By Leah Jorgenson
Oregon’s wineries have finally quieted down after a long, intense harvest and crush. As 2011 comes to a close, winemakers reflect on the year, having gained newfound perspective from another gripping harvest laden with invaluable learning opportunities.
Dan Rinke, of Johan Vineyards in Rickreall, garnered some health-related lessons from this past year.
“I guess my resolution is this: If you get sick, go to a doctor, even if it is in the middle of harvest, before the bronchitis becomes pneumonia,” Rinke said, “As for winemaking, I’ll stop judging ripeness of the grapes on brix levels and start using my senses more in the winemaking process by tasting the fruit. As I have been saying for the past five vintages, flavor is a much better indicator than brix. I believe that most winemakers in the valley learned this first-hand this year.”
Ben Casteel, of Bethel Heights Vineyard in Salem, also plans to better define ready-to-pick fruit.
“We need to reevaluate our benchmarks of ripeness in vintages to come,” Casteel said. “When I was starting in the wine industry in the late ’90s, 24 degrees brix at two tons per acre were axioms, and considerable energy and money were spent in the pursuit of these benchmarks.
“In the years that followed, our industry has spent great effort continuing to evaluate and refine the process we use to determine optimal ripeness, primarily through advances in viticulture.”
For John Quinones, of RoxyAnn Winery in Medford, “patience was the word this year;” and he hopes to embrace it fully in 2012.
“The hardest thing was not pulling in fruit too early,” Quinones said. “This was the latest start [and finish] of any vintage I’ve experienced. Fruit that should come in over a five-week period was backing up into a three-week window as we approached November.
“The temptation was to harvest when fruit showed the first signs of physiological maturity, when I know the best wines come from pushing for fully ripe flavors. The problem is if you wait too long at the end of a season, and you have a weather event, there is just too much fruit to bring in and quality goes out the window. We were patient, took the chance, and it paid off for us this year.”
Josh Bergström, of Bergström Wines in Newberg, looks to being better in tune with Mother Nature.
“The one thing that I really took away from this harvest is to pay attention to nature and its rhythms,” Bergström said. “We were all nervous about a late year. We did not start getting color in the leaves on the trees until late October, and the birds really did not start migrating until later either. Nor were the bees as aggressive and active in the late summer/early fall as they would normally be. And as it turned out, we had an extended fall and a wonderful harvest. And the grapes ripened as needed.”
Isabelle Meunier, of Evening Land Vineyards in Salem, enters the New Year with a sense of determination.
“I hope to continue to evolve, collaborate and learn from the land and the vines. Every year brings a new beginning; and the reward is in the glass with each new vintage. I look forward to the new quest.”