Archive for the 'Vines' Category

The Franc (nearly) cometh

Just got new brix, pH and TA numbers from the vineyard, so after a quick call to the vineyard manager, it seems the Franc is almost certainly ready, the Cab Sauv is almost certainly ready, and the Grenache probably in the window.

So we may have 3 delicious grapes coming at us Monday or Tuesday..!

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Early ripening Tempranillo ripens even earlier

Les Garagistes 2015 TempranilloAfter looking incredulously at the numbers from the vineyard, we headed east for our first pick today – Tempranillo and Merlot. Yeah, that’s 3 weeks early — wow.

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Two down, five or so to go

As of last night around 10pm, Merlot and Viognier are bank yo.

The Merlot was amiable and lush, but surprisingly, not as overripe as I’d feared. We’re at about 26 brix (which is a measure of the sugar in the grapes), which in turn translates into about 15.5% alcohol. That’s a little rocket-fuel-y for genteel palates such as ours, so we’ll be adding some water, as well as acid, to bring this cuddly critter of a wine back into balance.

From the numbers and how it tasted, I think we ended up picking the Viognier at the perfect time. The sugar’s at 26 also (so as you might guess from the Merlot’s numbers, we’ll be watering back a bit), but the pH is at 3.45, which is phenomenal. So we’ve got a wine that, right off the vine, is already pretty balanced. Can’t wait to smell it fermenting… mmmmmm …

From the numbers I’ve seen from the vineyard, next up will either be the Cabernet Sauvignon or the Syrah, and very possibly in the next 5 days or so. So keep an eye on this space …

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Let 2012 begin!

Today’s the first crush of 2012! Quarter-ton dollops of Merlot and Viognier will get us started – not a tsunami of fruit, but enough to get us warmed up before the larger harvests downstream.

What a difference a year makes: last year, we brought in Merlot (an early-ripening varietal that’s always the first to come in for us) on October 8, nine days later. The Viognier is even more striking: we picked that on the 15th of October. Practically winter!

So yes, the weather this year has been much more accommodating, though the cool weather and long hang times of last year did get us acid profiles that made for naturally beautiful and lively wines. This year will be more typical: more lush, but as always, we’ll need to keep a gimlet eye on acidity and alcohol.

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Dare I say it out loud?

Syrah to quench the thirsts of the godsOkay, I will, but sotto voce: so far, so good.

2011 is shaping up to be a tough vintage for everyone in the Northwest, but you wouldn’t know it from the two grapes we picked up over the weekend. Last Saturday, James and I had an extremely pleasant — and more importantly, rain-free — road trip out to Elephant Mountain to pick up Syrah and Merlot. Denis, the vineyard manager, had been gently lowering expectations leading up to harvest, but the fruit we tasted as we walked through the vineyard with him was supreme.

And back in the winery, the numbers matched: 25.5 brix and 3.43 pH for the Syrah, and 25/3.39 for the Merlot. Great depth of flavor, nice acidity (reflected in the lower pH), ripe but not jammy. Considering the tales we’ve been hearing from our winemaking brothers and sisters in the Willamette Valley — nightmarish tales of grapes stalled a few brix short of the finish line of pickability — we’re incredibly lucky.

Back at the winery, a small but experienced crew gathered and we took care of the fruit in short order. We’d done a little R&D on the crusher/destemmer to adjust its rollers (the part that should crack the berries, but not smash them), and I think we found a setting that, at least for these two grapes, gave us mostly happy, rolling grapes out the other end.

Next weekend, it’ll be Viognier and perhaps Tempranillo and Grenache. Here’s hoping for a copy/paste of this past weekend…

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About this supposedly crappy vintage

The 2010 Giraud Estate Pinot Noir
I don’t have any skin but grape skins in the game, so it’s been interesting to watch the pitched battle unfolding to define this vintage — before its wines have even finished fermenting, much less transmogrified into something someone could actually taste and evaluate.

On the one hand, there’s everything you’ve been reading in the media, or heard whispered by wine-wags in restaurants, wine shops and tasting rooms: the vintage is a complete wash. Low crop yields, waves of botrytis and powdery mildew, grapes wheezing toward ripeness (if at all), and the coup de grâce, ravenous birds. All have pounded the industry with the most challenging and grim harvest in decades.

On the other hand, you’ve got winemakers who’ve actually been out there, working the vines and the fruit. The ones I’ve talked to are stoic, but guardedly optimistic, arguing that the cooler weather has produced beautiful, elegant wines that truly express the uniqueness of Oregon – for the first time in years.

Keep in mind, of course, that their livelihood is utterly dependent on consumers’ preconceptions about a vintage. If a consensus develops that a vintage is great, it’ll fly off the shelves; but if the buzz is otherwise — or worse, that it’s a disaster — they’ll have trouble even moving it out of the bottling room. Would you fan the flames of the latter if your income depended on it? I didn’t think so.

So who’s right?

I think one answer may lie in the bucket you see above. That’s the sum total of the Giraud “estate” harvest from my back yard, about 25 pounds. Before the rains bore down a week or so ago, I frantically clipped what fruit I could salvage: probably half unripe and mildewed, half passable, and all told, 20 brix. Without some sugar, that would produce wine a shade above 11% alcohol, fine for Riesling but anemic for Pinot Noir.

So there you go: proof. The buzz is right, the vintage sucks.

But not so fast. I’m a rank, drooling amateur when it comes to farming grapes. Most years I’m lucky even to get a good crop of mildew, much less viable, fermentable fruit. That I got vaguely healthy grapes as high as 20 brix this year is nothing short of a miracle, in fact.

So if a yahoo with a hoe can do that, what do you think someone with years of training and experience can do? Take, for example, the fruit we brought in from Oracle Vineyard in the Dundee Hills, farmed by people who actually know what they’re doing. Totally clean, exceptional flavor, vivid acidity. Its numbers look great, and well within the ballpark of ideal for Pinot Noir.

I’ve heard a lot of that around the Valley. Sure, some horror stories, and certainly low yields, a tsunami that will roll dire economic consequences toward the shores of those without deep enough pockets. But at the same time, tales of great flavors and a chance to make a truly Oregon Pinot Noir, one balanced on the razor’s edge of ripeness where the varietal truly comes alive.

So that’s my read. In the hands of people who know what they’re doing — and didn’t panic — this vintage is going to produce some disarmingly elegant wines. Will Robert Parker anoint them with high scores? Unlikely. It’ll be nowhere near the syrah-like California style he favors. But will it earn high marks from those smart enough to snap up the tragically few that make it to market? Oh, yeah.

In the end, maybe what’s scariest about this vintage is that it’s kind of a ticking time bomb for less talented winemakers and growers. Everyone’s reputation will probably survive the year, but when 2010 wines hit the shelves, there will be nowhere to hide: the true measure of talent will be unflatteringly revealed in the glass.

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One last haka for 2010

It's not the gods that are crazy...

Ka Upane! Upane Kaupane! Whiti te rā! Hī!
[Up the ladder! Up to the top! The sun shines! Rise!]

5am Wednesday morning, we rise for one last trip up to the altar of sun, praying for Cabernet, Mourvedre and Viognier imbued with the power of Gods!

Yep, that’s a hangover in the making, for sure. Anyway, we may need more than the ritual sacrifice at Stonehenge for this final road trip of vintage 2010: the grower says it’s raining lightly out there tonight, and while I’m sure the fruit can stand a little water, it’d be nice to have a say in how much.

See you on the other side, fellow mortals!

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