You know harvest is over when your seasonal facial hair that at one time was entertaining now resembles and feels like a wild badger in a death grapple with your face.
Today is October 10, 2015 and the picking of fruit is over. We finished up our final picks at Temperance Hill, Gregory Ranch and Doerner’s on September 30th, just one day short of the month of October but officially forty days after we had started picking this vintage. With 40 straight days of picking, this vintage and 2014 are beginning to look a lot alike. Back to back success stories? Time will tell.
It is hard to argue with weather like we have had this year and last. Aside from the drought conditions that are creating obvious issues around urban areas and with local flora and fauna, the vines were very happy this year and the quality of the grapes showed it. From Chardonnay to Pinot Noir to Syrah, every vineyard was able to ripen at its own pace and winemakers harvested at leisure rather than at gunpoint.
We now have only four more tanks of Pinot Noir to drain and press out and the vintage will officially be over as far as primary fermentations are concerned. The cellar is full of barrels that are happily bubbling through the beginnings of their secondary fermentations (malolactic.) Looking back over the past six weeks this vintage was a good one. Potentially great. Very much like 2014, and we are loving those wines right now.
It was again a tale of three vintages in one. The first harvest was intentionally early to seize the freshness and natural acidity while sugars were still low. This effort occurred between August 22nd and September 1st. The second harvest was the tenderloin of the campaign and delivered what we expected from this year which was generous fruit flavors and aromas with lower natural acidities. This occurred between September 2nd and September 15th. The third and last part of the harvest involved the higher elevation sites or the older Pommard and Wadenswil clone vines which take longer to ripen and this brought us back to higher natural acids and lower sugars which, paired with a very long hangtime of more than 120 days since bloom, brought us the savory and spicy elements from this vintage. So now, here we are, with a cellar full of three different types of wines from each of our vineyards: fresh, fruity and savory/spicy. There is going to be a lot of good material to work with here once blending time comes around next year.
As mentioned earlier in the harvest, I believe that we hit the Chardonnay timing right on the head. The aromas and flavors and acid profiles put a large smile on my face. These could be classic Chardonnays for sure. Timing was crucial and daily sampling of each and every vineyard block ensured that we picked at the right time.
Traditionally we have hired four interns from around the county the nation or the globe to come and work harvest with us. This year we hired six and the extra hands were crucial and of course entertaining. We had interns from McMinnville and Portland and Olympia and New York, Vermont and Australia. They all worked hard and trudged through the six difficult weeks of cleaning, stacking, sorting, punching, pumping, cleaning, sweeping, measuring, sweating, bleeding, crying… did I say cleaning? A harvest intern’s life is not glorious but it is educational and rich with new experiences and potential friendships. We fed them well and wet their palates with wines of the world and they helped us to craft a fine vintage. For that we thank them and wish them well as they leave Calkins Lane to start another adventure.
What I will always remember about this harvest is how I did not feel as if I was in Oregon making wine. I do not recall one day in the past five months needing to wear a jacket. Growing up in Portland, I was always used to a Pacific Wonderland that was rainy. That was normal. Other than the bright colors in the trees, Falls were mostly disappointing. And that was ok, at least you could count on the rain. All of that seems more like myth nowadays considering the past two years we have experienced here in the Willamette Valley.
My very first harvest was 1997 which was a rainy and disappointing vintage. Disappointing that is to the winery owners. I was a young aspiring intern and was enthusiastic and excited out of my mind. I was exposed to the wines from 1995 and 1996 that year, which were also rainy vintages. I loved them all. So maybe my expectations of “normal” are really just based on nostalgia and not reality.
In any case, the 2014 and 2015 vintages were the exact opposite of where we started out. Less rain, less mold and rot, less stress, more sunshine, more heat, and the wines are great. But the wines are great because of great effort, you can probably see that across the valley. Reminds me of my 18 year old business plan: “Plan on catastrophe, work hard, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.” This year was a pleasant surprise.
I have long been a champion of the cooler and wetter vintages in Oregon over the hotter drier vintages. Mostly, I think, because the cooler vintages give us more acidity and more freshness in the wines and also because they tend to get skipped over by the consumer and some of the wine press. What this vintage and last vintage have taught me though is that not all hot and dry vintages are created equal. What 2014 and 2015 gave us were ideal conditions to craft any style of wine that we wanted. The window of sunshine and warm temperatures was so long that the opportunities afforded to winemakers were vast. You could have harvested early, in the middle or late or even really late and made any style of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay that you wanted to. These vintages will definitely be fun to watch as they age and I personally can’t wait to taste what the winemakers in this Valley crafted with such a unique opportunity.