October 18, 2007

Harvest at home

There's been no time to write, but there's a lot to write about. First, I worked a lot last weekend as my own grapes came in at the same time as the last 15+ tons of fruit came into the winery, along with some press loads and lots on punch downs. After three brutal days, I was wiped out Monday but pretty happy about everything.

In the winery, I got to run the press a few times and otherwise just feel like I'm getting more and more comfortable with the idea of leading winery processes rather than just contributing to them. Not that I'm there yet, but for all I still need to learn, I've come a long way. This year has been something of a quantum leap toward doing this stuff commercially. It all feels very real now, even if I still just homebrewing.

On the home front, I picked 200 pounds of Chardonnay from Courting Hill vineyard near Banks on Saturday morning. The weather was beautiful all weekend, though the mornings were foggy. The Chard is Dijon clone 76 on 101-14 rootstock, the vines are about 10 years old. The fruit looked pretty good with a mix of firmer and softer clusters. I sorted out a little rot in the vineyard, brought it home, stomped on it in my small totes, and pressed it in my new basket press. After settling, there's about 14 gallons of juice that's now fermenting in carboys with VL-2 yeast. I'm looking for a crisp, early drinking chard. At 22 brix with bright acidity, I think it should be pretty good.

Then Sunday I got a little more than a half ton of Pinot Noir from the Meredith Mitchell vineyard in the foothills west of McMinnville. I got the fruit through a friend and checked it out in the vineyard a week before harvest. Things looked good then, with ripe looking clusters with little rot and ok flavors even if there was some green in the seeds. Two weeks ago a brix sample showed 20.8, bu that hadn't moved a week later. I hoped another week of better weather might help things dry out and bump sugars up a bit. But when the fruit showed up, there was more ruby color on the insides of the clusters than I noticed in the vineyard. The flavors were still ok, the stems pretty mature, the fruit in good shape and even falling off the stems easily like riper fruit. But my hydrometer showed only 21 brix in a settled juice sample. And after a couple days soaking, the brix is........20.1 according to ETS labs. I was stunned when I found out. But the ph is 3.27, which isn't as low as 20 brix suggest. And there's nearly 4g of malic acid without a lot of potassium, the ph will I hope go up a good bit and soften what might otherwise be a hard, acidic wine.

On Monday morning, after about 14 hours of soaking on the skins, I bled off about 8 gallons of Pinot Noir juice to make rose and, I hope, give a little more concentration to the red wine. I will chaptalize, or add sugar, to the red wine during fermentation to boost the alcohol level. I won't do more than one percent of alcohol, maybe less. The rationale is that the fruit is riper than the sugar level suggests, so I don't think I'll imbalance the wine by boosting the sugar minimally.

The past few days I've been at my normal job. But tomorrow and Saturday I'm back at the winery. We're done bringing in fruit, but there are literally tons of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Tempranillo in fermentors filling the winery. Lots of punchdowns to do, and lots of pressing and barreling, not to mention cleaning things before putting them away for the season.

Harvest has peaked, the leaves in the vineyards are yellowing, it's already time to start thinking about the coming winter. Despite the crazy highs and lows of the season, it feels amazing to be doing all this. And great to see it coming to an end, for this year at least.

And a tasting note. The 2006 Quercus "Cadmus" Pinot Noir from the irrepressible Michael Beckley up on Ribbon Ridge. This is 2006 all the way, full of rich black raspberries and spice. I found it a bit zinfandel-like, but that's not uncommon with this vintage in Oregon. The group I tried it with seemed to love it. If you like big wines, it's a buy at $32 or something like that.

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