November 27, 2012


I'm a night owl. It's surely from my mother. These days she retires early but in her prime she would be up well past my father's old 9:30ish bedtime. It's the same with me and this harvest it all sort of hit me at once how much I want and need the night.

For little kids, the night is essentially off limits. It's dark. It's late. It's many things and it seems none of them are much good for kids. I never liked that when I was young, like staring out a window on a rainy day thinking...someday.

Of course, there's Halloween, which might be my favorite night. Not for the costumes, though I admire a crafty costume maker. I'm just not a dress up guy (dealbreaker?). And not for the candy, which is great of course and my kids love the newspaper's candy bowl feature each October. Sure, it's crazy good to have perfect strangers give you free candy all night long. But kids can find candy any time. At least I could.

No, for me I now realize it was all about the night, as if day were simple land but night something different, under the sea, an unknown world beginning to reveal itself. I loved it, roaming with friends, seeing all the common places without the color of day or people or cars or everything else that should have been there. Should, if all you knew was the day time.

As I got older, regular day activities took on new life at night. My friends and I liked to night hike in the local hills, letting our eyes adjust to the dark and walking in moonlight like we were characters in fantasy books we loved.

Then I read about night surfing, how you could have just enough light from pier lights to surf after dark. It was cool, though the light was good only on the pier side and the rest of the ocean was creepy and dark. Just what I was looking for at 17, not so much now to be honest.

The dark forced you to pay closer attention, to slow down a bit or see things in shadows that you might ordinarily miss. And I loved it all, the quiet, the solitude, like our night adventures were extra time that no one was counting or waiting on, time that was all mine.

Those night adventures continued. There was the trip to Manhattan many years back roaming the streets all night before a far-too-early flight. Or rambles through European cities late at night when the trains had stopped running and I had no money for a cab. I'd just walk and end up seeing things you never see during the day, even if it was nothing at all. Think of the novelty of being able to lie down in an empty street, what during the day was a busy road. At night all the rules were different, as if words suddenly all had different meanings.

It's funny, just as you don't see little kids out at night much, you don't see older people. You don't see much of anyone, sure, but if you do see people, they're typically younger adults. Older people are home, in bed, too cold and tired to go out at night.

That better not be me, or at least it better take a while yet before I have to give up the night. Yet there aren't the opportunities to go out at night like there used to be. Not to clubs or like that. Just for a walk, a bike ride, a hike maybe, anything, just to be out long after the town is asleep. There's something special in that.

But what do I have? Harvest, where there's a ton of work to do in a relatively short time, where I'm in a facility full of other people wanting to use the same space and equipment as I do, where I have a day job, and where I just sometimes want some quiet to listen to music that won't make it over the din of winery compressors and other machinery.

I did plenty of work during the days and evenings, and my colleagues in the new winery are terrific. But I I found myself working especially late this harvest, watching my colleagues peeling away through the night as the city itself turned out the lights, leaving me alone. Alone to slow down, to pay closer attention, to listen and, as you might imagine, to think. There's so much happening during harvest and everything to think about, yet we often don't have the time to think. There's too much to do.

In the night, I did my punch downs, cleaned barrels, drained fermenters, washed out dirty fermenters, squeegeed the floor, you name it, I did it. I listened to my music, looking for a harvest soundtrack, my night music. There were some old favorites like Elvis and the Brodskys, but newer things too, like Robert Francis, especially his song Tunnels. Or Wilco's last record, The Whole Love, which absolutely destroys me, especially Black Moon. It's so good. And Birdy's cover of 1901, turning what might be a love song into an elegy, appropriately.

Somewhere between 1 and 3am I'd wrap things up. This wasn't every night of course, but several through the harvest. The winery dark and silent, alarm on and door locked, pushing me out into the emptiness of Division Street (in my memory it's always raining). Then maybe I'd go to Potato Champion for a long past midnight snack, or just home through the deserted streets, thinking of all so many things, what I have and what I want, need. What is and what probably will never be.

I have many, many things. But this harvest I got back something I missed and never understood so well. I have the night.

November 15, 2012

Come taste wine at our Urban Thanksgiving this weekend

If you're in Portland this weekend, come taste my new Vincent Wine Company wines at the SE Wine Collective.

All four of us in the facility - Vincent, Division, Helioterra and Bow and Arrow - are pouring and selling our newest wines. We're calling it Urban Thanksgiving.

Come taste, enjoy yourself and buy some wine for the holidays before you go. We'll have everything for sale.

Urban Thanksgiving details:
SE Wine Collective, 2425 SE 35th Place at Division in Potland
Saturday and Sunday, November 18 and 19, noon-5pm each day

Tasting fee $15

November 05, 2012

Harvest wrap

November's here and with it the end of the grape harvest. This year we brought in more than nine tons of mostly Pinot Noir grapes from five different vineyards. Now all the juice from that fruit is fermented into wine and safely in barrel, where it will age over the coming year.

Never mind the two barrels of Chardonnay - our first white - that aren't anywhere close to being done fermenting. That's just fine. With reds, we crush the grapes and let things ferment for a few weeks. Then it's time to drain off the new wine, press the skins to get every last drop and put everything in barrel. But with whites, we press the grapes right away and ferment the juice by itself in barrels, ideally over several weeks and even months. With reds, fermentation is relatively quick. With whites, it can (and should) take time. So we'll let that Chard go for a while and see what we get. Think art, science and luck.

Everyone always asks - how was this year? And I'm delighted to say that several people have already heard this was a great year, nearly perfect even. No, that was last year. Nothing we want to go through again, with a very late harvest in unexpectedly dry and mild conditions, but one for the ages. One you can never take for granted. One I trust will reveal itself in time, the wines still so young but so full of potential.

Of course, years like 2011 produce wines I love. Lithe, bright, full of energy, life giving. Years like 2012, with a historically dry growing season and harvest time heat and wind, make lithe, bright and energetic a bit challenging. The silver lining - more people still seem to like richer, fuller wines. If that's you, 2012 should be stellar.

In 2012, my goal as a winemaker was opulence mitigation (stealing a line from a friend). That meant grapes picked while they still had good amounts of acidity to give the wines life. Or fermentations drawn out over a three weeks to produce a broad range of aromas and flavors. And infrequent punch downs to make sure we don't overwork the wines, overmixing things like kneading a dough too much and making tough bread. Riper years like 2012 provide lots of flavor and color in the wines. My goal has been to not push things further still, to preserve the elegance of Pinot Noir while knowing confidently that everything the grapes have will make it into the wine, even with a very gentle touch in the winery.

Sure enough, I have stacks of barrels full of deeply colored, rich but structured wines ready for a winter hibernation. And shouldn't we all be? Harvest is a maddeningly hectic time of decisions and second guessing, organization and luck, hard work and moments of sheer joy. Now that it's done, I want to go somewhere remote and sleep. And sleep. All the way until spring.