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  • Writer's pictureNeil & Sue Shay

A Long Winter’s Nap

We have just experienced a rare stretch of about two weeks of great weather here at Bluebird Hill: lots of sunny days, and with that clear weather, it’s been a tad cooler than usual. With our hilltop location, we normally enjoy mostly frost-free nights during the winter, as the cool air tends to settle away from us on cool, still evenings. Despite this friendly microclimate, we’ve seen mostly frosty mornings the past two weeks. Regardless, the temps have been bearable and the mostly dry weather has given us the opportunity to be out and about on our uncovered crushpad and take care of the last few chores that need to be done, before we – and our wine – can settle down, as the poem says, “for a long winter’s nap”.

ALL of the 2017 Pinot noir has made it successfully through malolactic fermentation, as well as some of our Chardonnay. As we may have mentioned before, the MLF is not really a true fermentation, but a conversion of one of the three acids present in grapes, malic acid, into lactic acid, hence the term ‘malolactic’. Lactic acid is less sharp than malic, and just about all red wines are encouraged to go through MLF to reduce acidity slightly and enhance their smoothness and mouth feel. Now that this conversion, mediated by a beneficial, nearly ubiquitous family of bacteria is finished, we have been able to treat our wines with a touch of sulfite, to help preserve freshness, and keep other, less beneficial microbes from making their mark in our wines. Our chardonnay is different; it follows two paths: we intentionally promote MLF in part, to reduce acidity and enhance mouth feel. We prevent the MLF from happening in the remainder, to keep some tart fruitiness in the wine when the two parts are blended back together later.

With all the wine secured away now, we have a few weeks now to do some brainstorming about 2018 and get ready for the taste testing, blending, and bottling that will happen between now and the spring. For example, one of the pleasant chores we’ll have to take care of this winter is figuring out what our white wine blends will be for 2018. In 2017, we had Duology (two wines, 55% Viognier and 45% Chardonnay) and Trilogy (60% Pinot gris, 30% Viognier, and 10% Chardonnay). We again have the three varietals at hand to test... we will let you know what we decide! Also over the winter will be bottling of the 2016 Willamette Valley Pinot noir (~ 110 cases), and after that, single barrel Pinot noir and Chardonnay Reserve wines. Finally, we’ll get more acquainted with all the various 2017 Pinot noir barrels and start to figure out what barrels may be blended together to make our 2017 Pinots. These kinds of chores are the kind of work we really love – it’s a wonderful pleasure to be sitting down with a tasting team, tasting wine, and exploring the possibilities!!

New additions at BBH: we’ve updated you last month about new arrival to Bluebird Hill, winery and vineyard assistant Nick Cheatham, and our new ‘wine dog in training’, Willie. On the hardware side, as we grow, we’re adding to our wine storage capacity. We found four gently used 55-gallon stainless steel drums to age white and rosé wine through the winter, maintaining a nearly oxygen-free environment to ensure the freshness of those wines. We’ve also obtained other ‘Flex’ tanks, to store wine in various amounts, now ranging from the baby tank (30-gallons) to the daddy tank (310-gallons). Also, four more used, ‘neutral’ oak barrels, mainly for more red wine storage capacity. All told, we’ve added an additional 750 gallons of wine storage capacity to the barrel room this fall!

Out in the vineyard, we’ve started the pruning process, with a distant eye on bud break 2018. As well, with the great weather, we’re also out there working the soil a bit. One of our goals out in the vineyard is to establish a fully terraced vineyard, so that even though our North and South blocks have a considerable slope, we want to have level alleyways between the rows and most of the slope contained in the vine rows. Terracing will make it easier to walk through the vineyard, but we are especially keen to have the terracing done to make our tractor work easier and more efficient.

The Tasting Room will be open noon to 5 pm two more weekends, Dec 23/24 and 30/31. Then, we are closed until springtime, with the exception of selected events, wine dinners, and festivals (see our calendar of events!). As well, we are always available to host you and your friends, relatives, and coworkers in our tasting room by appointment. Just give us a call at (541) 424-2478, email or book online to set things up!

As 2017 starts to comes to a close, we want to thank all our friends, old and new, for making 2017 a great year at Bluebird Hill! We are grateful for your friendship and patronage, and look forward to more of the same in the new year! Happy Holidays to All – and hoping you have some time to relax, spend time with family and friends, enjoy a good glass of wine (or two!), and maybe even lay back and enjoy a long winter’s nap.

Cheers, Neil & Sue Shay

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