Harvest, one of the most energetic times of the year. Soooo anticipated. Anyone who has worked one knows it is hard work and a lot of it.
There is so much you learn about a vintage from bud break to bloom. Throughout the season, you are proactive and responding to Mother Nature (and yes, she deserves the stature of capital letters). The goal of those decisions is to ensure the grapes you produce are the perfect fruit at picking time. What is “perfect” fruit? Phenolic ripeness is the key for us. Some people measure when to pick primarily based on numbers for sugar (brix), pH and acid. We measure primarily on phenolic ripeness by tasting the fruit and use the numbers additional information. What you are tasting on the vine should reflect what you want in your glass—layered, complex flavors with integrated sugar and acid. It is so often said “wine is made in the vineyard” and for us it is true. You have to be willing to take risks and be patient to make wine this way. Some of the biggest risks come at the end of the season.
Starting in August, harvest begins full throttle. While we have been dependent on the weather to this point, the last few months are very important. The last four years or so, we have gone into fall after very hot seasons resulting in grapes being very high in sugar early without phenolic ripeness. And while there is acid, it can quickly fall off. Your hand is forced to pick before that acid is gone. If we could choose between the past 4 years and 2019, we prefer 2019. 2019 is much more of a classic Oregon vintage—easy to say when you have been doing this for 21 years.
2019 was a cooler year with the exception of mid August. Lucky for the Willamette Valley, we had significant heat the last two weeks which helped to accelerate ripeness. Going into September, temperatures cooled back down. It became a time for patience. We have seen cool, wet falls before. You can still take steps in the vineyard. In some cases, we dropped fruit so that what remained on the vine would receive all the energy from the plant to ripen what was left. The forecast showed windows of rain followed dry spells with temperatures in the 60s. As long as you have dry weather after the rain, fruit will continue to ripen, albeit slower.
We waited through these windows and picked when we felt the fruit was ready. Then, with a lot of Riesling still hanging throughout the valley, the forecast was for a curtain of rain. Grapes can only handle so much water at this point. With too much rain berries will swell and split and you are at risk of rot. We waited until the very last minute and brought in all of our Riesling in 5 days (and yes, that is a whirlwind of coordination and work when you have Riesling at multiple sites. We are super happy that we are patient as all the fruit tastes wonderful. And it is a relief once all the fruit is in the winery. We are super excited about the 2019 wines!
Some fun harvest stats:
– We harvested 309 tons from 32 vineyard sites. 185 or 60% Red, 124 or 40% white.
– Varietals include: Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Viognier, Melon de Bourgogne, Syrah, Tempranillo, Petite Syrah, Gewurztraminer.
– We fermented this wine in 160 vessels. (That covers all of our square footage!)
– The red wines will fill 450 barrels.
– We hired 7 awesome harvest interns from Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, South Carolina, Colorado, California and New York to join us from mid-September to mid-November.
– The interns plus our team worked (to date…they aren’t done yet!) an average of 90 hours a week for the most intense 4 weeks.
– Chef Norma cooks at least one meal a day for the crew totaling over 65 meals while still running the kitchen as usual.
– We will end of up 20,100 cases of incredible wine in true Oregon signature style of perfectly ripe, layered fruit with quenching acidity.
We look forward to sharing the vintage with you. First bottling is February 2020!