Harvest is in full swing here in the northern Willamette Valley under summer-like weather, with producers scrambling to pick fruit before sugar levels soar any higher.
The past summer was among the warmest on record locally, with nearly a record number of 90F+ days in Portland (21) and below average rainfall for each of the past four months. The stats remind me of 2003, a notoriously hot year that produced hot wines (high alcohol). So far, what I’ve seen harvested looks pretty ripe for our area, but it’s early still and we’ll see how things turn out.
We had a brief cool down with light rain a couple weeks back, and at the time I thought maybe fall was here for good. I was even worried because fruit was nearly ripe, but not quite there and needing more 70F+ weather to progess. But temperatures locally rebounded with consistent mid-80F readings every day for the past week. Fruit that was coming along nicely early in September, then stalled during the cool period, has taken off with the renewed heat.
Now the harvest is surging as lower elevation vineyards and younger vines are, in some cases, more than ready. Higher sites and older vines that typcially mature a bit later are hanging on in the hopes even better flavors can develop in the fruit without sugar levels soaring, leading to high alcohol wines or manipulations in the cellars to produce balanced wines.
This year, I’m sharing a harvest internship at one producer, working every third day and glad for the breaks between shifts. Working the crush is hard work (huge understatement). I’m also planning to help out when I can with another producer whose wine I discovered earlier this year. I don’t like to name drop about where I work, but you can read about these and other producers in previous posts. I’ll get around to naming names after harvest is done. For what it’s worth, I choose to work with producers I like. I want to learn from people whose wines I respect. So when I continue to write about these producers, especially if I write favorably, it’s not because I worked there. I worked there because I like the wines.
All that said, I’m also getting my own Pinot noir from the Wahle vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton district. Between my fulltime job, my family, my part-time harvest internship, and helping out elsewhere, I’m too busy to get my own fruit before this coming next Tuesday. Some grapes from Wahle are being picked for commercial wineries yesterday and today. I can only hope the old vines at Wahle can hold up for a few more days. I’m nervous that the fruit that was just about ripe a few days ago will come in overripe. But we’re expecting a cool down again, and I’ll get a mix of clones with one particular clone later ripening and frankly needing the extra time (in a perfect world, I’d skip it entirely but I don’t have that choice if I want Wahle fruit). So we’ll see how it turns out.
One of the many things I’m learning is that you can’t always get the fruit exactly when you might want, for almost every reason you can imagine. Life gets in the way, other fruit gets in the way, pickers aren’t available, the weather turns either too hot or too wet before you can harvest. Even when you get the fruit exactly when you want, when it should be perfect, it can be different than you expected, either not quite so ripe or a bit too ripe. You’ll hear from some people that really good producers don’t have these problems, but that ain’t true. It’s just the way things are. I’ve seen it every time I’ve worked in a winery, three different years now.
Meanwhile, I bottled last year’s Pinot noir recently and I must say...it’s not bad. I’m hopeful that this year’s ferment can be more vigorous to extract more color and flavor out of what will undoubtedly be riper fruit. And I’m hoping that all the good things about last year’s wine and experience will carry over to this year, so I’ll produce healthy, sound wine again but from better raw materials. Get that right and I should have a pretty nice wine on my hands. No pun intended.
A tasting note for harvest? NV Widmer Hefeweizen, fresh and cold from the bottle while watching the sun set over the coast range after a long hard day of harvest work. One word: perfect. Only it turns out this wasn’t an end of the day beer, just a beer break beer. There was and always is more work to do on the crushpad. So back to work for me.