Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Sunshine makes for a beautiful finish to ’14

I pulled into our daughter’s school yesterday afternoon, right alongside a winemaker who was also picking his kids up.

“You busy workin’ hard out there?” I asked, knowingly with a smile.  Of course he had been working hard, with heat like this most area wineries have already finished harvesting their fruit, bringing them knee deep in mid-fermentation by now.

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Bottling last year’s vintage while making this one…

For the past 10 days, I’ve been hauling fruit from picking crews in six of our seven Willamette Valley AVAs and it’s all coming in beautiful. Dry warm weather conditions throughout the growing season have put the industry ahead of schedule by at least two weeks. This has been both a blessing and a curse for some local wineries.

Many area winemakers plan their bottling schedule only a few weeks before they plan on picking the first fruit of the season. Since the vintage has come early this year, these same winemakers have found themselves scrambling to bottle last year’s vintage while processing the fruit for this year’s wine. It’s a logistical nightmare. A lot of winery harvest crews are getting their mettle tested. They can handle it. It simply boils down to some very late nights and some even earlier mornings.

The upside to this challenge is that the 2014 winery crew gets to be part of a team that both bottles last year’s vintage and makes this year’s wine. This year could be considered very good to excellent by many experts’ standards. Truth be told, we’ve really only just begun and it’s very difficult to make those claims

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Harvest 2014 is upon us

As of this week, harvest is officially underway in the Northern Willamette Valley.

That’s not to say that everyone is picking.  We brought in a few tons of Chasselas Dore and Muscat Ottonel at just under 18 brix over the weekend, but everything else is still out there enjoying the last days of pristine sunshine before we bring the fruit in to the winery.  Picking at 18 brix will give wonderfully bright, low alcohol wines, which is why those varietals are generally harvested so much earlier than the rest.  The aromas of freshly fermenting Muscat Ottonel in the production room serve as an aperitivo to what will surely come, quite soon.  Clipping clusters of Chasselas in the Dundee Hills last week, the guys recounted their memories of when they last picked this early – noventa y dos – 1992.  That is not to say that this year’s harvest is quite as early as ’92, which began September 5th, and progressed very steadily in order to avoid pH and sugar levels rising up dangerously high.  No, this early pick was relaxed, fun and a good couple weeks before anything else will come – a ‘family pick’ to kick off the season.  The flavors in the grapes were soft, and the bright acids and low sugar levels will produce refreshing wines at under 10% alcohol.

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!

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Winter rains and brush pulling

Winter mornings in the Willamette Valley are quite gloomy, and it’s been getting dark here by around 5pm – which makes filling an entire day pretty easy when you’re outside in the vineyard.  Today we traversed the rows, pulling brush down the trellis and discarding the cut grapevines into the middle of the path for the tractor to pick up later in the week.  It’s simple work, but hard work no doubt – hard on your body anyway, though with the rain pouring down, it is quite relaxing and soothing at the same time.  This is the type of vineyard work that allows your mind to venture off into it’s own thoughts, without fear that you might make a catastrophic mistake.  Pruning requires complete concentration– if you make the wrong cut, it can have distaerous effects on that year’s eventual fruit set.  Picking fruit even requires your attention– without fail, every year I end up snipping my own hand, and it’s not because I’m on autopilot! it just moves so fast, and you’ve got to keep going along with the rest of the crew and tractor – you can’t fall behind!

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