After careers in beverage sales, wine distribution and brand marketing, Duane and Dina Barker planted wine grapes on their land east of Bend. In 2017, the couple took their first harvest to a winemaker. Today, Lava Terrace Cellars is a thriving, award-winning winery. Duane Barker answered Bend Magazine’s questions about the naysayers, the challenges and the medals won along the journey.
Tell us about your background and how you ended up in Bend.
I grew up in Carmichael, California, where I worked summers helping my dad on his Coca Cola sales route. By the age of 23, I was a Coca Cola branch manager. Wine distribution and sales during Oregon’s early wine industry days followed. Coca Cola of Bend brought me to Central Oregon, where I met and married Dina, and we started Brilliance in Branding in 2015.
How did you decide to launch Lava Terrace Cellars?
We already had a garden, chickens and a few cows, so the next thing to complete our sustainable farming would be a vineyard. We love to enjoy wine with a meal, especially one using ingredients grown on our five-acres in Bend. We were ready to start a new business. What makes us a great team is we both have the MacGyver mindset, allowing us to successfully work together to meet whatever challenges we encounter. Managing a vineyard takes a great deal of homework, ingenuity and sometimes spur of the moment decisions.
How did you choose which wine grapes to plant?
We researched what varieties would grow at 3,400’ elevation and survive Central Oregon’s cold winters. We wanted grape varietals with a later bud break and an early harvest. Our property was mostly sagebrush, lava rocks with incredible outcroppings and unusable slopes. We had to engineer stakes into the ground, using the lava rocks as stake posts. Everything we have done is a labor of love. It takes patience and tenacity to grow grapes—about five years from when the vines are planted to when they produce high-quality fruit to make commercial wine. In 2017, we took our first harvest to a winemaker. Today, our wines are produced in Bend at Elixir Winery.
What have been your most significant challenges and rewards?
The rewards are opening a bottle of our wine and enjoying it with friends and family, and when someone tastes our wine for the first time and shares how much they love it. It’s fun watching someone who has never heard of La Crescent, Marechal Foch or Marquette be wary and then seeing how much they enjoy it.
Every farmer worries about dealing with whatever Mother Nature throws their way. We have learned ways to protect our vines and grapes that allow them to thrive. We have a frost protection system for nights when it drops below freezing during May and June, and we are creating a canopy system to take advantage of warm days. Harvesting the grapes and seeing the winemaking process begin brings us a huge sigh of relief, and harvest is a time
Tell us about your varietals.
We grow cold-hardy hybrid grapes that thrive in Central Oregon’s climate. The hybrid grapes are created by crossing two or more of the French varietal species with Native American grape species. The grapes we grow are disease resistant, have shorter growing seasons and require less water. What is great is that powdery mildew is almost never a problem here on Central Oregon’s high desert.
The white varietals we grow are La Crescent and Brianna, and the red varietals are Marquette, Marechal Foch and Crimson Pearl. The Brianna is related to Muscat and can be dry or sweet in style with flavors ranging from grapefruit to pineapple. We plan to use our Brianna to create a sparkling wine. Maréchal Foch makes a deeply red wine with earthy characters as well as some jammy, dark-fruit flavors.
Which is your favorite?
We really enjoy pairing wine with food, so if we are having fish, pork or lamb dishes, we will pair it with our La Crescent or if we are having beef, pork or curry dishes, we will have our Marechal Foch, which is also awesome with chocolate desserts. Our Marquette goes well with a pasta, stew, beef, lamb or spicy recipe.
Tell us about the awards for your wine.
In 2020, we entered our first two wine competitions resulting in six medals and international recognition. At the 2020 Sunset International Wine Competition, Lava Terrace Cellars received silver medals for its 2017 Barrel Aged Marechal Foch and 2018 La Crescent. The 2020 San Francisco International Wine Competition awarded silver medals for its 2018 Reserve – One Barrel Marechal Foch and 2019 Marquette, and bronze medals for its 2018 and 2019 La Crescent.
There were many naysayers who said wine grapes couldn’t be grown in Central Oregon. The recognition is a celebration of proving them incorrect. We believe this is just the beginning for not only our success, but for our fellow vineyard and winery owners in Central Oregon. The Central Oregon Winegrowers Association supports and celebrates one another’s successes. Receiving awards both inspires and motivates us to continue to grow high-quality grapes to make outstanding wines. We have learned a great deal about growing grapes and making wine in Bend in the last nine years, and we are happy to share what we know with anyone.
Oregon has 19 AVAs (American Viticultural Area) but none in Central Oregon. Do you expect us to get our own wine-growing region designation?
Lava Terrace Cellars is a member of the Central Oregon Winegrowers along with several vineyards and wineries including Faith, Hope and Charity and Redside Ranch. The goal is to eventually establish an AVA. Several wineries think Marquette may be the signature grape for Central Oregon, like pinot noir is for the Willamette Valley.
What does the future hold?
We plan to complete the necessary steps to open our tasting room in 2022, with plans for some fun events to introduce more people to our wines. We are adding baby-doll sheep to the vineyard to oversee weed management. Wine aficionados can order our wine from lavaterracecellars.com, which we can deliver locally in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook County. The wines can also be purchased at many local shops around Central Oregon.