Dear Family, Friends and Followers,
There are many aspects of wine that require patience. As consumers, we wait for vintages to be released, or for our bottles to age appropriately before we open them. Wine producers wait for the grapes to begin or finish fermenting, then wait patiently as wine ages in barrels and tanks. Viticulturists and winery crews alike wait for the fruit to ripen. Lots of waiting. This year, the Willamette Valley has had a particularly rough waiting period for grapes to ripen due to lots of rain and cloud cover. This email is being written in the third week of harvest and we are still waiting for grapes with some a fairly long way off from being ready.
This year will be a unique vintage in the Willamette as the valley has not received an ideal amount of sunshine to ripen grapes. Sunshine is required for the grape vine plant’s process of photosynthesis to produce sucrose, the first step in the development of a series of sugar molecules. The sugars make the grapes sweeter. The density of that sugar in a grape is described in levels of Brix – which are currently below optimum levels. Depending on the grape Chehalem is looking to pick, the ideal level is between 22 and 25 Brix. Pinot Noir, for example, has an ideal brix window of 23-25. Mike, our winemaker, says that most people will be happy if not lucky to get pinot at 22-22.5 Brix and some will get fruit below that.
Worry not, though! Between these days of rain, the sun breaks through the clouds and continues to ripen the fruit. And, as long as the temperature remains above 50 degrees, respiration still occurs within grapes, mellowing and refining the acids of the fruit. After all, the wines of the Willamette Valley and specifically Chehalem are known for lower alcohols and balanced acid levels. Those two qualities usually make food friendly, delicate wines that tend to age well. To be fair, this is generally true for cool climate wine regions and is arguably why these wines are so sought after.
So one might wonder what we have been doing while waiting for fruit. The cooking of harvest meals is finished, as is the bottling of the last vintage. Our work days now have a leisurely pace getting the winery cleaned in anticipation of fruit arriving. There is always lots of cleaning to do but as Felix, my German roommate, says, “Winemaking is 49% cleaning dirty stuff, 49% moving heavy stuff and 2% drinking beer.” In New Zealand we had adopted a different set of statistics: Winemaking was 98% cleaning and 2% making wine. I quite like this updated formula mostly because it acknowledges the importance of beer. Yes, life is good.
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