Dark, cold and cloudy, with thick fog today but it is our first bad weather day in three weeks and it is our final day of picking. The 2011 vintage is finally over. I know, I know….. I post only two or three blog entries at the beginning, and then you miss the middle, and then you get the end in one big lump sum. Sorry about that, but this was the most compressed and potentially difficult vintage that we have seen in Oregon’s recent history and my thoughts were focused at the task at hand.
Whew….. sigh of relief or sigh of content? I don’t know yet….. but I have a pretty good feeling about this one. The first two wines that we have put to barrel are very charming. Everything else is either still cold soaking or just starting to ferment…. I am holding my breath. A this point we are still trying to deal with sleep deprivation and cold wet clothes. I feel like this vintage aged me a bit more than usual. We are normally tired after a vintage, but we are all exhausted today.
The days have been long and hard and my team has labored valiantly for two weeks putting in 18-19 hour days of relentless and backbreaking work. Most of those early mornings and nights were below freezing temperatures and made for very hard work weighing, sorting, punching down, pumping and processing 200 tons of icy cold wine grapes. It sounds like “The Deadliest Catch” but isn’t that traumatic as we allow ourselves the luxury of eating wonderful meals and drinking fine wines between the cold, wet and dark hours of work. That and wine-grapes don’t pinch you, nor can you fall overboard… I guess.
Speaking of meals; we have been blessed this year. Blame it on my harvest in Burgundy (where each harvest meal was ritually 3-4 courses long) or my incurable hunger for the celebration of the harvest, but we have eaten, drank and celebrated very well this October and now into November. Caroline, my mom and our culinary hero Kris Utz have put together some amazing meals for us and I think that, regardless of the long hours of work, we have all put on a pound or two this year. Twice a week we have bathed ourselves in the bubbling crusty goodness of “Pizza Day” where Kris Utz, of Renaissance Catering, has wood-fire baked some amazing pies with: Oysters, Clams, pepperoni, chanterelles, bacon, butternut squash, crème fraiche, swiss chard, arugula and garlic were the guest stars. Life is so incredibly good when Pizza has got your back.
How could it be possible to not love what I do? Today I filled my first 2011 barrel of Pinot Noir. The fact that it was November 4th was already tickling my brain, but better yet is that moment in and of itself…. filling my first barrel of the year. Watching the crimson blood-like liquid fill that new barrel and have the warm blast of woodsy smoky air mingle with the sweetness of the new wine as it pushes up towards my nose and flashlight as I enviously watch the barrel fill. That is a special moment. I have done it hundreds of times for more than 13 years but every time I do it again for the first time, my pulse quickens and my breath slows; relishing the moment. Completing a year’s work is very satisfying. One barrel down, now only 300 more barrels more to fill.
The picking was fast and furious this year for sure. In a year where the weather spreads out the picking a little bit more, we will start picking at the end of September and finish around Halloween. This year, because of the short picking window and the fact that we absolutely had to hang fruit as long as possible, we all had to pick all of our fruit in a 8-12 day period which is very difficult. A vintner’s picking decision is one of the most important of the year as it will set the ripeness and thus style for the vintage. An early pick can lead to wines with higher acids, lower alcohols and more elegance, whereas a late pick can drop acidities, raise alcohols and set more concentration or ripeness and darker flavors. This year however, there was no luxury of deciding whether or not to pick early or late for style, we simply had to let the fruit hang for as long as possible without incurring massive financial losses due to rot or birds or rains. The very late season meant that we needed as much time on the vine as was possible. And I think that we may have gotten that window, much like last year in 2010.
The harvest may be over, but the work is far from done. We are looking at one more month of hard work within the winery working the fermentations, then pressing out tanks and finally filling our barrels. By Thanksgiving open house weekend we should be close to finished but there will probably be a few fermentations still kicking around.
Stay tuned for more thoughts about the vintage and the new wines. Cheers! And stay warm!