Chardonnay hangs, ready to be harvested in mid-September at Stoller Family Estate in Dayton. ##Photo by Rusty Rae

Harvest Hitherto

Workers pick quality fruit amid changing weather

By Rusty Rae

Determining the opportune date for harvest is part science and part intuition, and, these days, playing weatherman, too.

Stoller Family Estate in Dayton opened its harvest season Sept. 12 with the gathering of its reserve Chardonnay grapes.

Stoller viticulturist Erica Miller says, “Our Chardonnay generally ripens earlier, and they were at a great point in the growing season. The sugar levels and the acid levels were very nice.” Winemaker Kate Payne-Brown agreed, so they decided to pick.

Weather has been a factor, though. Miller adds, “We had to wait out the early rains and that really helped us reach a perfect ripeness for these grapes.”

As they move into the harvest of other grapes in the vineyard, Miller says, like a baseball game, rain will create a delay. “We will wait a day or so when we get rain; we’ll wait for the grapes to dry out before we harvest,” she explains. 

Playing both weather guesser and vintner, Claire Jarreau of Brooks Winery didn’t begin the Amity winery’s harvest until a week later with a Saturday pick of Orange Muscat. She says, “The recent rain (mid-September) slowed things down a bit and that’s a good thing — it’s allowed for the grapes to arrive with a good sugar-acid balance.”

As the weather drives harvest dates for most of the other grapes, Jarreau says, “I don’t know anyone in the business who isn’t staying up late checking seven different weather apps.

“I’ve found the Weather Café — sponsored by OVS — that is published by Rufus La Lone to be a great help in figuring out weather patterns,” she adds.

Jarreau notes, “Every harvest is a bit different; each year is another bit of data that you tuck away for the future. The more harvests you go through, the better you are prepared for the next harvest.”

Owner/winemaker Elena Rodriguez of Alumbra Cellars near Dayton, in just her second harvest, has been playing meteorology roulette, trying to determine when she will start her harvest.  The rain has forced her to check the grapes regularly, walking the vineyard nearly every day looking for bursts or signs of disease. “So far so good,” she smiles.

At Keeler Estate in Amity, owner Craig Keeler is carefully calculating when to begin picking, measuring Brix — the sugar content in grapes — plus pH for acidity and TA or total acidity.

He believes his team will begin harvest in late September, adding, “Like everyone else we are looking for a perfect balance between sweetness and acidity.

“The rain really shouldn’t affect the grapes,” he continues, “We hope we’ll get a few days to let the berries dry out, but when the numbers are in line with what we think is best for the fruit, we’ll pick.”

Owner Tad Seestedt of Ransom Winery & Distillery in Sheridan says his grapes, which are at a higher elevation, will likely be harvested before the end of September. “The extended forecast looks good, but obviously we’ll have to see what the weather does. So far the fruit looks good; there’s no disease and bursting has been minimal,” he says.

“The weather this year is the wild card — this is a weather pattern more of what we use to see years ago,” Seestedt continues. “If the weather pops to 80°F, that’ll push the harvest forward; if it stays in the 60s to low 70s, that will allow us to an easier, more manageable harvest.”

No matter the weather, Oregon winegrowers have seen it all and are adept at adapting. Jarreau says, “Old Oregon has been harvesting grapes in the rain for many years. You can still make great wine — shine or rain.”

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