Road Trip One: Quest for Merlot

The Gorge a little after dawn, heading eastThere’s nothing quite like the first run of the season. It’s early and dim, but it isn’t long before you’ve shaken the Portland traffic and the sun starts to rise, raking across the suede hills on the other side of the Columbia and shimmering the mist rising off of it. On the second, third, and fourth runs… well, it’ll still be stunning, but the season will then be a little older, a little more corporeal, not quite as lush with promise — its ineffability worn thin enough in some places to reveal the eff’ing tedious 8 hour slog up and down I-84 that whizzed right by on the first run.

So I tried to pay attention as I pointed the Ziptruck east toward the Tri Cities and Merlot from Horse Heaven. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to pay attention to traffic reports before I set out, so I was also rewarded with a bridge closure at Maryhill and an hour-long detour. It beats working, don’t get me wrong, but also meant the fruit would get that much warmer as the day got hotter.

You want cold fruit for the same reason you keep things cool in a refrigerator: to slow down the inevitable feast by micro- and other card-carrying organisms. That slows down spoilage, of course, but in this case, also helps to put off the drunken riot yeasts will start once they get a taste of the good stuff. We like to crush and give the juice a little quality time with the skins (where most of the flavor comes from), but once the yeasts show up, that romantic evening for two quickly accelerates into table dancing, beer bongs, and karaoke.

I didn’t pull into the vineyard until nearly noon. The affable grower rounded up a crew to gather the yellow totes of fruit, left by the pickers up and down the rows where they’d filled them, but by the time it hit the back of the truck the clusters were easily over 70 degrees…

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The View from Oracle

Oracle VineyardLooking west from the lower, still-to-be-planted part of Westrey‘s Oracle Vineyard

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