But the essence of this story was that the rolling hills of the east valley are ideal for mechinized cultivation and harvesting of pinot noir. Chuck Wagner of Napa Valley's Caymus winery even endorsed the whole idea. Great. A cab producer thinks machine harvesting is terrific for the Willamette Valley. The writer chimes in that machine harvesting is used elsewhere, and we can cut costs 20% to 30%.
I can't say it any better than Scott Wright does in his Scott Paul Wines blog, so I'll quote him here. You should read his whole post for an (as usual) astute take on the current growing season, his recent bottling of '09s, and this issue of mechanized viticulture:
...a few investers and farmers are touting mechanical harvesting and mechanized farming as the path to success for Pinot Noir in the eastern Willamette Valley. I wish them luck, and sincerely wish everyone in this business success, but there are some serious problems with that approach. Nowhere in the world is Pinot Noir mechanically harvested on a regular basis and then made into a quality wine. You just can’t do it with Pinot - it needs too much loving care and attention, and every corner you cut in the production process dramatically lowers the quality of the wine. Yes, mechanical harvesting is in regular use in Burgundy - in CHABLIS, where they grow only Chardonnay. And even there, the top quality producers take the time and care and extra expense to harvest by hand. There simply are no shortcuts to good Pinot Noir. If the goal is to produce decent $15-$20 wines, California is already doing that to the tune of tens of millions of cases a year.The truth for me is, our competitive advantage in Oregon pinot noir is the handmade factor of our wines. Scott's exactly right -- there's plenty of competition at the low end. There are lots of places that make good enough low end wine. While there's plenty of competition at the high end, there's no other place on earth that makes handmade Oregon pinot noir. There we have a chance at distinction. It may not be easy, but it's our best shot at market success and winemaking relevance.
The folly of cutting costs with machine harvesting huge tracts of pinot is just that, folly. Pinot is hard to make well cheaply. It's the truffle of wine world. It may not be for everyone. It may not be the most economical product out there. But it's hauntingly, memorably unique and worth the hunt it requires. There is no substitute for that.