I ran outside this morning at 9:57am to celebrate the arrival of spring. And this is what I found. The vineyard is full of fat buds like this one that are ready to break. Sometime in the next 2-3 days, we expect to see our first little green leaves. I will have my camera at the ready. More soon!
It has been an incredible couple of days on the farm. My sister and nephews arrived from Colorado for their Spring Break just in time to help us bottle some wine. It was a great learning experience for the boys, who might grow up to be winemakers and take over the winery someday. Don’t worry, it is perfectly legal to have kids in the winery as long as a parent is present. This is how our winemaker, Nathan, learned the craft from his father and grandfather. And now, he is passing it along to another generation.
We had two very small lots of wine for the boys to bottle, about eight cases of White Pinot and an equal amount of Rose’. Our White Pinot confused the boys at first because it is a white wine we made from red Pinot Noir grapes. How is that possible? Nathan, explained that the color in red wine comes from pigments in the grape skins. A traditional red wine is made by soaking the juice on the skins for a while to extract the color compounds, while white wine is made with little to no contact with the skins to avoid color. To get the White Pinot from Pinot Noir grapes, we simply processed the red grapes as if we were making a white wine by fermenting the grapes without any contact with the skins. Ah-ha!
Knowing this, it was easy for the boys to guess how we made the Rose’ wine. We started with red, Pinot Noir grapes and let the juice soak for just a little while on the skins to extract just a little bit of color. The glass on the right shows the Rose’ color we got by soaking, and the glass on the left is the same Rose’ with a dash of our 2013 Pinot Noir mixed in to darken the color. After some taste trials by my sister, Kathie and the other adults present, we decided we liked the darker Rose’ better, so we added some Pinot Noir to the lot before bottling.
Once we settled on the wine blend, Nathan put the boys to work setting up the wine filtration system. A paper filter medium is used to filter out any yeast or other microbes that might cause spoilage in the bottled wine. This is especially important with wines like the Rose’ that contain residual sugar because if there is any yeast in the bottle, it will start to ferment the remaining sugar. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which in turn creates pressure inside a corked bottle. If enough carbon dioxide builds up, BOOM! The bottle could explode ! (The boys thought that was pretty cool).
Once the filtering system was set up, Nathan and the boys pumped a citric solution through it to clean the filters and all the hoses that would carry the wine. Then, they ran about 150 gallons of clean water through to flush out the citric and get the paper taste out of the filters. You might not think paper has a taste, but you can detect it in wine if you push it through the filters without neutralizing the paper first.
While the wine was being filtered, Nathan and the boys were off to the lab to check wine samples for free sulfur. A very small amount of sulfur is needed in wine to prevent spoilage and oxidation. But too much can bother some people. So it’s very important to know how much sulfur is already in the wine before adding any at bottling. Both the Rose’ and the White Pinot had just the right amount, so no additions were needed. But the sulfur check was a great chance for the boys to see chemistry in action.
Then, it was time for some basic physics. Nathan let Iain hit the button on the forklift that elevated the stainless steel drum containing the filtered White Pinot.
Once the drum was hovering high overhead, Nathan showed the boys how to use gravity and a small hose to siphon the wine out of the drum and into the bottles. Genius!
Iain volunteered to be the bottle filler. He controlled the flow of wine by pinching off the siphon tube when each bottle was filled. Then, to prevent oxidation, he had to watch for an air bubble to rise up out of the wine before he pulled out the tube.
My sister Kathie, who is a PhD, checked the wine levels to be sure each bottle was filled to exactly 750 millilitres and adjusted them if needed. During the bottling, and perhaps after a little sipping of excess wine, she was inspired to name the White Pinot Umpqua Loompqua, which is a play on the name of the nearby Umpqua River. A label is in the works.
Finally, Memphis used the manual corker to squeeze the corks into the bottles. This job requires a good amount of steadiness and strength. Working together, Iain, Kathy and Memphis got all eight cases of the White Pinot bottled before dinnertime, a total of 96 bottles of wine!
The bottling of the Rose’ had to wait until after dinner, and fortunately for us, our friend Tylor showed up to help because the boys were exhausted by then. We adults stayed up late to finish the job.
At one point we looked up and realized were bottling under a full moon. This inspired me to name the wine Moonlight Rose’. A label is in the works.
This isn’t how we usually bottle our wine. Usually, several of the small wineries in town band together to hire a mobile bottling truck. Those are exciting but busy days when time is money and everyone is a little uptight. It’s not a setting where you can take your time and let your nephews fill bottles and squeeze corks. But with small lots of wine meant for ourselves and not for commercial sale, we can take our time, do it all by hand, and invite our family and friends to help out. And that’s the true magic of having a winery.
I have been away from the farm for the past couple of days attending The Oregon Wine Symposium in Portland, Oregon. Trust me, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Lots of hours spent sitting in rooms listening to experts discuss Vineyard Nutrition, Alternative Weed Management and National Distribution. So rather than bore you with all of that, I’ll just stick to the highlights. Like these two impressive birds that are, I kid you not, falcons with jobs. The top falcon is Barbarrosa, a female Peregrine Falcon. The other is Copper, a male Red-Naped Shaheen. (Nope, I hadn’t heard of it either before today).
These falcons are hired along with their handlers at harvest time to patrol vineyards for migratory birds that eat grapes. It’s an important job. A flock of hungry birds could wipe out our whole 13-acre vineyard and an entire year’s work in a matter of hours. I’d love to hire these falcons to chase birds out of our vineyard. But it costs tens-of-thousands of dollars to have a handler and a couple of birds camp on your land for several weeks during harvest. That’s more than a small vineyard like ours can spend. Still, it’s cool to know larger vineyards are using this natural and (mostly) non-lethal means of bird control. (FYI, we use noise makers, remote control airplanes, our six dogs, and balloons. Cheap and non-lethal, but also not super effective.)
The most exciting speaker I’ve heard so far is the climate expert that explained why everyone’s weather is so crazy right now. He says the water around The North Pole is warmer than normal, which is causing the jet stream to freak out. These two globes tell the story. The jet stream on the left is normal and the one on the right is freaking out. When the jet stream fluctuates like that, it not only moves more slowly, which causes weather systems to get stuck, it also produces more extreme weather. So whatever is going on weather-wise where you are, it’s probably unusual, possibly extreme, and it’s sticking around for a very long time. That’s the best I can explain it. Click here to read a great webpage about it that’s written by actual scientists. Also, if you follow such things, a La Nada weather pattern is lingering in the Pacific but the dreaded El Nino could return sometime this fall or next winter.
I also got to see some mega machines! I think this backhoe is the biggest. It towers over everything in the exhibition hall, kind of like the biggest dinosaur skeleton in a museum. I have no idea how they got this in the building or what you would use it for in the vineyard. But it is getting a lot of attention.
If the backhoe is the T-Rex of the expo, this piece of gear is the Stegosaurus. It is an automatic harvest machine that’s designed to drive between the rows in the vineyard and shake the vines to loosen the fruit. The shaking is done by big arms that fold out, so you don’t see those in the picture. Nothing like this is used in any vineyard ever I’ve seen. We’re all so small in Elkton, our fruit is hand-picked. A piece of gear like this runs hundreds-of-thousands of dollars. You’d have to sell a lot of wine to justify that kind of expense.
Finally, here’s peek at the future of wine packaging. These jugs are called Growlers. They’ve long been used for beer and now they are being legalized in states, including Oregon, for wine. A Growler is a refillable container that can be filled with wine straight out of the barrel or from a keg. So if this is legal where you live, you can buy a Growler and take it to a winery or pub to be refilled again and again.
Growlers can be painted or etched with cool artwork or logos, which can turn them into collector’s items. And, they eliminate the cost and environmental impact of using an individual wine bottle for every 750ml of wine. Of everything we do in the vineyard and winery, the production and shipping of glass bottles has the greatest carbon footprint. Growlers and kegs are a direction we want to go with our Big Leaf wine because we think it’s more environmental and more fun. So it’s exciting to find Growlers like the green glass ones above that are being made specifically for the wine industry. The amber-colored glass used for beer growlers isn’t the image I want for a premium wine.
So now you know some of the fun stuff wine people talk about at their symposiums and trade shows. It’s probably not what you expected. But it’s the biz. I’m off now to learn about the spread of Red Blotch Disease on the west coast, and then Public Relations. More later from the farm.
This post tells the story of our wine. If you’d like to know how to purchase wine, click here.
Both our winery and vineyard are known as the Hundredth Valley. The name comes from The Hundred Valleys of The Umpqua, a phrase used by locals and poets to describe the many small, secluded valleys within the larger Umpqua River Valley. We are nestled into our own little valley and like to think it was one of the last such valleys that remained unspoken for when we found it. So we named it the Hundredth Valley.
We hand craft small quantities of wine under two labels, Hundredth Valley and Big Leaf. What’s the difference? Hundredth Valley is a big Pinot that leans more towards a classic Pinot Noir while the Big Leaf is a really big Pinot Noir. Bob, Nathan and I all love Cabernet Sauvignon, which is considered by most to be a big red wine. In making our Pinot Noir, we use some wine making techniques typical of making Cab, such as cold soaking the juice on the grape skins prior to fermentation to extract maximum color and aromas. With the Hundredth Valley vintages, we nudge the Pinot Noir in the direction of a Cab. With the Big Leaf, we push it. Truth be told, this approach is a bit controversial, especially among Pinot Noir purests. But it is in our nature to be rebels. And people really like the wine.
Our 2011 Hundredth Valley, which was our first vintage, was intended as a learning experience. Our vines were far too young to produce fruit that year, and we didn’t have a winery yet, so we bought a ton of grapes from a neighbor and made the wine at The River’s Edge Winery in Elkton. Mike and Vonnie of River’s Edge were kind enough to let us experiment with our own wine making ideas in their winery. We made just sixty cases that year, all of which has been given away or sold. We learned a lot and ended up with a very nice wine.
In 2012, we stepped things up a bit. We bought enough grapes from our neighbors to double our production! As with the 2011 vintage, we were still without a winery. So once again, Mike and Vonnie opened their winery to us for crush and fermentation. We can’t thank them enough for their help and hospitality.
2012 was an exceptional growing year and we noticed that about a half-ton of the grapes we bought were super ripe and sugary. When analyzed, they came in at 25.4 Brix! Typically, you’d harvest Pinot Noir between 22-23 Brix. We knew these grapes would make a meaty and robust wine that would be off the charts compared to a classic Pinot Noir.
At first we thought we’d blend the wine from these grapes into our Hundredth Valley. But the more the wines matured, the more we realized the Hundredth Valley was coming along nicely as a classic Pinot Noir on its own. And, we had something kind of special and revolutionary in the wine from the super ripe grapes. And so, the Big Leaf label was born. We had two very good but very different wines that demanded their own identities.
Towards the end of 2012, we thought it was time for us to have our own wine making space. So we applied for a winery license and Bob, Nick and Nathan started to convert our garage into a small winery. In January of 2013, we were street legal and ready to go! We moved our 2012 vintage, which was in barrel, from River’s Edge to our little winery. All of our wine making has happened here ever since.
The 2013 vintage is the first made entirely in our winery. It is also the first vintage made with our own grapes. We harvested about four tons, and expect to have about 240 cases, split between the Hundredth Valley and the Big Leaf labels. Bottling is set for September 2014, with release dates in 2015.
We are quickly outgrowing our little winery. Bob and Nathan have designs on remodeling the donkey barn into a larger space. Of course, Luigi, Emma and Jenny D. would have to be consulted and a replacement barn designed to their satisfaction. We are sure if we come up with a barn grand enough, they will agree.
Our winery is located within the American Viticulture Area, or AVA, of Elkton, Oregon. An AVA is a grape growing region of distinct characteristics that is recognized by the US government. Elkton was granted AVA status in February 2013. We are excited to be part of this growing wine region and proud to be able to label our 2013 and future vintages as coming from the Elkton AVA.
Our 2012 Big Leaf is now on tap and available by the glass at Tomaselli’s Pastry Mill in Elkton, Oregon. Come for the wine, stay for the excellent food! It’s well worth a trip to Elkton. (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays).