A forty day fever dream is what it felt like. The seasons changed right before our eyes. We started in the smoky heat, saw refreshing rain showers roll through and the blue sky filled with dramatic towering clouds and the nights turned icy cold. The leaves on the vines and trees have exploded into color once again and the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrahs are all safely in the cellar. The harvest is over and vintage 2017 is coming to a close.
I have written about harvest so many times before here in these online pages, not really knowing who If anyone is reading the words. And without sounding repetitive, it is hard to see the harvest end. I call it a fever dream because the sights and smells and tastes and laughter and sadness and the exhaustion and the endless work make everything blend into one fuzzy memory that seems so much longer than the six weeks that it always is. We forget the day of the week and stop looking at what time of day it is only because it really doesn’t matter during harvest. The work at times seems insurmountable and we can only feel safely structured by writing to-do lists and checking each task off one by one. At the beginning of each day the production dry erase board is full of work orders and by the end of the day it is empty, only to be re-written 7 hours later.
Harvest to me is a long and complicated symphony of efforts whose first simple but true note is that of the sweet smell of grape juice as the clusters are placed into picking bins. This note turns into more complex chords that build and swirl with the smell of diesel from the tractors and the sweat of the pickers, the candied smell of fermentation and the incessant hum of the bees that swarm around us ravenous for carbohydrates before the winter. The sunrises, the sunsets, the hours and hours of hard work begin to slowly wear our bodies down. The meals and the wines momentarily rejuvenate our spirits and the coffee is more valuable than gold.
5 young strangers show up at our doors to work harvest only to leave with a bond that will last our lifetimes although they don’t know it yet. And then they go out into the world and create something else that will touch other people’s lives. They too see the sunrises and the sunsets and they too sweat and cried and worked ever so hard to help us make the wines. Over the years they all come back to visit or send us letters or wines or products to us that they have made. Things that they were inspired to do, maybe during a vintage of winemaking. We stay in touch and remain friends based on 40 days of effort that we all shared together one Fall season. It is unbelievable really. So when someone asks me how many points that one wine got, it is hard for me to answer that question. When I think of a wine, I am instantly transported back to that year and those faces and our trials and efforts and celebrations together.
This harvest was unique for its weather. It was ever changing for sure. The vintage for Chardonnay was quite different from the vintage for Pinot Noir and even more so for the Syrahs but each varietal will shine in 2017. With cold nights and ever changing weather, the vintage was stretched out allowing each site to really show what it is all about. I believe that the individual vineyard characters will be very transparent and unique from this 2017 vintage. I mean we started picking Chardonnay on September 7th at 21.5 brix and finished picking Syrah 6 weeks later at 21.5 brix. That is astounding!
Usually the harvest starts and ends within 6 weeks. This year it took us 6 weeks to pick all of the fruit. It will take us 8-9 weeks to finish all fermentations and barrel down all of the cuvees. From 85 estate acres and 26 acres of purchased fruit we harvested and fermented and will barrel down close to 180 different small lots of wine. And I have a very strong feeling that the quality amongst most of these lots is quite high.
And although our harvest season was a triumph here in Oregon, we were simply very lucky. Our friends in Europe had seasons that were plagued by hail and frost and many of them are suffering. Our friends in Napa and Sonoma are currently mourning the deaths of friends and family, houses and livelihoods that were burned to the ground; landscapes that will not be the same for so many years to come. I cannot imagine losing our winery or our vineyards or our house. Our hearts are with them now and we will be doing our best to support them by buying and sharing their wines.