September 30, 2007

Oregon harvest update, and a tasting note

Sunday, the last day of September. And like two years ago, this day brought a strong cold front with lots of rain throughout western Oregon.

Happily, rainfall totals aren't much different from the overnight storm a few nights ago. I have about .6 of an inch in my Portland backyard since yesterday, but there's a forecast for more showers all week. Some reports suggest clearing and sunshine by next weekend, but I'll wait until we get closer to believe it.

Yesteday was cloudy but a big harvest day as expected. Where I'm working, we brought in a few more tons of beautifully ripe fruit. Driving around the area, I saw crews in many vineyards and more and more blocks of vines stripped of fruit.

I had the opportunity to check out the Wahle vineyard where I'm getting grapes for my home winemaking. From a berry sample of mixed blocks, which we'll pick together, the numbers are 22.5 brix and 3.39ph. So we need more ripening, and not any dilution from rain. We'll see what happens.

Oh, the tasting note. Not an Oregon wine, but something I think is a terrific alternative to Pinot Noir for not a lot of cash. The 2005 Domaine Fontsainte Corbieres is a Rhone-style red blend with an uncommon mix of elegance and richness.

The fragrance has an herby note that I initially wondered about. But with air this wine shows all the underbrush and pepper qualities of a good Cotes du Rhone Villages with the perfume of Burgundy. In the mouth, there's alcoholic warmth but still a brightness to the ripe berry and earth flavors. This wine is delicious now but will probably last in the cellar for five years, maybe even ten or more if you're lucky. For $12, it's a bargain.

September 28, 2007

Rain is here, and beautiful weather

The rain here in the Willamette Valley began last night before I went to bed. Apparently it poured for a couple hours, with about half an inch in most areas by morning.

Today saw a mix of heavy showers and gorgeous sunny, sort of warm weather. By the afternoon down in the Ribbon Ridge district, vineyard soils looked perfectly dry. The sunset and moon rise were epic.

The winery I'm working at got many tons of Pinot Noir grapes from a vineyard west of Carlton, all ripe and very clean. More fruit comes in tomorrow before more rain is due to set in Sunday and beyond.

But so far, so good. And it strikes me. One third of the harvest is in where I'm working. Everything looks great so far. There's already a lot of wine being made this year from grapes picked under nearly perfect conditions. Let's not be hasty thinking that rain will make this a bad harvest.

More tomorrow after another day processing fruit and working in the cellar with everything that's in so far.

September 27, 2007

A beautiful day

Today was gorgeous, but sadly it may be the last sunny weather we see for a while. Already rain is moving into the northern Willamette Valley and tomorrow is due to be 15F colder than today. Fall has really arrived.

The good news is most of the fruit I've seen looks great and should stand up to some rain without a problem. It's been relatively dry and as long as the rain isn't overwhelming, things should still be good.

I spent this lovely day picking up a new basket press for my home winemaking, visiting a friend's winery busy with harvest activity, stopped by the Wahle vineyard to check on the fruit, and spent the afternoon processing fruit at the winery where I'm working harvest.

Wahle still looks good. Some blocks of Pinot Noir were picked today, but much of the fruit is still hanging. As with other sites I've seen, the vines looks in fine shape. If only we had one more week of late summer weather instead of early winter.

Tomorrow's due to be another big harvest day. Even with the rain tonight, things should continue right along. I think Sunday's forecast soaking will change that. Next week...well, we'll just have to see.

September 26, 2007

“It’s too early to be freaking out”

So says a winemaking friend, and I can’t help but agree. Even if I’m freaking out, a little.

Lately in the northern Willamette Valley, the weather has been cooler than normal but often sunny and pretty much dry. Apparently great weather for ripening grapes.

But wouldn’t you know it, all that’s supposed to change in a big way over the next week to ten days.

People have been talking about damaging rain since last week, after reports from places like the Weather Cafe. I wanted to believe the long range forecast was really just a guess. Nope. Some changes have occurred regarding timing and amounts of rain. But it still looks bad for next week.

For now, lots of picking is going in vineyards that are ready to go. Some too in vineyards that might not be ready. It’s hard to look at the forecast and not pick grapes that are so close to wonderful, if not quite there yet.

At the Wahle vineyard, where I’m again expecting a half ton of Pinot Noir, I’m looking to roll the dice and wait out the rain. The grapes I tasted the other day while walking the vineyard didn’t taste quite ready to me. The clusters largely look in great shape. Skins a bit thick and firm. I’m thinking they’ll hold up well, provided there’s sun and dry on the other side of even a number of rainy or showery days.

After all, this is Oregon and it’s not even October. The forecast is grim, but it’s way too early to be freaking out.


September 23, 2007

Chianti bargain and a nice wine shop experience

I stopped by E&R wine shop here in Portland the other day and noticed they have the 2004 Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico for $10 flat a bottle. Now that’s a bargain in good if not especially acidic Chianti.

We tried a bottle a week ago after finding it on sale for two dollars more at a local supermarket. This wine smells like a slightly modern take on traditional Chianti, with no cabernet in with the sangiovese and caniaolo, and a nice scent of balsamic vinegar mixed with plump, ripe berry fruit. There’s reasonable acidity, not classic amounts but enough to refresh the palate during a meal. For $10, load up, even if this isn’t one to cellar more than a few years.

The story here is familiar – out with the old, in with the new. The old distributor is dumping what’s left of the current vintage in their warehouse. The new distributor apparently will wholesale the next vintage at a higher price than current retail. So don’t wait.

By the way, I’ve been a little critical of E&R wines in the past. It’s clearly not objective criticism. I simply haven’t felt right at that store in the past despite their having clearly the best and deepest selection of geek wines in town. It’s hard to explain, the parts are all there, the whole just never connected for me.

Yet on this visit, two interesting things happened. For the first time, I connected and felt this was definitely one of the best wine shops I’ve seen. A nice discount price on 2004 Chevillon Bourgogne didn’t hurt. But after wandering the store, I couldn’t help but think I’d finally broken through and understood something inexplicable here that I previously didn’t get.

Well lo and behold, at the counter I get an unexpected question. Did I have a problem with some Cotat Sancerre that I purchased there in the past? Well, yes, but that was years ago. No worries they say, here’s a bottle of ’05 Les Monts Damnes to make it whole.

Wow, that’s wasn’t expected. How do they know who I am? I’m a browser who buys little and cheap stuff at that. But that’s a statement by E&R. They made things right and that’s the right way to do things.

Never mind that ’02 B. Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux they still have on the shelf at $22. Somebody buy that before I can’t resist any more.