September 29, 2010

Harvest approaching

When you make wine, everybody always asks, "so, how are the grapes?" Every year there's a story to tell, and this year the story is more unusual than normal. Some years are wet, some dry, some hot, some cold, some with early bud break, some with late flowering, and so on. This year has had it all. Dry, warm winter that's typical of El Nino years in the Pacific Northwest. That meant budbreak, where the new vine shoots begin to grow in the spring, was in late March and early April, two weeks early. Everyone was concerned a late season frost would kill all those shoots, and while we got close, it never happened.

So it's an early year, right? No. After budbreak, the skies opened and the temps plummeted, with record spring rains, swollen rivers locally and instead of flowering early, we were two weeks late with flowering happening in late June into early July. Talk about reversals. Then summer came and while we had dry weather for nearly two months straight, temps only rarely turned hot. This was the bummer summer, good for those of us without a/c but bad for tomato growers and, it seemed, grape farmers. Then came September and the skies opened again. Things looked gloomy, we really needed a stretch of warm, dry weather, and wouldn't you know it. It's here. We've had days in the 70s and 80s lately with some unusual humidity that's passed, and the short and long term forecasts are very positive. All told, this was one crazy year that on the one hand I wouldn't want to repeat, but on the other I actually prefer to the torrid heat last year. Pinot noir doesn't like all that heat, and though it doesn't like cold summers, if we can keep this beautiful fall weather going, things could be at least good if not great. We'll see.

Here are some shots from recent vineyard visits, so you can see for yourself some nearly ripe fruit and leaf canopies that are still nicely green and able to turn that sunlight into grape sugars, aromas and flavors.

Pommard clone Pinot noir at Zenith vineyard last week. These grapes look great as usual, and aytpically they are more advanced then most of the other clones in the vineyard. Good this year.

The view from the southeast corner of Armstrong vineyard on Ribbon Ridge the other day. These vines are young Wadenswil plants, that might get ripe and go into one of my fermenters.

Higher up at Armstrong, some nice looking clusters, healthy, getting sweet and tasty, just needing a bit more time. Don't they just look like they'll make good wine?

The real nemesis this time of year. These trees to the north of Armstrong are positively screaming with birds, which like to eat ripe grapes. The netting is up on many vine rows but the birds are smart. They're an old sign of ripeness. When the birds eat, we're close.

In sum, things look great for Vincent Wine Company grapes in 2010. We may have the first fruit in next week or weekend. Then it's time to make wine.

September 28, 2010

Guild exposure

Very cool to wake up this morning to an article on Guild Winemakers in the Oregonian. Throughout the day the piece got picked up by places like eater.pdx and oregonbusiness, with other outlets planning articles or radio pieces. Even Jon Bonne, wine editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, tweeted "A brilliant concept ... score one for Portland" with a link to the Oregonian article. I agree. This is exactly what Portland needs, and perhaps many cities. Cooperation. Reasonably priced wine for everyday drinking. Alternative packaging. Urban wine culture. It feels right, no?

September 19, 2010

Guild Winemakers

A little news from the wine business division of elevage...

You know I've started my Vincent Wine Company label. Now I'm happy to announce my part in a new co-op wine project called Guild Winemakers. After months of planning and work behind the scenes, we're finally going live. Guild is a partnership of John Grochau of Grochau Cellars, Anne Hubatch of Helioterra Wines, me and a fourth "mystery" winemaker who needs to remain nameless for now. Our project is about many things, but foremost we are friends who all live in the city of Portland and enjoy the creative process of working together making, blending and selling wine. Our goal is to produce high quality wines of exceptional value, focusing on reds from Rhone varieties (for now) and crisp, food friendly whites.

What's different here is that we're not just bottling wines. We're also offering wines in kegs and, soon, in bag-in-box format. People are already doing this of course. But there needs to be more people packaging wine in new and different ways, reducing materials usage and keeping costs and prices down. Kegs allow restaurants to offer fresher wines by the glass without lots of waste if bottles aren't finished before going bad, and worse if the restaurant keeps pouring that stale wine. Bag-in-box format allows individuals to do the same. Of course there is lots of Guild wine available in bottles, but we want to do more and more in alternative formats. Stay tuned on that.

For me, Guild Winemakers is a great opportunity to keep growing in my wine making and wine business knowledge, and do things collectively with the group that would be more difficult if not impossible to be doing on my own. So I'm really excited to be part of it and to contribute to it.

Yesterday, we launched the first Guild wines at the joint open house for Helioterra Wines and my Vincent Wine Company label. Along with our own Pinots, we poured the Guild White Lot 1 and Guild Red Lot 1. The White is a 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, crisp and flavory, easy with or without food. The Red is a 2008 Columbia Valley blend of 67% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre and 8% Counoise. The syrah gives deep fruit and spice tones, the mourvedre and counoise adding lift and peppery notes that, when we were doing blending trials, really made a more interesting and unique wine than the syrah alone.

These Guild wines are hitting the market in the next week. We're already at work on white and red Lots 2.

September 15, 2010

2002 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie

In honor of Joe Dressner's big day, I thought it was fitting to open up one of his imports, the 2002 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie. That, and the potato leek soup Jennifer cooked up on a cool rainy Portland evening. What a dish (the soup, of course) and what a wine. Thanks Joe and company for bringing things like this to America. As I hope you can see, this eight year old bottle of cru Beaujolais came out of the cellar in perfect condition, appearing like it was bottled yesterday. The cork stained just on the end. The wine a dark translucent ruby color. The rest...well, in honor of Joe, I'll refrain from the typical tasting note. Suffice it to say this wine is aging wonderfully, with lovely perfume and zingy flavors that linger nicely. What some would call light and even thin, I call focused and energetic. Full of the woods and rain, not froot, with tang and grip that slaps you in the face ever so lovingly and commands your attention, then defers rightfully to a homemade meal. Perhaps like Joe himself. It's life giving stuff, fitting birthday wine. Here's to tomorrow.

ps - anyone know where I can find more of this stuff? I can't believe this is my last bottle. Fool.

September 06, 2010

Wine labels from Imprint Design in Portland

For the move from garage winemaking to a commercial enterprise, we had to change our wine label. Two reasons. One is that the home label was a quick thing a neighbor friend put together back when we bottled the 2006 Vincent Pinot from the Wahle Vineyard. It didn't have much thought, aside from ripping off the simple script on white style you find so much in France. Think Lapierre's Morgon. In reality, so many French producers who had script labels are going for something a little more up do date. Catherine et Pierre Breton in Bourgeuil come to mind. They didn't go up market, rather changed to something simple but refined. If we ripped off Lapierre at first, now it's the Bretons' turn. [kidding, of course]

Second, as an astute reader pointed out when I first posted about that label for the 2006 Vincent Wahle Vineyard, what my neighbor and I came up with looked a whole heck of a lot like the simple script labels from California producer Stephen Vincent. Same look, similar name, ack. This could have been horrible. In my research about using the Vincent name - there are so many people who have it as part of their name, but they do all manage to co-exist - I wrote to Stephen and he called me as I was shopping in my local Trader Joe's. The name is no problem, he said, but when I mentioned the label I had at that point, he did think it would be a good idea for me to go in another direction.

It made sense. I wanted something more professional considered, and something with a graphic element to completement the Vincent name and perhaps to stand on its own as our symbol. So...who to work with on wine label design? I had some names to consider, but I really wanted to work with someone good. Luckily, I had heard about Angie Reat of Imprint Design. Her partner is Matt Bereson of Love and Squalor, wines that I enjoyed and wrote about here before getting to know Matt personally. His wines are delicious, and Angie's design work seemed promising. So it made sense to meet with her and see if there was a good fit.

Turns out Angie and I both went to San Francisco State for grad school (my wife went there as well). She had worked for years in SF, in Italy as well, and now had been in Portland for some years, working and being active in the design community. In short, she's a pro and that was clear from meeting with her and discussing design. In my work at Portland State, I hire professionals to teach what they do, in classes geared for other professionals looking to advance in their careers. Angie immediately struck me as someone who I'd hire to teach, and naturally someone who I wanted to work with.

We met a number of times during the course of this project, always at Little T Baker on SE Division and 26th. Great bakery, Angie's choice, obviously a good sign for a pastry fanlike me. We talked about specific elements of design but also about the big picture, branding. She encouraged me to embrace ideas that were uniquely Oregon, not French, something local and natural to our place where this wine is grown. Her initial design ideas varied widely in direction, giving me choices about where I wanted to go with my labels. That was great. I loved two ideas in particular, and we went forward with them, refining the concepts until it was clear what I wanted. The final design is based on a waking dream I had where I envisioned wheat like on the old Lincoln pennies that I grew up collecting. On the back, they say "One Cent" and I imagined "Vin Cent," my name, the patron saint of wine and wheat, the source of bread and a staple of Wheatland, the northern part of the Willamette Valley. It all just fit and when I mentioned the concept to Angie, she was obviously pleased and ran with it. (I didn't want anything literally like a coin on the label, but it is true that the first Wheat penny came in 1909, one hundred years from Lincoln's birth. Now, cent years later, our first wines from the 2009 vintage. Strange, no?)

From a rough idea, we ended up with the Vincent type face, the wheat kernel over the "i" and the graceful shaft of wheat as the design element I had been searching for. I wanted something that could stand on its own, aside from the name. Or with the name. Or the name on its own. With this design, we have exactly what we want. Simple, elegant, graphic but subtle, something I would want to see on my dinner table and something I hope many others would feel similarly about. That's exactly what I talked to Angie about at the start, and she did it.

For the "reserve" wine, we opted for a reverse of the main label. This year, our only single vineyard "reserve" wine is the Zenith Vineyard. In future years I anticipate several special bottlings like this, so that this darker label may become the signature of our brand as we grow. Or perhaps we'll have another variation of the design for something especially special? We'll just have to see.

I love the design we've ended up with. We have a cohesive package that has already gotten incredible feedback from consumers and industry people alike. Just the other day I mentioned my project to a retailer aquaintance, and specially mentioned design and he cut in with essentially, oh, I've seen it on the web site, it's really good. I don't love the design because I think other people who need to like it will like it. But that really helps. Another restauranteur mentioned how she likes the overlap of Vincent and the wheat. Me, too.

In addition to the labels, Angie put together the web banner for my Wordpress site, she designed gorgeous business cards and got them printed, and in addition to working directly with the label printing rep, she put together imagery for printing on our corks so the website and wheat image are on each cork in our 200+ cases of wine.

In the end, I'm obviously very happy about my experience with Imprint Design. If you're looking for a wine label designer in Portland, definitely talk to Angie Reat. I'll continue working with her, and I'd love to see others working with her as well. I've since met other designers who are terrific, but Angie has something special to offer. Definitely look her up.