Nate Ready, a 41-year-old with a bristly, wool-gathering beard and at least one wizard’s hat worthy of a Tolkien novel, lives on a farm tucked away outside of Hood River with his partner China Tresemer, surrounded by American guinea hogs, chickens, ground-cherries, and thistles. What you wouldn’t know, except for all the thriving grapevines, is that Ready is actually a Master Sommelier (one of only two in the state)—and he’s making some of the Pacific Northwest’s most delicious, wild, and unexpected wine.
At Hiyu Wine Farm, 14 half-acre wine blocks hold more than 80 different grape varieties (rare in a state known mostly for chardonnay and pinot noir). On paper, the vineyard looks like a museum of natural history: One plot is composed entirely of grapes planted in the 16th-century kingdom of Savoie. Another replicates a Southern Italian vineyard from 200 AD. There’s even a block devoted to the origins of cabernet franc at the Abbey of Roncesvalles in Basque country.
But come harvest time, all that provenance gets lost, as entire clans end up together in the fermenter, free to become whatever they please. “There’s no map of [the vineyard],” says Ready. “They’re not even labeled.” The result is a mystification of flavors that defies conventional wine logic. Hiyu’s Atavus II is an unfiltered “raw” wine of pinot noir and gewürztraminer that’s been incorporating new vintages since 2013, sorta like feeding a sourdough starter. Then there’s the 2016 Falcon Box: pinots noir, gris, blanc, and meunier, allowed to rest unmolested for months, save occasional fondling from Ready’s bare feet.
What informs this wild unorthodoxy? Ready says that after years spent pouring for others at Napa’s French Laundry, he started making wine at Hiyu in 2012, ready to ditch a wine paradigm he says is overfocused on the what, in favor of the how.
Ready’s ad hoc farming philosophy—part enlightened forager, à la René Redzepi, part ancient Roman estate management (he’d talk your ear off about first-century agriculturist Columello)—values highly diversified crops, with wine subsidizing the whole. The farm’s hogs, goats, and cattle roam the rows here, which are never mowed. Instead, “weeds” like milk thistle and clover are encouraged, as are perimeter “forest gardens” of pawpaws, salsify, and sea buckthorn.
One thing Hiyu’s $65–105 estate wine subsidizes is an elaborate tasting room. The kitchen is helmed by former Portland chef Jason Barwikowski, who turns out caramelized carrots with beet gastrique to pair with Hiyu’s shockingly savory 2016 Arco Iris pinot gris, or piperade-coated house sausages (hello, piggies outside the picture window!) with a 2016 Fionn from Hiyu’s non-estate label Smockshop Band. The red blend is redolent of wet tomato leaves and compost ... and yet, somehow, utterly ravishing.
“The grand vision, it’s just biodiversity,” says Ready. “It’s meant to be this vibrant landscape with all these different life-forms. It’s more than the grapes. It’s about expanding palates and the ecological implications of that.”