October 19, 2011

Harvest 2011 begins, finally

Harvest 2011 begins Thursday for Vincent Wine Company. We’re picking everything from our blocks at Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge and Zenith Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. I am so excited. After this crazy growing season, where historic cold weather delayed budbreak until May and flowering until July, we’re near the end of October and finally we pick grapes.

How is the quality? We won’t really know until we have the fruit in the fermenters, but sugar levels are in the low 20s brix and pHs are in the 3.2 to 3.3 range. Just where I want them, for making wines with ripe flavors but energy, life, acid balance. Flavors are mixed, meaning some pretty explosive tasting berries and others with some bracing qualities that I prize. Let’s remember, we’re making wine, not fruit juice or eating grapes. I think grape flavors are overrated. Wine is a curing process. We’re taking raw meat and making bacon. There’s a big difference in the two. I’m looking for something in the final product that you can’t necessarily see in the raw material. What I want now are healthy, ripe grapes from a successful growing season. We have that.

And what a crazy growing season it was. A good indicator of a growing season here is at least 100 days from flowering until harvest, maybe 110 or longer depending on the season. Our early July flowering meant 100 days would be around October 12. In many years, we’d finish picking at that time. This year we knew we probably wouldn’t even begin until then. Crazy. Harvest is an outdoor activity. Does anyone think that outdoor events in the Willamette Valley in mid-October or later is a good idea?

Now, on the eve of October 20, we will finally pick. The grapes have had a long season after all. Turns out we’ve gotten the weather we need and things are turning out. I wouldn’t advise more seasons like this. Don’t plan an outdoor wedding this time of year. But for now, it looks like we might get lucky.

Stay tuned for more on harvest. Now I need some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a long, and I hope great, day.

October 13, 2011

Harvest approaches in the Willamette Valley

It's weird to say in mid-October that harvest hasn't really started in the Willamette Valley. Yes, some white grapes are in. The Pinot, however, waits. Along with pretty much everything else.

This year is indeed historic. Cold. Late. Essentially unprecedented. In response, growers have mostly cut back to one cluster of grapes per vine shoot. The idea is to limit the grape crop to make sure what you still have on the vines will get ripe, even in an historically cold year.

The funny thing is, flowering took place during perfect weather around July 4. Late, but perfect. As a result, grape clusters on average are well above normal. We still haven't picked, but I'm seeing 150g to 200g clusters of Pinot Noir. Usually that might be 80g to 120g or so, depending on the clones or types of Pinot Noir sub-varieties.

I'm thinking the story this year isn't the cold weather or late harvest. September was like July should have been. We've had a nice growing season. The clouds are due to break and we should have nice gusty, warm drying winds next week. Things look good on the grape front.

Once the grapes are picked, the story will be big yields even when people tried to cut back. Those big clusters, even just a handful or two per vine, add up to more tonnage per acre. If clusters are at least 50% bigger than normal, that's going to be a lot more wine to put into barrel than we might have been expecting.

As I say too much, but it's true - stay tuned.