The fever-dream of harvest is over. It seemed to last forever this year. We worked for forty five days straight, fifteen to eighteen hours per day and then another two weeks straight after that with relatively normal hours of 9-12 hour days. Now it is finally and officially over and the “post-harvest re-entry syndrome” is in full effect.
I never get used to this feeling of finishing harvest. I still feel strange and sometimes lost this time of year. After so much preparation and organization and thought and physical exertion and general busy activity, I sometimes don’t know what to do with myself or how to interact with people who were not part of the harvest. This re-entry period usually lasts a few weeks, sometimes a month and then one day I wake up and feel normal again and return to the day to day routine of normalcy. I don’t know a winemaker who knows how to smoothly transition out of harvest. Some just go on vacation and lie on a beach, others jump right into national sales travels, others just mope around on the weekends raking leaves and cleaning the garage.
Do you remember that feeling after breaking up with your first childhood crush in middle school or high school? Or perhaps being a teacher and saying goodbye to a classroom and saying hello to a summer empty of children? I don’t really know how to compare the harvest experience to anything else. It’s sometimes tough to leave and say goodbye. And I always feel as if every harvest takes a part of me with it, but with time the wine that we make somehow brings that part of me back. And every summer, as harvest nears, I am just as excited for harvest again as if it were my first.
At the end of harvest, young interns visibly go through a separation process and sometimes a slight depression and even struggle to find some closure. They will float back to the winery to say hello once or twice and maybe even show up at lunchtime to share some stories and mostly just talk. A lot of times they just keep on moving towards another harvest in the Southern Hemisphere…. the endless summer!
During the heart of harvest you yearn for the end, but when it actually comes it just seems so final and looking back at it is like looking through a bittersweet blur, like a fever dream; vivid and emotional and exhausting. But the collective feeling of completion is a sigh of relief mutually shared by all at the end of harvest and we are proud of what we did and how we did it.
Since I last checked in; the 2014 harvest is officially finished but the work continues in the cellar. All of our new wines are in barrel finishing up their primary ferments or beginning their secondary fermentations. We believe that we have had a very successful year with the 2014 harvest. The winery is full of dark ruby and purple pinot noirs that smell of a sweet rich warm season that blessed this valley with sunshine from April until November. I do not remember a year so soaked with sunshine in my 40 years of living in this great state and in fact 2014 is the hottest grape growing year on record, surpassing 1992 and even years like 2003. But what is important to remember about 2014, is that unlike 2003 or 2006, the heat did not come in one final blast at the end, shriveling up our not quite ripe fruit. This year we had heat and dry conditions all year long which I believe makes a big difference in how the vines adjust to the heat.
In years like 2003 and 2006 and even 2009, the heat came mostly in the final months and then came big time right at harvest which shocked vines and fruit and led to widespread fruit shrivel and those vintages were difficult because fruit had to be harvested immediately to prevent Oregon Amarone from occurring on the vines.
2014 was steady and hot all along and the vines and fruit got used to this. In fact, normally when we harvest our fruit, the leaves on the vine turn yellow and red and fall off within about two weeks of the harvest as if to say “I am exhausted, goodnight!” But this year the leaves stayed green in the upper parts of the canopy for much longer maybe showing us that the vines were not as stressed out as the season might have led us to believe.
The amount of time from bloom to harvest was shorter than in longer cooler years like 2011, but the lignification of vine shoots and stems and seeds was amazing and ripe flavors came on earlier than most of the warmer years we have seen in the past. It is truly a luxury in Oregon to be able to harvest fruit when you want to vs. being forced to pick because of a major weather event.
My earlier statement about harvesting in thirds is true. This was the year of three harvests. The early wines were intentionally picked early to retain acidities and capture some vibrancy in the fruit: all of the Chardonnay was part of this first pick as were the Pinot Noirs from: the Winery Block, parts of the Bergstrom Vineyard, Silice, Le Pre du Col and Shea.
The middle picking, which was the brunt of the harvest came from all vineyard sites as the heat and the drying East winds began to drive sugars up and acidities down. The weather was ideal for ripe vintage wines but we did not want our fruit too ripe. So we harvested the remainder of the Bergstrom Vineyard, Shea Vineyard, Le Pre du Col, Silice and Croft Vineyard during this period.
The final part of harvest came as the temperatures started to slightly subside but the skies were still blue. We saw some brief rain showers prior to and during this picking period but only enough rain to knock the dust off of fruit, and honestly at this point, any moisture was desperately needed. The grape canopies had not yet begun to shut down completely with only slight yellowing in the fruiting zone but they were beginning to show the stress of a long and dry year. The last fruit to be harvested as from our higher elevation, later sites as well as the older Pommard and Wadenswil clone Pinot Noirs: Temperance Hill, Gregory Ranch and parts of Shea and Silice.
So we have three different moments of 2014 captured in the cellar and a mixture of picking styles and levels of ripeness from within multiple vineyards and the clonal blocks therein and I believe that our eventual final blends could be quite special this year.
Yields were up across the valley which could also be a great thing for some wineries and some consumers. Mother Nature was in a giving mood with this vintage and although we went through our vineyards three times to drop fruit in June and July and August, we were still bringing in 0.2-0.4 tons per acre more than we had estimated and it was perfectly ripe. All in all, I can say that this vintage feels a whole lot better than in 2010 when the birds ate 40%-50% of our fruit and the cellars felt empty.
I want to thank our trusty harvest crew who made 2014 so enjoyable and successful. They came to Bergstrom Wines as total strangers and left here as a permanent fixture in our story: Alex from Salem who came to us as a base baller and had a great first harvest! Ari from McMinnville who came to us directly from Burning Man is off to Chile for another harvest (and probably another Burning Man.) Ian from San Diego who has re-located to Oregon to join the ranks of the Oregon wine industry. And Jaime who came to us from a winery in New York and who is off to Australia for yet another harvest. These young people showed up on day one with bright eyes and a restless heart, eager for action but unsure of what 2014 would bring. Alongside my full time Bergstrom Wines production team of Travis and Ryan, these hardworking kids gave me their all and worked tirelessly for days on end and they did it with smiles and good humor. They left here exhausted and a little worn around the edges but still with bright eyes for the future and I wish them all of my best on their quests. They will always be a part of Bergstrom Wines’ 2014 wines.