The word on its own brings forth a flood of visions, emotions and memories for me and for so many others who work with the land and our natural world to bring forth an agricultural product to market and to table. The dry and hot summer is transitioning to the cool and unpredictable fall. The sun’s position in the sky is also changing ever so gradually to lower and lower on the horizon. The lush and green landscapes are bursting into color and finally browning. Birds are flying south and foraging animals are gathering their winter stores. And yet, harvest, for as wonderfully beautiful of a moment and celebration as it is, is also a stressful time that represents weeks of hard work, long hours and sleepless nights. And we lovingly accept it and anticipate it each and every year. Harvest is the spiritual and physical marker that finishes the perfect circle of this year’s work.
This is my 24th harvest as a winemaker here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and I am just as excited today as I was that first September morning in 1999, when we picked grapes and made our first wine. But this year’s harvest is, of course, different than any other that has come before it; harvesting during a global viral pandemic has its overt and obtuse difficulties.
At Bergström Wines we are used to welcoming young, aspiring winemaking interns from around the world into our winery home to work closely together. We mark each day of hard work with family-style meals around a great table where we share laughter and bottles of great wine. In the past decade we have had so many young, talented women and men pass through our harvest and it has been such a pleasure to see them participate and learn and grow and go on to fulfill wonderful achievements as winemakers in their own right. This year we are a much smaller team, with no help from abroad. We strive to create a nucleus of safety and keep our people safe. The team wears masks and gloves, maintaining our distance and keeping everything clean and healthy. There is no big table, we are not shoulder to shoulder at mealtime. It feels a lot different than most years. But we are shoulder to shoulder in spirit and work ethic, we continue to ensure the hard work, the long hours and tough days are marked by celebration in spirit and in the wines that we will bring to the world and its tables.
2020 has been a very interesting farming season to date. The year started off with a warm and beautiful March and April which was misleading because the rest of the spring season was cold and wet and foggy and cloudy. Around July the weather started to pick up and finally we saw a classic Oregon summer of dry warm days and cold nights; better late than never. Now, looking back, the summer has been very hot, dry and the soils are arid but the leaves are green and healthy and ready to ripen the small but beautiful crop that mother nature gave us this year. Usually we have to drop excess fruit on the ground to ensure quality and concentration of wine flavors but this year the crop is naturally very small so we are letting the natural yield ripen to fruition (so to speak…. pun intended.)
Today is September 7, 2020 and we have picked our first fruit of the 2020 harvest. Blocks 1A and 1B (doesn’t that sound romantic?), Dijon clone Pinot Noirs on Riparia Gloire rootstock on a due south-facing slope of thin Jory soils on top of 15-million-year-old basalt bedrock, were ready to pick and so we started today under clear blue skies. The fruit looked beautiful, with extremely small, tightly bunched clusters of dark black-blue colored Pinot Noir that tasted so sweet, but still had nice natural acidity. By noon the winds picked up and by the early afternoon we had gusts of 40-50 mph winds, with heavy smoke from central Oregon forest fires, blowing into the valley and obscuring the view of all surrounding hillsides. We could no longer see our neighbors or anything that seemed familiar and all of a sudden it felt very 2020 again.
The wind and smoke are forecasted to last for a couple of days and then depart, thanks to maritime winds from the Pacific that will pick up and remind us that we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. We are poised and ready to begin picking fruit in earnest from Silice, Le Pré du Col, the Winery Block and returning to the Bergström Vineyard. As well, Chardonnay will make its grand debut tomorrow as we pick the Winery Block and the first blocks of Silice. It’s about to get a little crazy around here!! Stay tuned for more reporting from the fields and the cellars on the progress and qualitative assessments of the 2020 vintage as it unfurls. And most importantly, thanks for your support.