"Everything you need to produce wine--fruit, sugar, and yeast--is on the grape cluster out there in the vineyard. If you bring in high-quality grapes, then you can just let nature do its thing."
Adam Campbell '95 grew up among some of Oregon's first commercial wine grapes. He was three years old in 1974 when his parents, Pat and Joe, started Elk Cove Vineyards, one of the state's founding wineries. In those days, there were only about 200 acres of vineyards in all of Oregon; today, there are close to 15,000.
Adam spent every summer in the vineyards with his brothers and sisters, pruning, pulling leaves, and serving as "the main source of labor" for his parents' fledgling wine business. Today, as the winemaker and co-owner of the family business, he is grateful for that background. "When you're managing 25 full-time employees," he says, "it's nice to know that you've done every one of their jobs at one time or another."
Joining the family business wasn't a given for Adam. His parents encouraged him to get an education and explore other interests. As a student at Lewis & Clark, he studied political science, traveled, and considered law school. But after spending his junior year in Australia, he missed the vineyards. "Coming back for my senior year, I knew I needed to make a decision," says Adam, "and the thing I was most passionate about was our vineyards."
After graduation, Adam hit the vineyards full time, scouting out new land, planting new vines, and managing the existing vineyards. Within three years, he had doubled the winery's vineyard acreage and significantly improved the quality of the vineyard work.
"By then, I started to feel some ownership over the grapes I had grown," says Adam. "After three years of growing and tasting what was on the vine, I wanted to get more involved in producing wine that really reflected what I was tasting in the vineyard." Adam joined his father as co-winemaker in 1997, and in 1999 he bottled his first solo vintage.
Today, says Adam, "my winemaking philosophy is definitely rooted in the vineyard." For him, that means taking an intensive, hands-on approach to vineyard management to grow the best possible grapes.
"Everything you need to produce wine--fruit, sugar, and yeast--is on the grape cluster out there in the vineyard," says Adam. "If you bring in high-quality grapes, then you can just let nature do its thing."
In the vineyard, Adam focuses on keeping yields low--even if it means cutting off half of his grapes, to increase the concentration of flavors in the grapes that remain. Next to choosing the optimal harvest date, he says, that may be the most important thing he does as a winemaker.
In the winery, he says, a gentle, hands-off approach is key to quality. Careful grape selection and the use of gravity rather than pumps to transfer grapes into tanks may be more work, he admits, "but ultimately you get less-marked wines." His goal is to create the kind of wines he likes to drink: "wines that have power and finesse at the same time."
In addition to grapes, Adam is busy cultivating the next crop of Campbells. He and his wife have three children. They hope their kids will grow to love the family business, but they plan to be low-pressure about it. "I'll encourage them to get an education in whatever excites them, the way my parents did," says Adam. "They should love to learn, first, and if that has to do with winemaking, that's great. If it had to do with marketing and sales, that would be even better!"
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