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.