The Neutral Debate

This year’s crop is BIG.  Like, really big.  In some cases, vineyard crews are picking just half of the fruit a vineyard has produced for the year.  If there were ever a year to know a generous vineyard owner, this really would be it.  You could call a few friends to harvest (clean up) the rest of their vineyard for a home winemaking project!  Unfortunately, along with this surplus there is a shortage of processing equipment – items that are pretty necessary to turn quality fruit into good wine.  Barrels are an especially hot commodity this year.  Never mind even looking if you hope to acquire even just one neutral barrel.  Neutral barrels are those oak barrels that have already been used for three or four passes of new wine from previous vintages, and no longer give the oak flavor to subsequent wines.  Finding a neutral barrel that has been well maintained in a year like this one is much like uncovering a Wonka golden ticket.  The general consensus these days, is that overtly obvious oak flavor in wine is undesirable.  This has been majority opinion with winemakers in Oregon, for a while now.  Why spend the whole year breaking backs, farming your fruit obsessively only to mask the delicate fruits of your labor with the flavor of toasted marshmellow?  This less-is-more perspective has gained ground with many consumers over the past few years, with the most obvious offender being that of classic California Chardonnay.  The movement is now steering wines toward site expression, to give drinkers a true impression of where that fruit was farmed – the terroir.  We really like that local winemakers are moving in this direction.   But it’s made finding neutral barrels really difficult this year!