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A crushing success

H&N photo by John StoopscKenzie Masten helps her father, Ken, clean a wine press on their ranch, near Bonanza. Twelve Ranch Wines is near completing the crushing of their grapes for the season. The Mastens also raise hay, grain and cattle on their ranch.

November 17, 2005 by HOLLY OWENS

BONANZA - Everyone helps out when it's time to crush grapes for wine at the Masten ranch - even the cows.

“The cows love the stems when we pull them off,” said Connie Masten, who with her husband Ken and their teenage daughter McKenzie have a small winery, 12 Ranch Wines, on a Bonanza-area ranch, where they also raise hay, grain and cattle.

Connie Masten has been making wine for more than five years, but first started selling her wines commercially a year ago.

Masten believes the high sugar content of the stems and fruit is what elicits help from the ranch's cattle. When she first started making wine, she put discarded stems and grapes in the field for the birds to enjoy, but instead found a different crowd the next morning.

“Here were these cows lined up next to the fence,” she said.

Since the Mastens don't have their own vineyard, they buy grapes in half-ton bins from Sams Valley Vineyards in Medford and Deer Creek Vineyards near Selma. More than 5 tons of grapes were used for this year's crush.

The winery, in a garage-sized building, is cooled by the ranch's well water. Optimal temperature for the building that houses equipment and wine-filled oak barrels is in the mid- to high-50s, said Ken Masten.

“Our well water was just the right temperature,” Connie Masten said.

Finding equipment to fit the size of their operation took some searching on the Internet.

“We're bigger than a home wine maker,” Masten said, and yet they are also smaller than most commercial wineries.

And they don't want the winery get too big.

“We want to stay small. These wines are really babied,” Masten said. “We don't want to lose the control that you lose in a bigger winery.”

There are four varieties produced by 12 Ranch Wines - merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and chardonnay.

And they have started something new - blends.

“We do have one blend out,” Masten said. “We didn't plan on making a blend, but we're doing that now.”

It's called Kinsey Red, a mix of cabernet sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot.

“It's a lighter wine, just because of the grapes we used,” Masten said. “It's gone over very well.”

This year's grape harvest was unusual, Masten said. Harvest dates were spread out, and that in turn made their grape crush later.

“This is the first year this has happened,” Masten said. “We were completely done by Oct. 8 last year. This is the first year we've ever crushed with snow on the ground.”

After the grapes are destemmed and crushed, they're put into bins or stainless steel tanks where they ferment for five days to two weeks. The fragrant crushed grapes are put through a press to get the juices out. The wine is then put into oak barrels where the sediment settles. The Mastens don't filter their wines; they let gravity do the work.

“Everything we do is gravity flow. We don't pump at all,” Masten said. “Our theory is you lose something every time you run it through a machine. The flavor difference is quite noticeable.”

The Mastens also use a variety of barrels to achieve a variety of flavors in their wines. One-year oak, new oak and neutral oak each lend a different taste.

“What's on new oak tastes completely different from second year,” Masten said.

But Masten says a wine's taste just boils down to the source - the grape.

“When you drink our wines you really are tasting the grapes that year,” Masten said, noting that a grape variety's flavor can vary from year to year.

The merlot, from crush to bottle, takes about 13 to 14 months, Masten said. For the syrah, it's 19 months.

“We just taste test to see when they're where we want them,” Masten said.

The Mastens have had favorable reaction during their first year of commercial production.

“The response has been really great,” Masten said. “I think they were really skeptical to begin with.”

The winery has sold out of their chardonnay variety, and it will run out of the merlot before the end of the year, just in time for this year's press.

And the winery's popularity is growing.

All of Masten's wine varieties are now being distributed through Rogue Creamery.

But having the winery hasn't changed the Mastens' focus.

“Our lives are ranching,” Masten said.

“We got into this. We enjoy this. We didn't want to leave.”

On the Net: www.12ranchwines.com




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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