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Jim Jamison and the Story of His Grapes

Home wine makers have been able to buy fresh grapes from FH Steinbart for many years.  But where do those grapes come from? Like all the ingredients we stock at the store, we source our grapes from someone with a passion for the craft.  Jim Jamison of Richland, Washington has been supplying grapes to FH Steinbart customers since 2011. Jim is a grape grower and wine maker himself who grows grapes on two acres of his own land on the boundary between the Columbia and Yakima Valley AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and manages four other small vineyards nearby.  Jim’s varieties include Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvedre and Malbec. Besides the varieties he grows, Jim can often find others that customers want because he works closely with several small grape growers in that area to market their grapes.

Jim and his wife moved to Richland in 1974 from the East Coast, where Jim was stationed while serving in the Navy on a nuclear submarine. He planted his first vineyard in 1982.  He built a house on the property for his growing family and as his first vines began to yield fruit, Jim was ready to try his hand at making wine from his own grapes. The wines tasted pretty good, and some did well when he entered them in the local County Fair.  Soon he and a group of friends were enthusiastically making wine on a barrel-scale in the garage and driveway.

In the 1990’s Jim and his friends toyed with the idea of starting a commercial winery, but when his interest in that waned he turned his energies to marketing his grapes to other winemakers.  As neighboring properties changed ownership and new owners showed no interest in growing grapes, Jim took over the care of the vineyards. He now manages several of these parcels, which he calls his “orphans”.

Beginning in late August or early September and continuing through October, Jim takes vineyard samples each week to monitor the changing pH, acid (titratable acidity), sugar and flavor qualities.  The analysis results are used to predict the best date for harvest of each variety. Many customers from Seattle, Spokane, Eastern Oregon and the Portland area visit Jim’s property to pick up their grapes.  In most years customers include a half-dozen wineries, several winemaking clubs and many individual home wine makers. For FH Steinbart, Jim delivers weekly. Winemaking customers who order their grapes from FH Steinbart can be assured that their fruit has been grown and cared for by someone with a real commitment to supplying the best possible ingredients.

Thanks to Jim!

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Mecca Grade Malthouse and Farm Tour

Mecca Grade Estate Malt

In today’s world of global industry, malt production for beer brewing is a pursuit of massive scale, impeccable consistency, and relentless efficiency. In contrast, Seth Klann and his family are producing malt with a focus ALWAYS on flavor. Every step of the process, from breed selection to kilning has been diligently curated to yield products that stand alone in quality and individuality. We recently had the opportunity to tour the Mecca Grade malthouse and farm in Madras, OR and participate in an innovative sensory analysis exercise at his laboratory / taproom onsite.

The original barn from 1905. I hadn’t realized that the farm is older than Steinbart Co.!

Madras is high desert country, with average yearly rainfall at about 12 inches (Portland received about that much in February 2017!). I was intrigued to learn that there is a good reason to grow malt in Madras, as the hot, dry climate lends itself well to seed production. If you have ever grown basil, cilantro or fresh greens in the summer, you know why the desert would make for a great place to grow seed.

For anyone who questions the desert-like nature of the Madras region, note the scorpion that I shook out of my boot on the first morning of our trip.

Beer Nerd Achievement Unlocked!

When we arrived at the malthouse, Seth lead us through a blind sensory exercise called the “Hot Steep Method” of various pilsner malts, including his “Pelton” iteration. The method has recently been approved by the American Society of Brewing Chemists for sensory analysis. It is a great method of tasting malt ingredients that uses common equipment and can be done in the home quickly. Read more about the method (here ←–link).

I was enlightened by the exercise, as I have developed an expectation that Mecca Grade malts are “malty-er” than their non-craft counterparts. But I was surprised to find that Pelton was the lightest in color, and full of classic haylike and grassy notes. This was not just a “pilsner-esque” malt, it was exemplary. It was nice to see that Seth’s malts can shine in traditional styles and purposes.

After the sensory we spent some time in Seth’s Lab and Brewery. He has built an impressive electric brewery, with all the bells and whistles. It seems he does a lot of testing in there on his own, although all the analysis of Mecca products that you see posted is from an independent party.

Can you guess what a friabilimeter measures?

After learning a lot in the lab, we moved on to the malthouse where Seth was steeping a batch of Vanora in his One-of-a-kind “mechanical floor-malter”. Seth designed and built this all-in-one machine from the ground up. It slowly turns over a long and shallow bed of malt constantly during steeping and kilning, ensuring unrivaled consistency, kernel by kernel. As I watched the behemoth slowly churn out Oregon’s finest malt, it became apparent to me the innovation at play in Seth’s invention. The “Uni-Malter” steeps and kilns in the same machine, 12 tons at a time. (Due to the proprietary nature of the machine, we won’t be posting any pictures of the Uni-Malter.)

Although this silo holds one million pounds of grain (and they have four of them!), Mecca Grade is still a tiny malthouse in relation to the rest of the industry. It was impressive to see such vast amounts of material completely processed by just two people.

As we proceeded to tour the fields of the Klaan family farm, Seth and Brad showed us the test field, where they are growing experimental breeds of barley in a search for Oregon’s next ground-breaking beer ingredient. In partnership OSU’s barley breeding program, The Mecca Grade farm is doing their part to grow, analyze, and brew with the next generation of malt breeds. The potential is exciting, to say the least. There is talk of a hybrid malt of Maris Otter and Full Pint (potentially called Maris Beaver, in reference to the OSU mascot!) or Golden Promise and Full Pint (Oregon Promise).

In the back of the Farm is a lookout from “The Mecca Grade”, with a spectacular view of the Deschutes River. Wild high desert herbs like yarrow and sage grow here, and Seth sometimes employs them in his brews as a nod to land that produces his malt.

The view from “the Mecca Grade” looking over the Deschutes River.

For brewers like me who are always seeking the highest quality and authenticity in beer ingredients, Mecca Grade malts are in a class of their own. Full Pint is truly a breed of barley that belongs to Oregon, and the malt made from it is distinctively ours as well. To learn more about the line of malts we offer check out Seth’s descriptions here: See Our Mecca Page

We brought a keg of beer to serve in the Mecca Grade taproom, however, we found it necessary to tap it a little early, during our camping trip in Ochoco Forest. Here we used nature’s kegerator to keep it chilled.