We attended a tasting seminar recently that featured Oregon Chardonnay. The seminar was MC’d by local wine writer Katherine Cole. She posited the suggestion that as we tasted, we might think about Correlation and Causality. I was particularly intrigued by her Correlation/Causality suggestion. I’m not sure it was directly addressed and she didn’t have time to expand on the notion. But I’ve been puzzling on it since then. I think what we’re dealing with is Terroir.
Tasting through the wines and listening to the winemakers talk about their various processes I would have to agree with a wine writer from San Francisco. He said while there were differences there was a greater stylistic similarity. If we limit our definition of Terroir to the physical environment of the vine—soil type, slope, microclimate, etc. we could correlate the differences in Terroir to the differences in the wines. But how to explain the stylistic similarity? What causes that?
Maybe we need a broader definition of Terroir. One of the best definitions of Terroir I’ve run across is from Stefano Poni. He says, “Terroir is the ecology of a wine. The total, interrelated environment wherein a grapevine is cultivated for the purpose of making wine. Key factors include, but are not limited to, cultivar, soil, climate, vineyard location, planting density, training system, pruning philosophy and cultural and social milieu wherein the whole enterprise takes place.” Poni’s definition lets us correlate both the differences and the similarities in the Chardonnays we tasted.Cultivar, soil, vineyard location, etc. can account for the differences and some of the similarities in the various wines. But I think it’s the cultural and social mileu within which the winemaking takes place that explains the greater stylistic similarity in the wines. I would argue that it’s the spirit of sharing, cooperation and mentoring that still takes place here in the Oregon wine industry that causes the stylistic similarity.
We’ve been growing Chardonnay for 25 plus years and making wine for nearly as long. I think our Chardonnay shares the stylistic similarity we tastedin the presented wines–an Oregon-style Chardonnay. Though as with all the growers and winemakers we have our differences, it was that similarity that led me to meditate on Cole’s Correlation/Causality notion. I think Terroir, as defined by Stefano Poni,is what correlates cause and effect. Try some Oregon Chardonnay and see if you agree.
What’s that old Murphy’s Law?What can go wrong will go wrong.
The Leon Millot harvest was nearly ideal and the winemaking went smoothly. The wine is currently going through Malolactic Fermentation. So what about Murphy’s Law?
Our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were ripening in a timely manner and the weather continued in our favor. The labor contractor we’ve been working with for more than ten years assured us we would have a crew on Thursday–the last day of our amazing string of warm, dry weather. Thursday morning came and went with no sign of a crew. We weren’t too worried since the crew had sometimes come late in the past. If the vineyard they were picking at before ours had more grapes than estimated, we assumed the crew would finish picking there before they came here. I put in a call to our labor contractor–and left a message to check on the status of the crew.
We had friends coming to help monitor the picking totes for MOG. MOG is “material other than grapes”. That can include leaves, gloves, pruning shears, hats, water bottles, etc. Since the crew wasn’t here, our friends volunteered to pick while we waited for the crew to show up. After leaving several more voice mails for our contractor, with no response, we getting more and more concerned. “The Rain” was forecast to start Friday. By “Rain” I mean the beginning of our rainy season here in the Northwest. Our concern was that while the fruit was still in good shape, there was enough disease pressure in the vineyard, that several days of rain might cause the mildew and botrytis to explode. Despite more voice mails our contractor wouldn’t return our phone calls.
We put out an email to our friends and supporters explaining the situation and asking for picking help as people were able. We had a good number of friend respond, but as predicted, the “Rain” began Friday. We picked in the rain with our intrepid friends and were making progress. One of our fellow grape growers responded to our plight and tried to get his crew come pick our grapes on Friday. We were hopeful they would make it, but after picking at another vineyard in the morning, they decided they were too wet and cold to pick any more that day. Our friend tried to arrange for the crew to come on Saturday. Once again our hopes were dashed. They were again too tired and wet to pick at our place. Our friends continued to answer the call and came out to pick with us on Saturday. At least we would salvage something of what looked to be a great vintage. After two days of rain, I was increasingly doubtful about getting it all picked and and less optimistic that the fruit would continue to be relatively free of disease. It looked like Murphy’s Law would win out.
Our friend prevailed on his crew one more time for Sunday morning. This time the crew showed up. With the crew and more of our friends and with the weather remaining relatively dry we were able to get the Chardonnay picked. The fruit still looked amazingly good. The crew seemed postive about their experience picking at Forest Edge and said they would be back next year. We hope so, because we heard from a number of fellow growers that they had trouble getting crews to come and to stay until until all the grapes were picked. Perhaps more on the labor issues in another edition.
But thanks to the persistence and willingness of friends to help us out in our hour of need, we were able to avoid the worst effects of Murphy’s Law this year.
Our crew of two(Jan and I) worked until early Monday morning getting all the fruit destemmed and crushed. When the fruit is in relatively good shape we like to leave them “on the skins” for 24 to 48 hours before we press. Many of the polyphenols and organoleptics in grapes are next to the skin and we feel that giving the grapes a chance to break down prior to pressing gets more of those desirable elements into the juice. We pressed the juice into neutral oak barrels and began fermentation. Fermentation went well with lots of the usual tropical fruit aromas and flavors in the wine. As I write this, the Chardonnay is undergoing Malolactic Fermentation and we look forward to a great vintage.
With harvest underway and more to come, I’ve been reflecting on all that harvest means.
Asgrowers, it’s the culmination of all our efforts over the past year. This year’s harvest began at the end of last year’s.A post harvest spray to control overwintering fungus and increase micronutrient levels in the vines is the beginning of this year’sharvest.Pruning in the late winter/early spring is the next activity that will help determine the success of this year’s harvest. And then comes spraying at critical times throughout the spring, summer and fall(even organic grape growers need to spray for mildew and botrytis). Canopy management—including hedging and fruit thinning are also critical activities during the growing season. Pest control can also be an issue. We fence to keep the deer out. But birds are another issue. We have birds nesting in our vines, and that’s OK with us. We’re willing to lose a little fruit to support the local bird population. It’s the migrating flocks that can wreak havoc on our vineyards. In our area, the main migratory flocks are robins. It can be both awe inspiring and frightening to see hundreds of robins swirling in and out of the vineyard!? We use electronic bird distress calls, and a variety of noisemakers and a strategic use of bird netting to help reduce the damage and impact.
But the most critical factor for any harvest—over which we have no immediate control is the weather. Weather during bud formation, during bloom, during cluster development, during ripening can make or break the quality and quantity of the grapes.
Rain during bloom can severely limit fruit set. Rain as harvest nears can spell disaster. Cool, humid weather, especially followed by warm humid weather can cause mildew and botrytis to spread before your eyes. Rain during harvest can dilute the sugars and throw the acids and ph off. On the other hand excessive heat can cause leaf and fruit burn.
The weather can also influence bird pressure. If the weather in the areas where the birds spend the summer is good, they may not come our way until at the end of harvest. If the weather where they summer turns bad earlier, they can come earlier and hungrier. Some years bird damage can be minimal and other years we can lose half our crop to birds—even with all of our control measures.
But when the weather cooperates harvest can be a thing of beauty! Watching abundant, healthy fruit grow and mature to be harvested under dry, sunny skies is what keeps us doing what we do.
Winemaking adds another dynamic to harvest. We want healthy, ripe fruit with a good balance of sugars and acids. Diseased, unbalanced fruit means more winemaking intervention. We also want dry fruit. Water can dilute the sugars and acids. A good friend and fellow grape grower says that winemaking is basically “glorified dishwashing”. And I think she’s right!? Before processing the grapes all the equipment has to be cleaned. And after processing, all the equipment needs to be cleaned again. We also have to clean between red and white grapes and between varietals.
But when we get ripe, well balanced fruit in good condition, you can practically let the wine make itself. Well, OK, there might be a bit more to it than that. But good, ripe grapes make the winemaking a pleasure instead of a challenge.
We harvested our Leon Millot on September 29th under sunny skies. The fruit was beautiful and ripe. It made the “glorified dishwashing” aspects of harvest worth the effort. We’re hoping to harvest the Chardonnay the second week of October and the Pinot Noir the following week. The weather in October can be problematic with the return of the rainy season usually occurring during the month. We’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed that the rains will hold off for a couple more weeks.
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Notes from the Edge!
As we state in our About Us section, living sustainably is our overriding goal. But the term “sustainability” has been so overused and misused that it’s become harder and harder to take it seriously. Walmart wants their business to be sustainable. Oil companies want to be sustainable. Wall Street traders want their business to be sustainable. We want our business to be sustainable. Are we and Walmart and BP and Wall Street understanding Sustainability the same way? I would hazard a guess that we’re not.
For us, the best definition of Sustainability is that of ethicist Larry Rasmussen: “Sustainability is the capacity of social and natural systems to survive and thrive together indefinitely.” Permaculture gives us the basic conceptual tools to try to live out this definition of sustainability(more on Permaculture later). As the definition implies living sustainably is a process—there is no endpoint. And that can be both challenging and reassuring. Continue reading ›