Love of water sports brings photog Myrdal to Oregon, Mt. Hood and Naked Winery’s walls

Grant Myrdal and some of the photographs on show at the Naked Winery tasting room in Hood River.
Grant Myrdal and some of the photographs on show at the Naked Winery tasting room in Hood River.

If you find yourself staring at the gorgeous photography on the walls of the Naked Winery tasting room in Hood River, and find yourself wondering how someone decides to become a surf photographer, let alone make a living at it, here’s how Grant Myrdal carved his path to paradise.

Born and reared in South Africa, Myrdal spent much of his youth surfing the famous Jeffreys Bay break.

Life isn’t all about fun, however, and when reality called, Myrdal completed a master’s degree in urban planning, and actually held down a desk doing that work for just shy of five years.

“When I was 26, my wife Michal and I met,” Myrdal recalls. “I always wanted to follow the ‘Endless Summer,’ get on the road and go surfing around the world. My plan was to do that for two years, then come back to my urban planning job.

“It never happened.”

The “coming back” part, that is. The trip took them in directions they’d never imagined.

They spent six years traveling from beach to beach, reloading the bank account just enough when the money ran out.

Michal loves horses, and landed a steedy gig in New York. It became their base for nine years, while they waited for residency permits in the heightened security environment post-9/11.

“But that kick-started my photography,” Myrdal says.

He had learned to snowboard in Utah, loved photography, and figured he could parlay those passions with his love of surfing to build a business. He couldn’t leave the country, but he could travel to Hawaii, which he did, bobbing in the waves as the world’s best performed for his lens.

After 12 years of bouncing back and forth between New York and Hawaii, Myrdal secured a green card.

“I had an affinity for the West Coast, and I wanted to move back here, but I didn’t want to go back to California — it is so crowded,” Myrdal recalls.

“A friend of my wife was living in Bend. She was a horse person, too. She knew I would love the mountains. So we bit the bullet and moved there without having visited Oregon before.”

Three years after their 2005 move, Myrdal got an invitation to photograph a family reunion on Mt. Hood. As it happens, the family included Matthew Drake, CEO of Mt. Hood Meadows, who appreciated Myrdal’s work and enlisted him to provide on-slope photo services during ski season.

Six years on, Myrdal’s snow photography has grown, complement the last three summers by a focus on wind sports in and around Hood River.

“You get to meet everyone,” he says of his slope-side imaging. “I just love it. Getting down to the river reminds me of all the shiny waters, the boards, the speed from my surfing days. I actually love shooting all that stuff on the river.”

Surfing itself has taken a bit of a back seat, as other activities have drawn Myrdal’s focus. He still gets down to the coast in the fall, when bigger surf hits the West Coast, but when winter waves hit Hawaii, he’s up in the Mt. Hood snow.

Myrdal says photography gives him a thrill almost the equal of his favorite thrill sports.

“I love shooting the stuff; it’s very exciting,” he says. “It’s almost as exciting as doing it yourself. I get sucked into it through the lens. I get such a thrill out of shooting.”

Myrdal loves the direction life has taken him and his wife.

“My wife has started a tack shop,” he says. “She has five horses. Most are rescues. She  takes them in, gives them a lot of love for a year, then tries to find them a good home.”

He loves the casual friendliness of Oregonians, too.

“Especially coming from New York,” he says. “I’m happy.”

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Myrdal’s work will be on display at the Naked Winery tasting room in Hood River through the end of August.

We read about the wine industry, and you should, too

Why? Because it’s interesting, and it affects us here at Naked Winery, and downstream from us, it affects you, our fine and good-looking customers, who need assurance that there will always be an abundant supply from Naked Winery.

Here are two recent stories we thought you might enjoy reading:

A Benedictine abbey in Scotland makes a product that is part wine, and part coffee. Hmm? 

A story in the New York Times tells how grape growers in the Pacific Northwest are thriving, converting acreage from water-hungry fruit trees to more drought-tolerant wine grapes. For us at Naked Winery, it’s about making lemonade out of lemons, only the lemonade is wine, and the lemons are grapes.


Grape grower Kraemer helps put the glee in Naked Winery’s pinot gris

Talk about wine grapes in the Willamette Valley, and talk invariably turns toward the Yamhill-Carlton and Dundee Hills areas in the Northwest corner.

At Naked Winery, winemaker Peter Steinfeld likes what’s growing south and east of the river, on the 600 acres of grapes managed by Dan Kraemer.

Pinot gris, actually.

Kraemer grows pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, and a bit of sauvignon blanc and muscat, but Naked Winery is all about his pinot gris.

“I just love the fruit,” Steinfeld says. “He really cares about the fruit and the wine that his fruit makes.”

Kraemer has been growing wine grapes since 1979. Before that, he was a cattle rancher. A neighbor planted five acres of grapes, sold the vineyard to Kraemer, and it just grew from there.

Kraemer lost the cattle, added sheep and winemaking customers as the grape acreage grew. Other wineries using his fruit include King Estate, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Union Wine, Firesteed, Adelsheim, Ponzi and A to Z Wineworks.

“I don’t produce my own wine,” Kraemer says. “I have no interest in doing that. It’s a separate discipline.”

As many people do, Kraemer learned viticulture mostly by trial and error.

“I just started doing it, and made mistakes along the way,” he says.

His biggest? He says he bought into the industry assumption that he needed to plant vines on extreme south slopes. The problem with that: Most of that land was at higher elevation, hence cooler.

“When I moved my vineyards down to the valley floor, the quantity and quality of the grapes improved,” he says.

“It’s a lot warmer down here.”

With that lesson in the tank, he sold off the elevated plots and didn’t look back. He says he dry farms his vines, letting nature deliver what sky and soil support.

The vines themselves claim a respected heritage. Kraemer says he was fortunate to get pinot noir and pinot gris clones from the Burgundian stock that David Lett first imported to Oregon in 1965. As we now know, those vines helped The Eyrie Vineyards leap onto the world stage in the mid-1970s.

“We got cuttings from him directly,” Kraemer says. “It’s some of the oldest wood there is.”

Great wine begins with great grapes. Naked Winery is happy to share the fruits of Dan Kraemer’s (and David Lett’s) groundbreaking labors.

Wine Locker makes gaining access to our wine a puzzling challenge

Cory Williamson sure would like some Wanderlust White -- if only she could remove the Wine Locker.
Cory Williamson sure would like some Wanderlust White — if only she could remove the Wine Locker.

Harley Colwell lives closer to Portland, Maine, than Portland, Ore., but a recent search for the perfect companion led him virtually to Naked Winery’s world headquarters in Hood River, Ore.

Before you get the wrong idea, let’s be clear – Harley is happily married.

He and his wife, Deanna, operate a small business they call Hardee Crafts, in Windsor, Maine. They make and sell distinctive — and challenging — games and puzzles.

Harley had recently completed design and construction of a novel device to secure a wine bottle from easy access. He was looking for a companion product that would show off the utility of his invention – a safe, empty wine bottle, to be precise.

He didn’t want an ordinary glass wine bottle. He and Deanna take his ingenious creations on a busy schedule of craft fairs, where eager customers might accidentally drop a glass bottle on the floor.

Or, if they got too frustrated trying to figure out how to remove the Wine Locker, they might decide that dropping the bottle on the floor was the quickest and surest way to remove what we at Naked have come to call “the chastity bolt.”

The Colwells hooked up by e-mail and phone with our ace customer service rep, Cory Williamson.

What led the Colwells to Cory was the discovery that we use a plastic bottle for our Outdoor Vino wines. Light, simple and unlikely to shatter if dropped on a concrete floor.

Perfect, in short, to demonstrate the puzzling inaccessibility of the Wine Locker.

At Naked, we’re fine with corks and screw caps. We just draw the line at permanent – or difficult – closures, such as the Wine Locker that Harley invented. When it’s time to get into the bottle, we want in, now if not sooner.

But we were so intrigued with Harley’s Wine Locker, we had to learn more.

Harley retired in 2005 from a career as a physics teacher.

He says the Wine Locker is one of three puzzles he developed this year.  It didn’t happen easily.

“That design was in the works for years,” he says. “I kept trying different things. I’d give up for awhile, then try something else. There were probably a dozen failed attempts.”

He had seen other wine security devices, “all based on string technology.” He knows a gentleman who makes those, and thought out of fairness, he would take a different route, to a mechanical device using wood and bolts.

“He had the basic idea, and then it was refining it,” Deanna says.

“I kept working and working on it,” Harley says. “Finally I got the combination this year that worked out.”

He says someone who figures it out can remove the Wine Locker in about a minute.

That would not – yet – include the crew at Naked Winery. Harley has promised to send the removal instructions to Williamson, once she cries “uncle.”

Harley says the mental landscape that can comprehend physics helps prepare someone such as himself to imagine and build puzzles.

“For puzzle lovers, it’s not the physics behind it, but it’s the ability to turn things around in your head,” Harley says.

Well, good job, Harley. Your Wine Locker has turned our heads around — and tied them in a knot.

Could  you send us the number for that other puzzle guy, the one who works with string?

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For grape grower Ziegler, winemaker Steinfeld, it’s all about ‘relationship’

Nathan Ziegler ... not far from the grapes.
Nathan Ziegler … not far from the grapes.

For a brief three-year period, Nathan Ziegler had his name on the front of wine bottles. He was making wine with his own grapes, competing for shelf space with the likes of Naked Winery.

Then life came along and told him things would be just fine if he stepped into the background, and turned his focus to growing great grapes. These days, he says he would be quite happy if his name appeared on the back label of a release or two from Naked, as the owner of a vineyard that produced the juice.

Odds are good, after Ziegler signed a six-year contract to provide Naked Winery with tempranillo grapes from roughly three acres that slope gently toward the Columbia River.

Ziegler comes from a long line of farmers. Five generations of Zieglers have farmed the western slopes of Underwood Mountain in Washington, just to the west of the White Salmon River valley. Ziegler loves farming, and when he’s not tending grapes, he builds custom homes.

For Ziegler, selling his last bottle of pinot gris in 2012 meant he could reclaim a bit of freedom, to spend time with his wife and kids, to chase the sun to Arizona and Baja in the winter, to get out on the White Salmon in a doofus raft when the temps top 90.

Ziegler smiles, recalling the reactions when he told people he was quitting the winemaking business.

One chef told him, incredulous, “You’ve just pushed the nut to the top of the hill.”

Trouble was, the nut was still too big. Starting and running a winery was looking too limiting. Ziegler just reached a point where he realized growing grapes was enough.

“I realized I didn’t want a winery,” he recalls. “I just want a consistent relationship with a good winemaker. Naked said ‘I want it all.’ I said, ‘Done.’”

His father, Ken, and uncle Clark Ziegler started growing tempranillo in the late 1990s. Their property lay farther to the west, adjacent to the noted Celilo Vineyard.

“Clark tried it, and kicked its butt,” Nathan says.

Uh, that means the vines thrived, suggesting to the younger Ziegler that it would be a good grape to replace the riesling vines on his property when he acquired it in 2005.

That was right around the time Ziegler recalls first meeting Naked founding partners Dave and Jody Barringer. Ziegler was at a meeting of the nascent Columbia Gorge Wine Growers Association, chatting with longtime local winemaker Joel Goodwillie, when the Barringers joined them.

They shared their vision for Naked Winery.

“Everybody was taking it in, ‘Uh-huh, that’s interesting,’” Ziegler recalls. “Dave is an amazing marketer. They’ve done it. At the end of the day, they’re enjoying their IPA.”

That’s his way of expressing respect for people who work hard, and can kick back with a cold beer at day’s end.

It’s how he likes life. He’s also liking the chance to work closely with the Naked team, in particular winemaker Peter Steinfeld. Ziegler sold 8.5 tons of tempranillo to Naked from the 2013 harvest, which he thinks was the best since 2009.

The upper half of Ziegler’s land supports pinot gris. Ziegler hopes to share that as well with Naked.

“Eventually, we’d like to work with his pinot gris,” says Steinfeld. “Right now, it’s just tempranillo. His tempranillo is very clean fruit, nicely balanced, delivered in perfect condition with even ripeness.”

The first juice from Ziegler grapes is still in the barrels, “coming along nicely, tasting good,” Steinfeld says.

He’s not sure how he will bottle it – by itself, or blended with juice from other tempranillo sources.

“We are about delivering the best wine possible, and that’s why we get it from different sources,” Steinfeld says. “I like to work with Nathan because you can talk to him, and know you can have a long-term relationship.”

And, if all goes well, maybe some day slap his name on the back of a bottle.

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Vineyard manager Kimiko Atkins puts her art degree to grape expectations

Evelyn Atkins, Terrence Atkins, Kimiko Atkins and Takashi Atkins.
Evelyn Atkins, Terrence Atkins, Kimiko Atkins and Takashi Atkins.

When you tip a glass of Naked Winery’s Climax Red, Oh! Orgasmic Nebbiolo or Sangiovese, just remember to toast Kimiko Atkins.

Atkins, who spends most of her days out on the gently sloping banks of the Columbia River’s north shore near Maryhill, Wash., descends from a long line of farmers who came to the Columbia Valley from Japan in the early 20th century.

Her ancestors on her mother’s side of the family grew truck crops and orchards.

Crop trends change. Today, Kimiko manages vineyards.

Orchards, too, until they stop producing fruit. Then the trees come out and vines go in.

Kimiko is one of Naked’s silent partners, quietly pruning and training the vines that will bud and leaf and develop those marvelous, curvy clusters full of juice that is just begging to squeeze inside a glass bottle.

Kimiko Atkins with mourvedre vines near Maryhill, Wash.
Kimiko Atkins with mourvedre vines near Maryhill, Wash.

She says Naked buys about five tons each of her sangiovese, nebbiolo and barbera harvest – maybe six acres worth of fruit from the 35 acres of vineyards that she manages with her brother, Takashi. The vineyards also supply juice for the Waving Tree label, made by her father, Terrence.

“They seem to like our grapes,” Terrence says of Naked’s appetite for the family’s fruit. “From a quality standpoint, their wines are really nice.

“Peter is doing a great job,” Atkins says of Naked’s winemaker Peter Steinfeld.

Growing up in a farm family, Kimiko at first thought she might try something different. She went to Central Washington University, extracting a degree in fine art and graphic design.

But her path to a degree took a bit of a detour, when her dad’s growing interest in winemaking created a powerful pull on her talents.

The property had hosted wine grapes since the late 1800s. The sandy loam began a return to those roots after Kimiko’s mother died in 1998, and she and her brother, Tahashi, inherited the property.

Terrence decided to make some wine from the old vines. Not bad, he thought. That led him to take his home winemaking hobby to the next level.

Reading books from the University of California at Davis.

Poking into the winemaking process at neighboring wineries.

And, ultimately, enlisting Kimiko to help produce grape.

“This is what you can do with a BFA in sculpture,” Kimiko says, laughing at the turn of events that put her hand to the fine art of growing grapes.

At first, she recalls, she knew only how much she didn’t know. Lucky for her, she found her way to a viticulture certificate program from Washington State University in Prosser. It was there that she met the vineyard managers from such well-known labels as Kestrel and Columbia Crest.

“Those people were very generous with their help and knowledge,” Kimiko says. “I had one year of experience – enough to know I was in trouble.”

Not any more. As she walks through her vineyards, she talks about the different pruning styles for each grape, how she trims the leaves to let in sunlight and air, how she limits the amount of irrigation water to force the growth of smaller berries to boost the ratio of skin (and flavor and color) to juice.

The family vineyard has been supplying grape to Naked for three years, she says. Kimiko works closely with Jody Barringer, an owner and director of operations at Naked, to cultivate the grapes that Naked wants. She says it’s a symbiotic relationship.

“We have a great working relationship,” Barringer says. “Kimiko has a passion about grapes and continuing to learn vineyard management. I have learned a lot from her about the growing process and things to look for in a vineyard. I enjoy walking the vineyards with her and discussing the upcoming harvest.”

And, a few months down the road, tasting the fruit of their shared labors.