Vino and vegetation in the Rogue Basin

Haley Walker
Haley Walker
Former Senior Director of Advancement for The Freshwater Trust
English   |   Español

The mountainous, verdant landscape of southern Oregon is a far cry from Las Vegas.

And the life the Martins once lived is a far cry from the one they lead now.

Rachael Martin was a counterfeit goods investigator. Her husband Les worked as Chief Accounting Officer for Mandalay Resorts. Then, a shared passion called them to make home elsewhere.

Somewhere between growing up in the vinicultural region of southern Oregon and studying abroad in Italy, Rachael acquired a taste for good wine, and the cultural and ritual aspects that came with it.

“Wine was romantic to me,” said Rachael. “There are so many ceremonial aspects of it that I loved.”

Then, Les met Rachael.

Les and Rachael Martin of Red Lily Vineyards

“Before I met her, my experience with wine was pretty embarrassing, actually,” he said. “She got me hooked on good red wine though, and once I was hooked, that was it.”

In 2005, after Mandalay was acquired by MGM Mirage, he and Rachael relocated to southern Oregon to focus on developing their wine business, which they began in 2001. For ten years, Rachael spent every fall apprenticing at RoxyAnn Winery in Medford, her hometown.

“There were many baby steps,” said Rachael. “During my apprenticeship, I got to understand and experience each part of the process. There’s a whole lot to this.”

The Martins' found the perfect property for their vineyard in the Rogue River basin.

One Sunday afternoon, Les and his son were floating the Applegate River. Kismet struck while searching for a lost inner tube. The pair came across a property not visible from the highway. And it was for sale.

“We checked it out and knew it was something really special,” said Les. “But we were definitely not in the market for 260 acres. We understood it’s potential, but it was a financial stretch in every sense of the word.”

Six months later, the 260 acres was theirs. Named after their daughter and the Bolander’s Lily, a rare species found in the Siskiyou Mountains, Red Lily Vineyards produces 3,000 cases of Spanish-inspired wine annually.

Along with more than 200 acres, the Martins gained two-thirds of a mile of riverfront. It hosts popular concerts in the summer, tourists and locals to the tasting room, and an extensive revegetation project implemented by The Freshwater Trust (TFT).

“I got a call one day from Eugene wanting to talk about the idea of working together,” said Les. “It made a ton of sense for us from the get-go, and seemed like we would get a lot out of it.”

In 2013, Eugene Wier, restoration project manager with TFT, identified the Martin’s property as having potential to provide valuable streamside shade to the Applegate, a 51-mile tributary of the Rogue.

“I learned about Red Lily from a friend who lived out there,” said Wier. “He mentioned how awesome Red Lily was and how he could see trees benefiting both the winery setting and the river. On one of my first visits to the property, I observed over 20 pairs of adult fall chinook spawning along this reach and knew right away that a project at this location would help cool the water and provide direct benefits in a place the fish clearly selected for their own reasons.”

Within a year the site had been cleared of its extensive cover of blackberry and other weeds and the roughly five acres of frontage planted with more than 7,000 native trees and shrubs. Species like Ponderosa Pine, Incense Cedar, White Alder and Big Leaf Maple were planted, along with shrubs like Mock Orange and Ninebark to add color and pollinator habitat. Today, it’s one of the most robust revegetation projects TFT has in the Rogue basin, and data is gathered from the site annually.

Before project implementation: invasive species crowd the landscape. After project implementation: native species flourish.

“The growth of all of it has been really amazing to watch,” said Les. “We had no foreseeable plan for that piece of our property and so providing shade to benefit the fish made perfect sense to us. We didn’t have to do much besides say yes.”

The Martins told two of their neighbors about the project. Since then, TFT has entered partnerships with them both.

“It’s something we are really proud of and that we get excited to share with people,” said Rachael. “We want people to go down to the river and check it out.”

Due to COVID-19, that’s not happening. Tastings aren’t allowed right now, and upcoming beachfront concerts are on hold. But Red Lily has adapted and online sales have increased. They’ve begun offering rosé mojitos by the growler for pickup.

“Most of us out here are small, family-owned operations, and without the tasting room open to have a connection with folks and tell them our story, it makes it hard,” said Rachael. “We are trying to stay positive and in business – like everyone else.”

Monitoring staff from TFT will visit the site this August and September, and for the next 20 years, to check on the health of the project. TFT also places new temperature loggers in the river every year as part of a long-term study of how plantings in this specific reach affect water temperatures over the course of the project.

“My wife cut me off after a couple years of bringing home cases every time I was out there,” said Wier. “But to this day, a visit to the project followed by a glass of wine and some charcuterie in the tasting room overlooking the river makes for about the best project visit one could imagine.”

Want to support Red Lily?

Purchase their wine here.

May 1, 2020

#Applegate River    #local partners    #oregon wine    #Rogue River    #wine    #winery    

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