My little grey Prius flies (used loosely) up and over Bell Rd on the Chehalem Mountain with my faithful black lab Lily in the back, head out the window, big smile and ears flopping in the early morning wind and the car smells strongly and deliciously of bacon and sausage and scrambled eggs as I hurriedly try to get to the winery before the crew, to serve them Caroline’s homemade breakfast before another long day of harvest work.
It is Tuesday September 30th and for 24 straight days of 16-18 hours a day of harvesting, processing and fermenting we have worked very hard and have grown weary and delirious but my team is still smiling and laughing…. It is a great year. We are only three weeks into this 6 week haul and the weather remains very cooperative. It has been so hot and dry and winds from the East have prevailed for most of the summer. Trees, shrubs and vines are giving up and calling it a year. Bees, wasps and other insects are crazy for water and sugar and swarm in abundance through vineyards and around the crush-pad gathering around sugary pools of juice to drink before they too call it quits. The brief but quenching thunderstorms of yesterday were a welcome relief to everybody. Now if finally feels like harvest.
The 2014 vintage year has been an anomaly for the state of Oregon: Hot and dry since April. It could quite possibly be one of the earliest vintages in Oregon’s history for those vineyards that started coming in early in the month. The soils are parched and the East winds and scorching temperatures have reigned supreme since so long ago now I can’t remember how far back it goes but I can tell you honestly that I am ready for cold weather and rain and a good sweater which is a good sign of a rare summer if you are an Oregonian.
I had great plans to top last year’s harvest blog with detailed reports and photos from the field and this year took us by such complete surprise that my harvest interns were barely here a week when we had to rush to the fields to pick Chardonnay. I had a great trip to New York planned where I was going to tell you about a couple of fantastic restaurants and our adventures throughout Manhattan and what not but all of that was cancelled prioritizing the immediate need to get our precious Chardonnay and young vine Pinot Noir fruit in on time to preserve acidities and freshness and I have to say that early signs are pointing to perhaps the greatest Chardonnays of my career. New York will always be there, but Chardonnay can’t wait when it is this time of year!
So I apologize that the harvest blog has not been bountiful this year but I will try to catch you all up on the past two weeks: try to put yourselves into the mindset: average of 4 ½ hours of sleep per night, multiple bee stings, bruises and pieces of grape skins showing up in the weirdest of places on your body. Here we go, it’s harvest time.
We started the harvest on the 8th of September, a record for Bergstrom Wines I believe! I decided to pick Chardonnay fruit from Bergstrom Vineyard, Winery Block and Silice first and then we followed with Le Pre du Col and then several days later the cooler sites of Gregory Ranch and Temperance Hill. All in all almost 37 tons of chardonnay were harvested off of our 6 sites and the fruit was pristine. Glorious natural acidities and flavors this year and I am very excited about our raw materials for a great year of Sigrid Chardonnay in 2014! To use a poor analogy, if winemaking is like cooking, then Chardonnay winemaking is like pastry making. Precision and timing are extremely important. If you are looking to craft a world class wine like Sigrid then you cannot miss your window to harvest fruit once the acidities are perfect and flavors are peaking on the green apple, barely ripe stonefruit and citrus (lime, lemon and grapefruit) spectrum. Once Chardonnay gets into golden delicious apple, ripe pear, ripe stone fruits and ripe melon flavors, I believe that it is past its peak for a wine of precision and cut. As I work harder each and every year to further our Chardonnays, I learn more and more and harvest earlier and earlier. This year I am thrilled with our results and we were harvesting Chardonnay just about two weeks after the sparkling wine guys were getting going! Those vineyards are now happily bubbling away in their barrels and some are beginning to finish up their alcoholic fermentations.
We started our Pinot Noir harvest with the Bergstrom Vineyard, Le Pre du Col and the Winery Block. Some of the blocks in these vineyards are our warmest and thus break bud, bloom and ripen a week or more before other sites. But interestingly enough, these vineyards also don’t all harvest at the same time. In many years, such as this one, we will start harvesting in some sites and not finish harvesting until 3-4 weeks later. I believe that 2014 will actually be a three part harvest: early fruit from a ripe year that shows the concentration of the year but the tension of the early pick. The middle harvest which will show the ripeness of the year with opulent fruit characters and the final harvest which will be from the later sites which will benefit from some of the first fall rains and cooler temperatures of early October, one month after the first fruit was picked.
Our early fruit would be young vines from Le Pre du Col, and Croft Vineyard as well as the warmer south facing slopes of the Winery Block, Bergstrom, and Shea. The middle picks are always the rest of the Bergstrom Vineyard, most of Silice, the Dijon clones at Shea, The upper slopes at Croft and Le Pre du Col. Our latest picks are always Gregory Ranch, Temperance Hill, the Pommard and Wadenswil blocks at Shea and the original plantings at Silice. This year we started harvest on the 5th of September and will finish picking around the 5th of October…. One month of harvesting!!
I believe that is what is going to make the 2014 vintage a very interesting one. Fruit was or will be harvested in three waves. The first wave was the Chardonnay and early Pinot Noir from people who were worried about maintaining freshness and not getting overripe character. As well, certain younger vineyards just couldn’t handle the hot and dry East winds during early September. The second wave would have been From September 15th until the end of the month and this fruit will be very ripe and produce rich round wines that should be very pleasing. The third wave will happen at the end of September and in to the beginning of October and these are the older vineyards, perhaps higher in elevation and with older clonal material that need the extra hang time to achieve ripeness each and every year. These sites could produce outstanding wines this year. Places like Temperance Hill and Gregory Ranch will really benefit from this warm year and will be harvested almost one month after we began our harvest in Dundee and Chehalem Mountains!
I love harvest time, it is really no secret. Years of harvest journals have probably led you to this truth. The sights, the smells, the countless hours of work with a dedicated team, the epiphanies you reach after a certain amount of sleep deprivation, the hysterical laughing after the countless hours of stressing and once again, the smells. Oh the aromas that you encounter during harvest: fresh fruit, wet earth, decaying yellow and orange leaves, fermentations with their candied sweetness, wet pomace, compost, the autumnal costal breezes. It just doesn’t get better than relishing the aromas that are floating around the crush pad this time of year.
You would think that I spend the entire fall just walking through golden vineyards plucking fresh pumpkins and Chanterelles up off of the rich ground. But alas I spend most of my time in my dark cellar working on fermentations and filling barrels. Most of the time the fall season comes and goes and I miss it. Driving to work in the dark, getting picking teams their directives and fruit bins in the dark and then leaving the winery in the dark to drive home, I usually emerge from harvest sometime in November to realize that all of the leaves have fallen from the trees and it is really cold and wet outside. But not this year. This year we started harvesting in what felt like the middle of summer and we will finish up our picking and fermenting a week or two before Halloween. I am right smack dab in the middle of Fall enjoyment right now! And maybe this doesn’t mean a lot to everyone. After all, not every state enjoys a true Fall. But when Oregon hits it right, it is by far our most magical season. And I can say without regret this year that it has been such a long and warm and dry summer, that I am ready for Autumn and all that it brings…. Including rain.
We have 70 more tons of fruit to pick as of today and we start that final push tomorrow. The final block from Shea Vineyard and Silice as well as all of Gregory Ranch and Temperance Hill will come in. As well we are harvesting Syrah fruit for our new “Gargantua Project” which wine club members will hear more about in the coming months. It is a very exciting week here at Bergstrom Wines. So much to do. I’d better brew another pot of coffee.