On Tuesday, August 23rd, we started the 2016 harvest here in the Willamette Valley. Bergstrom Wines’ 18th harvest and my 20th as an Oregon winemaker. I am not entirely sure how 20 years passed so quickly but isn’t that just how it goes? And how a propos that we began this harvest with the Bergstrom Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA. This is the site that mom and dad moved to from Northwest Portland back in 1996 and envisioned a peaceful retirement but wound up with a second career, a beautiful vineyard and a bustling family business.
It has been a hot and dry year, tracking ahead of 2015 which was our earliest and warmest on record. But this year’s weather has not been without its fair share of strangeness. We had a warm and dry April, May and June which is what put us ahead of 2015 as far as degree days go. But then we had a cooler and cloudier and even rainier July and August than is normal for the Northern Willamette Valley. For the second year in a row, a spring hail storm wreaked havoc on the Silice Vineayrd and the Winery Block, hedging 50%+ of all of the young tender shoots and damaging many pre-bloom clusters. Yields will be very small in both of these sites.
It was also a very difficult year for mildew pressure in the valley with warm temperatures and very moist conditions. Many vineyards in the valley lost a considerable amount of crop and some even lost it all. We remain clean in all five of our estates and as a Biodynamic farmer who does not use systemic fungicides, I can say that I am extremely proud of my team this year!
All in all I believed that we were still about 3-5 days ahead of last year, however last year we began the harvest on August 22nd with the Chardonnay and this year on the same day; Chardonnay is nowhere close to being ripe. Pinot Noir will lead the charge this year and Chardonnay will come later but we are harvesting only one day later than last year and Pinot Noir is harvesting two days earlier than last year.
Blocks 1 and 2 at the Bergstrom Vineyard are planted on a shallow shelf of Basalt that points due south on a beautiful slope and are very conducive to early ripening fruit that can produce deeply profound wines. And so that is where we have started the harvest of 2016, picking 7 tons of fruit and putting all of that fruit (stems and all…. 100% whole cluster) into two small tanks which now sit in the corner of our winery silent as we busily rack barrels of wine to tanks to bottle the Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir from the 2015 vintage. For some reason we always schedule the bottling of this wine during harvest…. Note to self for changing that next year.
Our crew has arrived from around the world to help us craft wines this year. We have travelling winemakers from France, Chile, California, Australia and Newberg helping us out this year and they are excited and impatient to get their feet and hands stained red with Oregon Pinot Noir.
Tomorrow we enter the Silice Vineyard to harvest block 4 Pinot Noir and on Sunday we go back to the Bergstrom Vineyard to harvest the rest of block 2. At that time, I believe that our Chardonnays will be approaching perfect physiological maturity and we will “release the hounds” so to speak and harvest will begin in earnest.
As you know, because I have said it before, I love this time of year. There is nothing else like it. People like me ache to make wine and, 10 months out of the year, all we think about is this one chance per year to shine. Calculations have been made, the weather forecasts are on the desk next to me, The coffee is strong… maybe too strong, the hard work in the vineyard has been completed, the dice are in my hands and its time to throw down. I cannot wait to see what kinds of wines come from this unique and thrilling vintage which is unfolding outside.
Stay tuned and I’ll keep you in the loop.
Cheers to 2016!