorned with an illustration of the farm’s pigs. The Pelos Sandberg Pinot has an illustration of a hoe, a nod to Don Sandberg and his attentiveness in the vineyard.  The Resonance illustration displays one of the farm’s cattle.

The Syrah is the only wine made from California grapes - grown at White Hawk Vineyard. A few others in the Willamette Valley source grapes from this vineyard as well. This wine has great depth without heft. Brian uses some whole cluster fermentation in all of these unfined and unfiltered wines, delivering complex layers and distinction. All the wines are winners. A wide range of accolades have been published. Order directly from Big Table Farm, or call Storyteller Wine in Portland to check limited availability.

Brian and Clare’s lifestyle is one of quality: their cause, their wine and who they are. They have an appreciation for many of life's facets that are overlooked in our day to day comings and goings. It is not an easy life, but it is a rewarding and satisfying one. If you find yourself needing a change of scenery and a beautiful drive through wine country, give them a call. Make plans to visit Big Table Farm for some of their wine. See for yourself the best Oregon has to offer.


Thanks for the great story, Big Table Farm is one of our favorites and it's great to see them get the recognition they deserve. If you get the chance, visit them on the holiday weekends. They are always great hosts, and of course the wine is fantastic!

Great labels! I really want to try the Pinot Gris with the extended skin contact.

I haven't seen the wines in person but I did get to see the label for their CA Syrah and that was even doper looking than these three.

thanks so much this is beautifully written!! : ) cheers! Clare

@Jscolastico, I agree! Well deserved recognition, great hosts, fantastic wine. You said it well.

@Jameson and Clive, yes, the labels are truly keepsake worthy. Pictures do not do them justice. Clare's artwork is beautiful.

The wine is stellar. Online ordering is now fully functional on their website!


Thank you. It was wonderful spending time with you, Brian, Clementine and Levi!

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