Dave and Judi Taber and their son, Dave, Jr., sell many types of locally grown fruits and vegetables at their fruit stand, as well as their own wines.
As tree fruit growers close to Washington State’s northern border, Dave and Judi Taber are geographically challenged. With only one small packing house left in Oroville, most of the fruit destined for the big retail chains has to be trucked two or three hours south to be packed and shipped.
But the Tabers, who have been fruit growers for 34 years, look to their close neighbors in Canada for ideas on how to survive in the fruit business. Twenty years ago, they were among the first in the northerly part of Washington to plant cherries. Dave and a small group of orchardists from the area went to the Summerland research station in British Columbia to look at the cherry varieties being bred and tested there. He now has eight varieties planted, including Lapins, Sonata, Skeena, and Staccato from British Columbia, as well as Chelan, Early Robin, Rainier, and Bing.
Six years ago, again inspired by their Canadian friends, the couple planted 11.5 acres of vineyard and established a winery at their home. They will release their first vintages this year, and have opened up their home to the public for wine tastings.
"It was actually a lot of fun," Dave said. "They’re there not to look at your home. They’re there to enjoy the wares."
At their spring barrel tasting, Judi served dried Asian pears, which they produced themselves, with samples of their ice wines.
Their vineyards have Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer, Syrah, Riesling, and Chardonnay grapes. Harvest is just before Thanksgiving, though some Riesling and Chardonnay are left on the vine until they freeze so they can be made into ice wine, a practice that’s common in Canada. Last year, they picked those grapes on December 14. Dave said northerly vineyards such as theirs have an advantage in making genuine ice wine, since federal regulations require that the grapes for ice wine must be frozen naturally on the vine and must remain frozen until crushed. "We’ve been fortunate to have a week to ten days of cold weather to get them picked," he said.
The Tabers, who farm with their son Dave Taber, Jr., are part of a fledgling wine industry in northern Washington. The town of Oroville now has three wineries, with another set to open soon. Over the border in British Columbia, there are 50 wineries in the Okanagan Valley between Osoyoos and Kelowna, Dave reports.
He doesn’t regard other wineries as competition, however. "The wine industry is totally different from the fruit industry," he said. "It’s a –camaraderie of people who are willing to help, and the competition is the wine itself. We had lots of education from our friends to the north. The Canadians are wonderful at doing wine."
The Tabers’ Copper Mountain Vineyards, which is about three miles from the border, will remain a small operation, producing no more than 2,000 cases a year, which Dave feels is an adequate size for a home-based winery. Linda Colvin is their winemaker.
The Tabers also sell their wine at their nearby fruit stand, along with an array of locally grown fruits and vegetables. The fruit stand is a former apple storage building, constructed in 1938. Dave and Judi acquired it when they bought an orchard from his uncle, C.T. Taber, and used it –initially to store equipment.
About five years ago, they decided to convert it into a fruit stand, which involved installing a power supply and sawing holes in the walls as windows. The cut-out sections of wall are on hinges so that the openings can be closed in the off-season. There is no heating.
"The idea was to go at it slow, and not put any money into it," Dave explained. "It was an extremely modest investment."
The fruit stand opens in June when the cherries are harvested. During summer, they sell different varieties of apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums from their orchards. They also produce Pluots, pears, and apples, and this year added a pumpkin patch. In addition, they sell locally grown produce, such as huckleberries, blackberries, raspberries, zucchini, and specialty potatoes.
Local people like to know where their food was grown, Dave said, and in summer, the area’s population swells with visitors who enjoy seeking out local foods. Many customers comment that they’ve never tasted fruit that good before. Taber said he can leave the fruit on the tree to ripen fully when it doesn’t have to be packed and shipped to distant markets, and it’s been said that ripe fruit is better for you.
The Tabers’ 240 acres of orchard and vineyard are spread over 11 locations in the Oroville area, which increases the challenges, but reduces the risks.
"It’s not a manager’s dream," Dave admits. "Between my son and myself, it’s a lot of miles. We put in a lot of time."
Dave Junior, 38, said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to survive as a small farmer, and diversifying seems to be the only way a farm of their size can be a viable operation. "We had to make a –decision whether we’re going to get larger, or diversify and stay this size and try to
get income coming in from five or six –different kinds of farming."
He sees good potential for the winery because of development that’s happening in the area. "Oroville is definitely blossoming right now, more than it has in 50 years. Maybe we’re here at the right time. We have resorts that are popping up here right now. With these resorts, we’re getting people into our area that are tourists and will be here to purchase the wine. The potential for growth is very large, so we’re looking forward to that."