June 24, 2013

Flowering 2013, part 2: Eola-Amity Hills

After the lovely early morning stop at Armstrong, it was on south to the west side of the Eola-Amity Hills growing region to Crowley Station Vineyard, the first of three sits I work with in this excellent sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley.

Crowley Station is nicely situated vineyard on a southwest slope, fairly exposed to the cool Van Duzer winds that shoot through a gap in the Coast Range. Sure enough, even on this mild Sunday morning the cool breeze was notable as we walked the rows.

Despite the relative low elevation here, around 300-400', those winds make this a cool, slower to ripen site. Because of this, I expected flowering wouldn't have begun, but sure enough, flowers. Many flowers. Not like Armstrong but clearly advanced  and immediately suggesting to me that Armstrong is no anomaly. This is shaping up to be an early year.

From the top of the original block of Pinot Noir clones 114 and 115 at Crowley Station Vineyard, dry farmed, pretty old school. And that hay bale stacker in the neighbor's field is pretty cool too.

Flowers! This was one of the more advanced clusters but still, most plants had flowers already.

Looking back up the hill and the cover crop in every other row, things are moving along at Crowley Station. Looking forward to our second year working with this fruit. Next visit I'll try to get a shot of the soil - an interesting mix of very old (millions of years) ocean sediments - complete with fossilized shells here and there in sandstone - and the occasional piece of decomposed granite carried here in the Missoula Floods in more recent times (15,000 years ago, give or take).

Then it was over the hill to the east side of the Eola Hills, the heart of the AVA where you find Zenith Vineyard. Our rows are on a rocky knoll midway up the hill, originally left unplanted because there "wasn't any soil," according to grower Tim Ramey (relaying the words of the prior owners the O'Connor family).

The soil is a mix of Missoula Flood sediments, very thin in this specific block, over hard sandstone, a few blond chunks of which you can see in this picture.

Here's a view looking down the hill in our rows of Pommard clone. Again, there is cover in every other row but notice how much shorter the growing shoots are here compared to the other vineyards. Tough soils made great wine, and you can see how the vines just don't have a lot to work with here. Which is great.

Getting down at vine level, you can see how far the vines here have to go to fill the trellis wires. This block never has a lush canopy, but again that's fine - we're growing grapes, not just leaves.

Somehow I missed a shot of flowering clusters, but you get the point. On this warmer eastern side of the Eola Hills, I expect things to be a little more advanced, and sure enough there were more flowers here than Crowley Station, fewer than Armstrong. Still, lots of progress for early June.

Then it was on to the final stop, Bjornson Vineyard higher up in the Eola Hills on wildly different soils.

First, on the way, I couldn't help capturing the hay rolls, England style but very common here too. There's something serene around the way they lie in the field, but maybe that's just the city boy in me talking. These rolls don't represent work to me.

Ok, now at Bjornson and what a view. We're around 500' now in the Eola Hills, a few miles north of Zenith and surrounded by vines - one neighbor is Seven Springs vineyard - and higher up the hill Christmas trees farms. I describe Bjornson as a saucer, not quite a bowl, with an aspect to the southwest. This view is nearly due south toward Salem and the southern Willamette Valley.

Here's a view looking up one of the block, this the Wadensvil clone that I got a bit of last year along with my usual Pommard. Young vines and bushy already, with cover in every row still to push the vine roots deep.

Bjornson is higher than my other sites, which typically means a bit later ripening. The Van Duzer winds that make it over the tops of the Eola Hills flood down on this site, making for intense but still Oregon delicate Pinot Noir with exceptional acidity, even in warmer years. Sure enough, flowering had barely begun here. This shot was typical of what we found this day. Lots of inflorescence (pre-grape clusters), not a lot of flowers and definitely no fruit set yet. That's fine, it's so early and we don't need everything ripening at the same time if we can help it.

What about the soil here? The Bjornson family is excavating for a winery site on the property, which lets us see a fresh cross-section of classic Nekia soil. What's that? Essentially one to two feet of very red clay over easily fractured but otherwise pure volcanic basalt rock. Compare that to the more famous Jory soil, similar except for having several feet of clay over the basalt. Nekia is super thin and seems to give a more powerful wine than I get from Jory soils but still with the delicacy that great Pinot must convey. I love it, and Bjornson is a vineyard to watch.

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