Monday, May 30, 2011

Taste Dirt: Learn about Jory Soil

In the run up to this weekend of winetasting, you might have read about the political dueling over a proposed State Soil, a signature ingredient to many bottles of Pinot Noir and notions of distinctive Oregon terroir.

Curiously, there are also dueling opinions on its agricultural quality. Even Legislators can't resist throwing a little dirt!

The history, politics, and semiotics of soil are telling.

There is here, it seems, a possible conflict between large-scale industrial and petro-chemical agriculture on the low-lands and smaller scale boutique farming on the hills and in the vineyards. It's also a conflict between the soil of the pre-settlement oak savannah and the settled nature of cultivation. Notions of class, fear of change, and forgetting of the past all seem implicated.

Before the bill was resurrected
Several senators said they thought the bill was a waste of time, and some grumped that Jory soil - found on the hillsides of the Willamette Valley and often planted in vineyard - isn't anything to brag about.

"It's terrible soil," said Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, whose family has a hazelnut farm. "You can't grow anything with it."
Statesman editor Dick Hughes quotes another farmer:
Jory and Nekia are droughty and infertile to the point that only a handful of crops can be grown on them. The fact that vineyards are one of these seems to have led to the designation. My dad used to say the red soils are what was left when all the good dirt was washed down to the valley floor. Beyond that, Jory and Nekia exist mainly in the Eola and Ankeny hills and comprise a tiny fraction of the state’s agricultural land.

Soils like Woodburn and Willamette cover many more acres, and have the legendary fertility that drew the pioneers to Oregon. Not only is the legislature wasting time on frivolity in this matter, they have made a ridiculous choice.
The infertility of the soil may be a bit of hyperbole. Also last week Oregonian, wine writer Katherine Cole observed
The Willamette Valley's flagship dirt is Jory, the basalt-based volcanic soil found in most vineyard sites in the Dundee Hills (the most prominent sub-appellation in the valley).

High in clay content and iron, Jory is reddish in color and nutrient-rich. "You could grow anything in volcanic soil," [Jim, of Patricia Green Cellars] Anderson says. "It is lush." It holds water well; smash it between your fingers and it will stick together.

"I can pick out a Dundee Hills wine pretty consistently in a blind tasting," [Jessica Mozeico-Blair of Et Fille] Mozeico says. "There is a minerality to it, especially on the finish, with a bright cherry and red-fruit flavor profile." Mozeico-Blair says she always finds that this silty clay-loam imparts a "dusty earthiness" to pinot noir.
So who knows...good soil or bad soil? Maybe it doesn't matter. It's all about the interpretation...

More interesting is Jory history! They were Pioneers of 1847 and have an important place in Salem history.

Here's an excerpt from a 1903 piece in the Oregon Historical Quarterly. Note that it calls the South Salem Hills the "Red Hills," just like the "Red Hills of Dundee."
The Jorys all reached Oregon in safety, and coming into the Willamette Valley looked about for a home.
They were struck with the attractive little settlement at Salem, and the advantages of church and school. The choice lay between this and the yet unoccupied prairies of the Santiam, and above Albany. There the land seemed better, but the other attractions, and the fact also that in the hills near Salem the prospect of health seemed better than on the prairie, outweighed in the decision, and all took claims together about six or eight miles from the present capital. This was in the land of oak trees, and the Father Jory having seen such timber in England believed that the soil would prove fertile. The sons, however, never expected to farm, except along the narrow creek bottoms; but the open oak groves and endless hills offered great scope for cattle range. As a matter of fact, however, the hills have proved the best of wheat land, and have now become still more valuable for fruit and prune raising. "The Jory settlement " is now in the very region where there are great orchards crowning the hills, and where fruit driers are as conspicuous as the hop houses of French Prairie. The donation land claim of John Jory has been divided into small fruit-raising tracts, and H. S. Jory, the youngest brother, has become well known as the inventor and maker of one of the most serviceable fruit driers in use.
This detail from the General Land Office 1852 Cadistral Survey Map shows the "Jory settlement," the hills and valley around what is now Rosedale and Joryville Park. The road running down the center is Liberty Road, one of the oldest roads around here! Battle creek crosses the road right at John Jory's home, the modern site of Rosedale School.
While, however, the Jorys have been agriculturists in Oregon, their tastes have been mechanical, reverting to the original occupation of their grandfather and father. H. S. Jory, of South Salem, has invented and patented the "Oregon Fruit Dryer," and an ingenious harrowhinge; Henry Jory, who died in Marysville, California, and his son, James W., each invented and patented a swivel plow. John W. and Arthur, spns of James Jory, invented and patented a wheat header; T. C. and John W., sons of James Jory, of this sketch, invented and patented a grain separator. Thomas C. Jory, who was for some time Professor of Mathematics at Willamette University, Salem, where he graduated, also invented and presented for patent a machine for converting reciprocal into rotary motion, avoiding the "dead points;" but was preceded by Westinghouse, of the celebrated airbrake apparatus. These items are of interest as showing a still larger truth, that probably half the young men of Oregon, at least among those at school, devote much of their leisure time in planning practical inventions in mechanics, and of the many who do not succeed in producing a tangible result the case is not so much lack of practical skill as the intense rivalry of others at more central points. Oregon alone could furnish enough inventors to supply the world if the race of Fulton and Edison should fail elsewhere!
Not far from the school is the Jory cemetery, where James and Mary are both buried, as well as many of their children and descendents. The family website also has more.

In any event, if you're out wine tasting this weekend or another time, think about the Jorys.

(And we need to figure out how to make Joryville Park a place you'd want to visit! It's sadly neglected and in its isolation had attracted a reputation for crime. Maybe its tie to the State Soil can help change this!)

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