February 11, 2017

Visit to Hiyu Wine Farm in the Hood River Valley

Pano from the top of the vineyard at Hiyu Wine Farm

Recently I tagged along with a wine retail friend on a mid-week visit to Hiyu Wine Farm, on a lovely  southeastern slope in the heart of the Hood River Valley. I'd heard good things about Hiyu and wanted to see it for myself, again.

This is the old Pheasant Valley winery property, and I'd stayed here twice some years back when it was a bed and breakfast. This area is absolutely beautiful and it was nice to see it in the new Hiyu era.

Vines at Pheasant Valley were planted approximately 15 years ago, joining fruit trees and other crops on a property that's been organically farmed for more than 30 years. 

In 2015 the property sold and was renamed Hiyu, apparently Chinook jargon for abundance. The new owners (unfortunately away this day) are serious about natural food and wine, and things smelled great as we waited for the assistant winemaker Graham in the airy, open kitchen/tasting room.

Looking over grafted wines in the snow at Hiyu 
We started with a walk in the vineyard. It's been a snowy winter in the lowlands of Oregon, and as we hiked past some farm animals and then up the vineyard slope, we heard from Graham all about their field grafting project. 

Over a few years, the crew here is grafting much of the original mix of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo and other grapes, leaving some of the original plants but a wide mix of other varieties, too many to catch on the cold but beautiful hike. Graham relayed that they're looking to make field blends that express the terroir of Hiyu.

Animals are integral to biodynamics at Hiyu Wine Farm

At the top we found animals that are integral to this biodynamic farm. We stopped to check out the view and hear about how there's been snow on the ground for two straight months.

We hiked back down and entered the barrel cellar to taste. Overall, Hiyu and their label for non-estate wines, Smockshop Band, are really impressive. Clearly something different is happening in the Hood these days with a handful of really exciting producers, and I'm happy to see it.

Casks of all sizes in the cellar at Hiyu
Quick impressions of wines from barrel, all naturally fermented and from 2016 unless noted. These are very young wines that show ones approach in the vineyard and cellar, but not the elements of finished wines yet, nb:

First, we tried two ciders. The Hood River valley is long known for its apples, so a natural fit. First a crab apple cider that I thought was taut and lovely. Then a mixed apple cider that was a little more wild and broad. I'm not a huge cider guy but this is obviously serious farmhouse stuff.

Then some white. First, Chardonnay that's lean and suave. Then a blend of white Spanish varieties that was waxy and golden, I loved it. Finally a Gewürztraminer that was pleasantly bitter as the variety tends to be, but balanced and lively.

Beautiful oak upright fermenters
Next we tried two Rose wines - first a white Zinfanfel, dry and brisk with lots of watermelon rind; then a skin fermented Pinot Gris that was tannic but fascinating. I want to experiment with Gris like this.

Then we moved on to several reds. First Grenache that I loved. It was super elegant and white peppery, translucent in color, definitely a presentation we should see more of in the US. Next the Pinot Noir from 2016 and 2015. Both were fairly firm and dense.

Several of the wines come from non-estate fruit, most (all?) from Scortched Earth vineyard. The Zinfandel was fairly reduced - not unreasonably, I made wines in a reductive way as well - but clearly both dense and light on its feet. Syrah also scortched earth was nice with berry fruit and some light herbal, red pepper quality to take the wine beyond fruit.

Each barrel gets its own name
Then some really out there wines for this part of the world, first a Mencia/Cabernet Franc blend that's crazy inky and weird in a good way. Next a Tempranillo that was 80 days on skins - yes, 80 - that's all texture and promise at this point. Finally a miscellaneous blend they call Red Grafts, in a small barrel - Pinot, Syrah, and others from the grafting project - fruity and delicious already.

We then went back into the tasting room and tried a few things from bottle, all under the Smokeshop Band label:

The Smockshop Band label
Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Rich with barrel notes but I liked it, bought one of these.

White blend mostly Chardonnay 2014
Golden Chardonnay character here, fairly broad and rich but nicely in check.

Pinot Noir 2014
From estate fruit but not farmed by the new owners so under the Smokeshop Band label. Broad red fruit, black cherry and tannin, tried this again a few nights later at Davenport in Portland and it was dense and firm, in a good way but definitely weighty for Pinot.

Syrah Grenache 2015, from Scortched Earth
Incense and tannin, low fruit, interesting but a little rough but obviously young, I bought one of these as well to see how it relaxes with some more time in bottle.

The Smockshop Band line up - estate wines from Hiyu coming soon
In all, a fascinating visit to the new generation in Hood River. Hiyu Wine Farm is already making some really interesting wines, definitely check them out. And visit the winery. They have quite a facility for tasting and dining, I'd love to come back in the summer for a meal.

January 11, 2017

Thinking of classic wines in the new year

It has been many years since I began this site. I find I have more than ever to write about, yet neither the time nor the inclination to do much writing. What are blogs now in the age of Twitter anyway? So I wonder, and delay.

I suppose blogs are what they've always been, a way to write in long(er) form about, in this case, wine. I never solicited much traffic for this site, joking at one point on the old Wine Therapy site that I was aiming for more people leaving my site than coming to it.

I've never quite managed that but a new year brings new hope, and perhaps new resolve to do something that's good for me and that I still avoid at times like the plague - write. No matter who reads, if anyone.

So where am I with wine these days? I think I largely drink the same kinds of wines as I did from the earliest days here, then already well into my wine evolution that settled on what we might have called "real" wines then. That movement seems to have morphed fully and expanded well beyond into what we now call "natural" wines, with much more vigilance (over the top?) on every move in the vineyard and cellar.

More and more though, I think my interest has been and remains most in what I'd call "classic" wines. Those of old school producers the world over, producers new and old, with perhaps a lutte raisonnee approach to their craft. These are producers who capture their regions best in the wines they make, who I'd say work in a "real" way if not 100% "natural" (doing nothing, not even sulfur - let's be real if we want the term to mean anything).

I'm thinking of the Chave, Bize and Lapierre of France, the Vajra, Conterno and Bruno Giacosa of Italy, Tahbilk and Chambers of Australia, Edmunds St. John, Mt. Eden and Ridge of California, among many others in their areas. And that's not to mention so many legends old and new here in Oregon and in pretty much every region of the world if you get right down to it.

The wine world sees trends come and go, but there are so many producers making wines of place without dogma. Those are the ones I've always loved the most, and I suppose in this new year, as I drink the 2012 Domaine Eden Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains - from the old Cinnabar vineyard acquired some years back by Mt. Eden - I feel a renewed energy to take up my education in wine again, my elevage. Wish me luck.

August 22, 2016

Bottling and another early harvest at Vincent Wine Company

It's the end of August so it must be bottling time, and with a warm growing season the grapes are going to be ready for harvest maybe by the end of next week.

I spent this afternoon arranging all my barrels of 2015 Vincent wines for racking the next two days. That's when I'm assembling my blends, mixing these barrels and those barrels to come up with my various bottlings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and finally Gamay Noir.

Blending is the art of finding barrels of my wine that I think most reflect what was great in each particular vineyard where I have vines. I look for barrels with good intensity and the right acid and tannin structure that creates harmony in a wine, literally how it feels.

With the 2015 vintage, I will produce six different single vineyard bottlings, more than any year ever. This fall I'm releasing my annual Armstrong vineyard designate from Ribbon Ridge. Next spring I'll release 2015 vineyard designate wines from Zenith, Bjornson and Silvershot (renamed Crowley Station).

Then a year from now I'll have two special bottlings from 2015 that I haven't mentioned much yet. One is from old vines at Temperance Hill that I got in 2015 but am not a lock to get it every year going forward. The other is a late bottled wine from Armstrong based on one fermenter of special grapes the grower and I selected, aged longer in older oak to showcase the elegant power of this vineyard.

Bottling happens this Friday, and then we'll quickly be getting fermentation bins and other harvest materials ready to go. Last year was my earliest harvest ever, starting Labor Day weekend. We might top that this year, just hope for cool, dry weather right at harvest. That makes such a difference.

I usually begin picking Pinot Noir at Armstrong on Ribbon Ridge before anywhere else, sometimes then Silvershot though lately Zenith and even Bjornson have been coming in beforehand. We'll see about the Gamay at Bjornson, it's a later ripener but the Gamay vines are still young here and that means they could ripen earlier. Then I have my cool sites for later ripening Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, which should come in last though who knows at this point.

Something will surprise me I'm sure.

January 18, 2016

Harvest epilogue

It took nine years to get to Pluto. It took about that same amount of time to realize my dream of working full time in wine.

I finally caught a glimpse of it this past summer, just when Pluto came into better view. I was inspired by the excitement, accomplishment, relief everyone who worked on the project must have felt.

The view down Eola Hills Road across the Willamette Valley

So too with me.

The latter part of 2015 became the entry to a new life, a beginning of sorts even if things are clearly somewhere in the middle.

Harvest was the entrance, the first season where I could devote myself completely in a way I never had before.

Autumn moon

I learned some things, some of them things I knew but know in a new way now.

You can't be demanding of others if you aren't demanding of yourself.

You can't be too serious, but if you're not serious about things that matter to you, what do you expect to happen?

And I'm all in with my wine production, no matter what. I'd rather have great and bad than only good. I'm committed to that.

When harvest was done, it came time to ship mailing list orders

In the end, I'm left with one simple wish - please don't let this be all there is. It's that good.

I suppose the next years are all about making sure that wish keeps coming true.

This harvest, we saw visitors of all kinds, including Winnie.



January 09, 2016

Last days of harvest

My harvest started on September 5 and my last fruit came in September 28. I'd already drained and pressed a few fermenters by then, so already the peak of activity had passed, the fruit sorting equipment put away and the last days of harvest work upon us.

Draining one of the last fermenters of 2015
 This year those final days were a bit sad. Instead of the relief of past years, where I could relax and now worry about how yet another harvest was going to fit in with my day job, this year was the first time I felt sad harvest was ending.

Aerating the new wine to settle for two days before barreling
I wouldn't miss the countless hours at the winery, every day, seven days a week for several weeks. This year I was just able to immerse myself in the harvest like never before. I loved it, even when it was hard. I didn't want to say goodbye but there was no choice.

Freshly filled barrel of Pinot Noir
So it was days of draining fermenters into clean bins to let the wine settle out a bit before filling barrels, then loading the press with a shovel, squeezing out the rest of the new wine, then cleaning the press and reloading.

After one false start, definitely the final punchdown of 2015
Then it's barrel washing with a hot water pressure washer and a special fitting to create a super strong stream of water to clean every inch inside the barrel. Then filling to the top and being careful to not overfill.

When I say handmade and I do the work, here you go
The work is physical, not overwhelming but requiring endurance. Long days followed by long days, one shovel load at a time until all the fermenters are empty and all the barrels filled.

Last barrels filled this year, Temperance Hill vineyard Pinot Noir
The last barrels to be filled were Temperance, the unexpected fruit this harvest that I'm so thankful about. It's been a few months and this wasn't my first harvest, so I can't quite recall that moment when I was done. Totally done, all in barrel and leaving the winery knowing harvest is over.

But it was nearly October 20, several weeks from the start. And I know it was sweet. It always is. Always.

January 03, 2016

Unexpected fruit

Was a beautiful day on September 28 when we picked at Temperance Hill
Sometimes unexpected things happen, for the good.

One day in the middle of September I was delivering some of my 2014 Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir to the bar at the SE Wine Collection and ran into Tom Monroe of Division Winemaking Company.

Hey, are you looking for any Pinot Noir? Tom asked. No, I replied. This harvest was large and I'd already turned down several offers of extra grapes.

What if it were special Pinot Noir, Tom persisted.

What does that mean, I replied.

Temperance Hill vineyard. Flat Block early 1980s plantings of Wadenswil clone.

Um, yeah was all I needed to say.

What a stroke of luck. Here was a vineyard that I'd known about since the 1990s. I'd give almost anything for a chance to work with Temperance fruit.


Here's the deal. There's a wait list for Temperance, but Tom has had a block for a few years. When extra fruit came available, Tom couldn't use quite all of it and thought of me.

I focus on the Eola Hills and just moved my production there. I'd love to feature the wine I make here in a single vineyard bottling, but I do have an Eola-Amity Hills AVA bottling that I can work it into if needed.

Freshly destemmed Temperance Hill vineyard Pinot Noir

Temperance would only be a one time thing. I'd rather work with vineyards year over year, but the chance to work with special fruit like this is reason to make an exception.

Free run Temperance Hill vineyard Pinot Noir after 18 days of fermentation

On September 28 we picked the grapes, late for this year but the fruit was still in such great condition. Sugar levels were modest, 21.6 brix, with acidity still bright at 3.39pH after soaking for 24 hours (I'd estimate it started at 3.25pH but I didn't have time to measure it).

Press wine from Temperance - notice the color difference from the free run

I got 1.1 tons of fruit, enough to fill three barrels. The wine fermented wonderfully and is beautifully dense but restrained. It shows what I can only only describe is an old(ish) vine savory richness without adding heaviness.

Gorgeous evening drive home after processing the Temperance fruit
I'm super excited about this wine and hope somehow I can continue working with this vineyard. Stay tuned to hear more about that, but even if there were all there was for me from Temperance, I'd say a dream came true.

December 21, 2015

Sleeping out

Moving my wine production from Portland out to Yamhill county this past fall meant some big changes for me during harvest.

Harvest ended up going fantastically well though not without minor hitches. Some white wines fermented more slowly than I might like (some are even still going). One red ferment got a bit hotter than I'd like though the wine is still delicious (maybe the heat wasn't a problem!).

Then came the most poignant moment this season, the one night I slept out at the winery, something I expected to do more often but just didn't. 

I thought a winery move to the country would require staying the night several times. Turned out the drive back to Portland was usually just the thing the I needed, even late at night. The moon and stars, quiet roads that make for a fast trip and then a hard, fast sleep in my own bed.

Then the last Saturday in September, when all but the last of the Pinot Noir had come in, a few of us slept out on the crush pad for the night. Turns out I didn't sleep much. Too much on my mind. Everything.

That evening I had this horrible sense of dread, like waking up from a nightmare with a sick feeling when anyone around you would say nothing's wrong.

And nothing was wrong in the winery. Just me.

I don't really think I'm all that exceptional of a person, but I believe the thing that inspires me is. It's this indescribable force that drives me, that gives me the confidence to do anything I do. To believe in myself, even when I worry something's off track or seems off track (which is common). My muse, to be fanciful. 

That night it was as if my muse had told me my inspiration wasn't mine at all, a language I thought was unique but wasn't. Which struck me pretty much as my nightmare, the one thing I'm really afraid of, not because it stops my work but calls into question the purpose of my work. Meaning I didn't really sleep, could only think that what I thought I had wasn't unique after all.

Maybe it's saying too much to say this, but I worried that I've tapped into some deeper well than I've ever known in this work I'm doing, that I'm actually on to something more special than I could have ever imagined. I guess the shock I felt was like climbing out on a tree limb full of confidence, sure it will hold, and then feeling that it isn't. You wonder if you were a fool to let yourself go there, to believe in a notion and commit.

That night I was so cold, and not just because I didn't have enough blankets. I put so much of myself in this work and that sudden feeling that everything's all wrong was too much.

Dawn on the crush pad after a cold night

When dawn came I was relieved. Bright sun, a glimpse of the moon, I felt so still. 

Plenty of people are making terroir-driven wine, fermenting naturally with a reactive, improvised approach instead of seeking total control. More listening than talking as it were. Surely what I'm doing isn't unique.

But then I understood that my inspiration is still there. Even if I can't always find it, even if some moments feel so cold like that night. My job is to keep listening, and to believe even when it seems crazy. And this is whole thing is surely crazy but the best crazy I've ever known. Even when all I can do is lie awake and wonder. 

So I got up and got back to work. I felt different but more honest, and now there was less to fear. I have this goal of making wine without fear, focused on what could go right instead of all that might go wrong. In some strange way, after that cold night I felt better, still there, no matter what. 

December 14, 2015

Everyday harvest

Harvest is an everyday thing, the days become weeks and a month without much notice. Once the grapes start coming in, I'm at the winery every day until the very end. Not every day needs to be long. I learned from my mentors to pace yourself, perhaps to take Sundays (mostly) off, when you can.

The pH meter is the hands off winemaker's best friend - calibrating here

There might seem to be a monotony to harvest, the daily punch downs and tests. We test everything daily to track fermentation progress. or most days depending on where something is in its progression and what else needs doing that day.

Really things are ever changing during harvest, nothing is routine. Fermenters that two days ago were quiet might now be fermenting madly. Another that was harvested only yesterday might already be showing signs of fermentation starting, where others take their time. Every day things are changing and our job is to pay attention and respond.

Stacks of empty barrels outside the winery waiting to be filled

There's planning ahead, sorting through the stacks of empty barrels to find the one you want to start filling with the first wines ready for bed, lining up times the press will be available to use.

Then there are errands around the valley, returning picking bins to vineyards, heading into town for winery supplies and maybe a decent lunch. While there's still fruit out in any vineyards, there are trips to check out the vines and talk to growers about when I'll want to be picking.

The Coppa pizza at Red Hills Market in Dundee, far more than decent

The errands are my favorite things. Even as an intern for others I always wanted to be the guy who got to go into town or check out the vines, stop by other wineries to see how things are going.

99W south of McMinnville on a glorious autumn day

I'm lazy, it's true, but I like to think it's a productive lazy. Maybe the best thing about making wine for myself is being able to do a little bit of everything, even indulging my lazy. So yeah, I'm the errand guy now too. And I might just take a bit longer road on the way back from town, if only to admire the view.

Gamay!

This harvest I realized a small dream, making my first Gamay Noir. The grape of Beaujolais (and Burgundy!) grows well in the Willamette Valley even if there aren't many producers working with it. Why not? I can't figure it out though perhaps the answer is right in front of me. Most people don't know what Gamay Noir is and just as many seem certain that Beaujolais is only about vapid nouveau wines each November.

Gamay Noir on the vine at Bjornson Vineyard

Nevertheless, I've wanted to make Gamay for years. It's a noble grape but has a reputation for not being so serious, perhaps a wild friend of the more buttoned down Pinot Noir. That's not entirely accurate - Gamay can be very serious. It's just not taken seriously all that much.

I remember working for a producer years ago that had a small amount of Gamay vines. I was so excited, asking questions about how the wine is made and where it ends up. The answers weren't so exciting. The producer sighed and said he didn't really think much of the Gamay. I think it was blended away as a small component in a basic Pinot Noir bottling. I was a little heartbroken, especially after fermenting the grapes that harvest. Such bright and peppery wine, I never forgot it and dreamed of making my own some day.

Gamay fermenting naturally w/ one punch down a day
That day has arrived, and so did 1.1 tons of Gamay noir a jus blanc (the full name) from baby vines at Bjornson Vineyard on Thursday, September 10. That's early for Gamay but young vines ripen early, which is one challenge with them compared to old vines that don't race to the finish.

How was the fruit? Like everything I had this year, the grape chemistry was incredibly good, surprisingly so given the hot summer. The Gamay looked and tasted great, even if some people might have thought it was a little early to pick. I like grapes like I like meat, medium rare. So brix was 21.7 and pH 3.24, pretty much perfect if you ask me.

A brilliant scarlet color to the new Gamay
Because this is my first Gamay, I treated it like I do my Pinot Noir. Destemmed, lightly crushed, then left to ferment naturally, the fermenter drained and pressed only after primary fermentation was done for a few days. I'll be honest, this wine ended up spending more time on the skins than I might have planned. After 25 days, I drained the fermenter and pressed the skins, filling three barrels a few days later after the new wine had some time to settle out a bit.

Hoping for something poetic, so my e.e. cummings inspired barrel tag

As with most red wines in the 2015 vintage, my Gamay is unusally dark in color despite it's fresh acidity and lowish alcohol. We'll see how the color changes over a year of aging in old French oak barrels. I plan to bottle at the end of next summer. Look for this wine next fall.

November 24, 2015

The drive

The questions this harvest were always about the drive and how I was moving my wine production from the city to the country.

How's the drive?
Do you miss making wine in Portland?
Do you live at the winery during harvest?

The answers, for the record, are fine, not really, no.

Looking east across the valley from Eola Hills Road

Yes, I live in NE Portland and after six years at winery facilities in the city of Portland, I now drive all the way to the Eola Hills between Dundee and Salem to make my wine.

So how was the drive? Marvelous, mostly.

I grew up in Los Angeles, maybe I'm just used to driving. The hour+ commute each way to my winery home at Grochau Cellars was often just the time I needed to clear my thoughts, listen to my muse, occasionally respond, and generally make sure the countryside and each harvest day and night passed marked.

Willamette River in September from the Wheatland Ferry
The route was mostly the same. Interstate 5 south to Exit 263, then west and a bit north to the Wheatland Ferry, the only car crossing between Newberg and Salem. From the west side of the Ferry, it's just a few minutes up the hill to the winery.

On late nights after the Ferry stopped running, I'd drive back through Dundee and Newberg to Portland. Too busy during the day, late at night the route is quiet and direct, and one September night anyway the stars bright over the Dundee Hills after midnight took my breath away.

A bouquet of fresh hop flowers found on the roadside one morning

Mostly it was a freeway drive without much traffic, then two lane roads through the hop yards of the Willamette Valley, the old school car ferry and my thoughts. And occasionally stopping on the side of the road to finish a conversation before losing cell service.

The sunsets this harvest were exceptional almost every day
I thought I'd spend more nights at the winery, just for convenience. I found I liked getting back home each night, and without proper camping gear (which is changing) I only spent one cold night on the crush pad, under the stars and more thoughts

More on that soon enough.

November 20, 2015

Red ferments, waiting, punchdowns, doing nothing

Last time I wrote about making white wines. Essentially, that means pressing the grapes right away and fermenting the juice on its own. This method keeps the white wines pale in color and free of astringency that the skins and other solids would give to the wine.

With red wines, you ferment the juice in contact with the grape skins, pulp, seeds, maybe even the stems depending on your preference. The point is to extract lots of things from the grape solids to provide color, flavor and texture to the red wine. Only after fermentation is done do we separate the new red wine from the grape solids.

A fermenter bin full of destemmed Pinot Noir grapes

I'm not sure how to describe my wine making methods other than to say I take a simple approach. I don't add yeast, nor do I add any yeast foods, texture enhancers, and whatever else you can find in the winery supply catalogs. I don't cook that way and I don't think the best wines are made with the intention of totally controlling the outcome.

This harvest, fruit quality was exceptional, meaning there was so little rot or other issues in the grapes that you knew right away on each harvest day that things were going to go well. Think of the nicest fish you've ever cooked - perfectly fresh, like a dream, so you know all you need to do is prepare it simply and the meal couldn't be better.

Making wine is no different. Not every lot of grapes may have the integrity for such a simple approach. Rainy years are particularly difficult as molds and other things can start growing in the grape clusters, potentially hurting the quality of the wine. In 2015, the story of the harvest for me was a consistency of fruit quality from every site I work with so that, as usual, nothing really had to be done.

Pigeage or foot treading the gapes for gentle extraction the old fashioned way.

What does that mean? Fruit is sorted and destemmed (in most cases) into well cleaned fermenter bins. The next day I will do one pump over, or remontage, where I pump the grape juice from the bottom of the vat and spray it gently over the surface to mix and aerate things, much as you are adding oxygen to bread dough in the kneading process. That oxygen feeds the yeast to promote a strong native fermentation.

Then I do nothing. For days.

Ok, I wait, and of course I check on things each day, take temperatures, smell, generally assess how things are going. But I don't punch down the grape skins, mixing things in the fermenter. Instead I'm waiting for fermentation on the surface to build to a point where carbon dioxide production from that activity is strong enough to really make you notice.
The view as I punch down a fermenter of Pinot Noir

Only then do I punch down the fermenter for the first time. In some harvests that can take up to 10 days of waiting. This year, fermentations took off after 5 or 6 days, most likely because even with our cooler than expected September weather, ambient temperatures were higher than you'd see in a normal year of harvesting in early October. Even slightly warmer temps means slightly faster starts to fermentation, one of the many little attributes of each vintage.

Before anyone worries - what, fast fermentations? That sounds bad! - let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm saying that my natural fermentations run on their own schedules each year, and this year things started a bit more quickly than usual. However, the most significant difference in my red wine making this year compared to prior years is that fermentations lasted longer than usual.


As fermentation continues, I will punch down (mix) the fermenters only once a day, and then not even every day. Wine making school will tell you this will ruin a wine. Without enough mixing, vinegar bacteria or other issues will take hold. My experience is different, and I've found that punching down only a handful of times over the entire fermentation period allows the delicate texture of the wine to come together. Think of lace - work it too much and it tears. Treat it gently and you preserve a delicate, beautiful integrity that means everything.

Close up of the foamy goodness of native yeast fermentation of Pinot Noir.

Some years, even if fermentation takes 10 days to start, after another 10 days the wine is dry (finished fermenting) and the fermenter is ready to drain and press. But this year, even with quicker starts to fermentation, nothing fermented too fast and many of my fermenters took 24 and up to 28 days from harvest to be ready to drain and press.

The dark, already pretty clear color of free run Pinot Noir.
That extra contact time with the grape solids often gives a wine more savory, complex flavors and aromas beyond fresh fruit qualities. The potential downside of longer "skin contact" could be increased tannin, perhaps even bitterness, and perhaps losing too much freshness. It's a balancing act, but with warm summer and perfectly healthy fruit, I found that the added skin contact time for the new wines helped draw out a vinuos quality in favor of loads of fresh, dense fruit. Some of that is good, too much is not really wine but fruit juice.

By contrast, the lighter colored, murky press wine that needs settling.
As usual, when draining a fermenter and pressing the grape solids, I let the new wine settle for a couple of days before filling barrels. The goal is to allow a good bit of the suspended solids to settle out, so that there's some but not too much lees (sediment) in the barrels as the wines age.

November 05, 2015

Pressing white grapes

With red grapes, the basic process for making wine is fermenting the grape skins, pulp, seeds, maybe stems and of course the grape juice all together. Only when fermentation is done do you load the press with the grape solids and press out the wine.

Old vine 108 clone Chardonnay from Namaste Vineyard
With white grapes, things are easier and more difficult. Easier in that you typically press the grapes right away to get just the juice – no pulp or seeds or skins – and ferment the juice in tanks or barrels. There are no daily punch downs as with making red wine.

But it's harder to press unfermented fruit. Grapes are pulpy and don't want to give up their juice too easily. Grapes are also sticky and attract lots of bees, so loading the press is a little more dangerous if you don't want to get stung.

Loading Pinot Blanc into the press by hand, one shovel load at a time

This year I worked with Chardonnay from three different vineyards and Pinot Blanc from a single site. Having a small press at the new winery – something we will likely change in the years ahead – meant loading the press several times. By hand, one shovel full of grapes at a time for literally tons of fruit. Forget crossfit, this is body by harvest, good honest work that gives you time to think.

The beautiful inside of a well cleaned, several years old French oak barrel for white wine

As with my red wines, I like to let the freshly pressed white juice settle to a few days before filling barrels. This process allows the gross lees, or sediment, to settle out so the white juice is more pure for its fermentation. Fermentation in always native with my white and red wines, meaning no yeasts added, fermentation happening only with yeasts on the grapes and in the air. After fermentation, the wine stays on the sediment in the barrels – mostly yeast cells, what we call the fine lees – to age and gain richness.

Pulling a sample of fermenting Chardonnay from a barrel

This year the Pinot Blanc fermented dry – no sugar remaining – in just a few weeks, which was fairly quick. The Chardonnays have taken longer, with one barrel just about dry, a few others nearing the end of fermentation, and two barrels still with a few percent of sugar nearly two months after picking. Some producers worry about slow fermenting whites but I like the longer ferment, provided things continue to move.

The yeasty glow of fermenting white wine in barrel
While harvest is now done, the one bit of harvest work that continues is keeping my eye on those Chardonnay barrels, to chart their progress, taste as things go to make sure nothing funny is happening, and wait for fermentation to finish on its own. Sometimes it can take until the following spring, which is fine.

This sample of Chardonnay is nearing the end of fermentation

In life I think the longer the cure, the stronger the bond. I don't mind waiting, though I'll keep checking in to see how things progress. And because I love the perfume of new (and old) wine. 

October 30, 2015

First fruit

Freshly picked Pinot Noir vines at Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge
Harvest 2015 began on Saturday morning, September 5, at our site on Ribbon Ridge, Armstrong Vineyard, with cool and dry weather more typical of late September when I'd normally expect to start picking grapes.

This cool end of season weather was key to the wine quality this year. Had we seen normal early September weather, in the 80s up to the '90s, things could have been grim. Grapes racing to ripeness, dehydrating and losing elegance and grace.

Instead, we had perfect picking conditions and fruit got to the winery nice and cold, something I never expected with a year this early.

Please tell me that's all there is!! ;-)
This year I upped production from Armstrong, but I definitely had to take a deep breath seeing 20 quarter ton bins of fruit loaded on the trailer. Five tons of fruit day one? That's almost more than I made in the entire vintage of 2010, admittedly only my second year when I worked with just two vineyards. Still.

Whole cluster Pinot Noir from Armstrong Vineyard

With more fruit this year, I experimented with a heavy proportion of whole clusters in one fermenter. That means sorting the fruit as usual, but bypassing the destemmer to allow the intact grape clusters into the fermenter. I typically destem the grapes, but I like the effect stems can have on wine texturally and aromatically. We'll see how this one turns out.

Happy guy in the driver's seat on the fork lift, for hours
Harvest day 1 turned out to be a pretty typical "fruit" day. Get up early, get out to the vineyard to oversee the pick, then get to the winery to get ready to process fruit before the grower trucks it over. Then hours of processing the fruit, with me on the fork lift driving as carefully as possible in some tight winery spaces. Then cleaning up, almost endlessly, and taking initial numbers of sugar, acid and temperature for each new fermenter.

This day we filled 5 fermenters, and once things were all done, around 10pm, I turned the lights off, locked the doors, drove home and thought about doing it all over again tomorrow with the first pick at Crowley Station.

A bit of interplanted Chardonnay in with the Crowley Station Vineyard Pinot Noir
So day 2 of harvest, down to Crowley Station early in the morning, loading a rental truck and driving the fruit myself up to the winery. This first pick at Crowley Station was the west block, a mix of clones plus a little Chardonnay that we co-fermented with the Pinot just for fun. Really just about 1% of the fruit was Chard, we'll see if we can pick out any uniqueness it may have added.

The rest of Crowley Station we held off picking for another week and a half. So this was a light fruit day, just 1.5 tons, but as you go through harvest you have the newest fruit to deal with but also all the prior fruit in various stages of fermentation. It starts to add up quickly.

Meanwhile there was planning for day 3, which would bring the first white grapes, Chardonnay from Methven in the Amity Hills. More on that and the rest of harvest next time...