October 30, 2015

First fruit

Freshly picked Pinot Noir vines at Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge
Harvest 2015 began on Saturday morning, September 5, at our site on Ribbon Ridge, Armstrong Vineyard, with cool and dry weather more typical of late September when I'd normally expect to start picking grapes.

This cool end of season weather was key to the wine quality this year. Had we seen normal early September weather, in the 80s up to the '90s, things could have been grim. Grapes racing to ripeness, dehydrating and losing elegance and grace.

Instead, we had perfect picking conditions and fruit got to the winery nice and cold, something I never expected with a year this early.

Please tell me that's all there is!! ;-)
This year I upped production from Armstrong, but I definitely had to take a deep breath seeing 20 quarter ton bins of fruit loaded on the trailer. Five tons of fruit day one? That's almost more than I made in the entire vintage of 2010, admittedly only my second year when I worked with just two vineyards. Still.

Whole cluster Pinot Noir from Armstrong Vineyard

With more fruit this year, I experimented with a heavy proportion of whole clusters in one fermenter. That means sorting the fruit as usual, but bypassing the destemmer to allow the intact grape clusters into the fermenter. I typically destem the grapes, but I like the effect stems can have on wine texturally and aromatically. We'll see how this one turns out.

Happy guy in the driver's seat on the fork lift, for hours
Harvest day 1 turned out to be a pretty typical "fruit" day. Get up early, get out to the vineyard to oversee the pick, then get to the winery to get ready to process fruit before the grower trucks it over. Then hours of processing the fruit, with me on the fork lift driving as carefully as possible in some tight winery spaces. Then cleaning up, almost endlessly, and taking initial numbers of sugar, acid and temperature for each new fermenter.

This day we filled 5 fermenters, and once things were all done, around 10pm, I turned the lights off, locked the doors, drove home and thought about doing it all over again tomorrow with the first pick at Crowley Station.

A bit of interplanted Chardonnay in with the Crowley Station Vineyard Pinot Noir
So day 2 of harvest, down to Crowley Station early in the morning, loading a rental truck and driving the fruit myself up to the winery. This first pick at Crowley Station was the west block, a mix of clones plus a little Chardonnay that we co-fermented with the Pinot just for fun. Really just about 1% of the fruit was Chard, we'll see if we can pick out any uniqueness it may have added.

The rest of Crowley Station we held off picking for another week and a half. So this was a light fruit day, just 1.5 tons, but as you go through harvest you have the newest fruit to deal with but also all the prior fruit in various stages of fermentation. It starts to add up quickly.

Meanwhile there was planning for day 3, which would bring the first white grapes, Chardonnay from Methven in the Amity Hills. More on that and the rest of harvest next time...

October 25, 2015

Harvest 2015: Introduction

Eola Hills harvest sunset, looking to the Van Duzer gap in the Coast Range
I learned it again this year, after the earliest and hottest Willamette Valley summer in memory, the same lesson of every season, even the coldest, latest harvest on record a few years ago and every year since.

Yes, always. 

Somehow, against all seeming odds, the grape harvest always works out. I learn it, believe it, then apparently have to learn it again each year. 

I don't mean to invite a true agricultural disaster. Perhaps in some year to come the crop will truly fail. But would we not continue on regardless? Yes, future unconditional tense.

Things during the year aren't always so clear. All anyone could talk about this year was the heat, how we had no winter, how spring came earlier than ever and would we be harvesting raisins in August?

The truth is always something a little different.

I think certain events this year help explain the wines I have resting in the cellar after we indeed had the earlier harvest I've heard of in Oregon (maybe '92 was earlier?). 

I'm amazed that no lot of grapes came in with higher sugars than I'd like. None came in without the acidity I desire. And everything tasted ripe or frankly ripe enough. Think of medium rare meat, that's how I like my ripeness.

The summer of 2014 was hot and gave the earliest harvest I'd seen. I started picking on September 13 last year. Then fall hit hard and winter even came briefly with some sneaky cold nights in late November and December. We did have winter, though it was short.

Rains didn't translate into mountain snow, and when January arrived with March-like weather, local ski slopes were bare and growers were quick to prune in anticipation of a very early budbreak.

Budbreak in mid-March 2015 in my rows at Zenith Vineyard 
Sure enough the vines woke from their winter naps in mid-March, a full month earlier than normal. Then flowering, when the grapes set on the vine, happened a month early in May. Color change in the red grapes, or veraison, in July instead of August. 

Everything was happening early, but would the critical event happen, again any prediction? Would fall come early as well so we could pick cold fruit that ripened slowly at the end of the season?

Incredibly, that's what happened. Around August 28, it's like the summer switch flipped to fall. Sure we had some warm days in September, but only after unusually cool weather around Labor Day that set a fall tone for the rest of the season.

Harvest began a full eight days earlier than last year, on September 5 with approximately 5 tons of Pinot Noir from Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge. 

How did all the fruit turn out? How did everything ferment? And how was it largely working on my own making 23 tons worth of wine, full time, no longer balancing a day job?

Stay tuned. I promise to continue, it's definitely worth it.