Willamette Valley Oregon Harvest 2011 Updates #5 & #6

Dear Family, Friends and Followers,

Given our recent schedule, it seemed fitting to combine weeks five and six into one update. Prior to these last two weeks, we were patiently waiting for fruit to be picked and transported from the Chehalem estate vineyards to the winery. A window of fantastic weather gave a last push of ripening potential to the fruit and we were able to pick almost all, equaling close to 300 tons of fruit. Only Riesling remains on the vine with a very small block of Pinot waiting at the top of the Corral Creek vineyard.

All that fruit coming in right away means that we have wearily weighed every bin, sorted every cluster, pressed load after load & filled every tank. Now that we are two weeks into the constant arrival of fruit, our bodies ache, sleep seems but a dream, and all of us should have purchased stock in Advil before this began. Harvest is a funny experience. One experiences extremely long hours (a 14 hour day is not uncommon) yet our spirits remain high knowing that we are taking part in something bigger than our tiny tired selves. Alchemy is seemingly in action as grapes ferment into wine. What is initially a sticky mess requiring an exhaustingly cleaning process is transformed into one of the most sought after art forms on Earth. Work one week of real harvest and you may never question the price or value of a bottle of wine again.

On a related side note: Friday of week six was the end of an exhausting stretch of long days processing many tons of fruit. On this particular mid-day, I was operating the forklift, tipping bins of Pinot Noir into the hopper on the sorting table when Romaine approached me and said that a man and a woman were in the tasting room asking for me. As I had done nothing to draw the attention of the local police and I pay my taxes long before they are due, I didn’t think I had anything to worry about and I was busy so I ignored it. Our winemaker was near me and I told him about the two in the tasting room so he said that he would go check it out. Mike (the winemaker) returned and asked me to move something with the forklift which was located on the crush-pad behind me. As I was backing the forklift away from the red wine fermentation building, past some small tanks, towards the end of ramp, an incredible surprise was waiting: All three members of Hipster Enology.

Ben and Renee flew up from Los Angeles and Jesse flew in from Indiana. Apparently they had coordinated this surprise with Mike who was very kind in allowing this to all take place during one of the busiest days of the year at Chehalem. It is difficult to communicate how elated I was to see these familiar faces. Given my exhausted state and how weak and dirty my body felt, seeing these three was truly an emotional moment for me. My initial reaction was one of utter shock quickly followed by tearing up and hugging the heck out of my friends. The rest of the weekend seemed a fantasy as the four of us explored Oregon wine country together and went to a wicked halloween party. Ben, Jesse and Renee all had costumes planned for the party so I had to whip something together pretty quickly. The result: wet weather gear I wear every day at work and a stocking cap made me a fisherman.

After brunching on Sunday, the four of us had time for a few wine tastings before Ben and Renee had to fly back to Los Angeles. The last winery we visited, Bella Vida, is perched on a steep hill surrounded by their vineyards overlooking the Willamette Valley. Raptors were riding thermals overhead as the Sun broke through the clouds clearing an incredible view of the valley. While sipping on the wines of Bella Vida Winery, I couldn’t help but think, “This is a good life.”

As I am still in harvest mode, perhaps one of the other Hipsters will review the wineries we visited that weekend. For a more detailed, eloquent and current account of the harvest happenings, check out Harry’s 2011 Harvest Report at the Chehalem website.


Luke Mathews

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