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  • Writer's pictureNeil & Sue Shay

A Stirring Story – January 2021

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

Snow Day - January 26, 2021

While the winery and vineyard work continues with the typical chores of the mid-winter, the big news here continues to be results from various wine judging events and blind tastings. Then, ‘A Stirring Story’ follows this first section…

We found out, and reported to you in December’s blog, that six of our gold medal winning wines from 2019-2020 (above) scored well in Wine Press Northwest’s 2021 Platinum Awards. Most notably, our 2017 Willamette Valley Reserve scored unanimously in blind judging with three different panels of judges, and not only was awarded a double-platinum for that unanimous decision but was noted as the highest-scoring Pinot noir out of the forty that were entered in the contest! This wine is a 50-50 hybrid of the Eola Hills (from Zenith Vineyard just west of Salem) and our own South Willamette Valley terroir (from nearby Walnut Ridge Vineyard), the wine was described as follows: “Neil and Sue Shay entered one of Oregon’s most decorated examples of Pinot Noir, and it went on to be the top-scoring Pinot Noir of our judging. There’s purity of fruit with its Rainier cherry and pomegranate approach, joined by secondary notes of forest floor, earthiness and anise. Refined tannins and brilliant acidity combine to give it impeccable balance. (50 cases, 13.4% alc.)” Note, this low production wine is now one of most awarded wines along with the 2016 Reserve Chardonnay, and about to go into our wine library, meaning that right now is going to be your last chance to get this wine at the lower, pre-library price. Check it out at the end of the blog, where we have a bunch of new specials listed!

Now, since the last post, we have heard back from Wine Enthusiast magazine. We had sent them six of our newly bottled wines late last fall to be tasted. To be honest, we were a little nervous, we suppose its sort of like seeing your kid perform a solo at their high school concert or play, you want it to go well, but you never know how it’s going to turn out…

Long story short, we will go right to the scores:

2019 ‘Flagship’ Chardonnay: 92 Points & Editor’s Choice!

This Chardonnay was made with Bluebird Hill, La Chouette, and Sunrise Vineyard fruit. Equal volumes were fermented and aged in barrel and in tank, and then at 12 months blended before bottling. Barrel aged wine goes through malolactic conversion, and tank aged wine does not. There is only a super-subtle trace of French Oak in this wine, it is a shade lighter than what we call medium bodied, and fans of unoaked Chardonnays will find this wine very agreeable! (Note: Editor’s Choices from Wine Enthusiast are given to only a handful of wines tasted and are their indication of an exceptionally good value at the wine’s given price point.)

2018 Reserve Chardonnay: 93 Points

Our 2018 Reserve Chardonnay was made from fruit from Aurora Colony, Bluebird Hill, and Sunrise Vineyards. After blending in fall of 2019 for the bottling of our 2018 Flagship Chardonnay, we took two barrels of this blend and aged the wine for another 12 months in neutral oak. Bottling was in September 2020. This medium bodied Chardonnay has nice notes of both fruit and light oak, with great acid and tannin balance. We don’t expect this wine to last too long, we only bottled 50 cases!

2018 ‘Flagship’ Pinot Noir: 92 Points

Aged for 24 full months with ~ 18% new oak, this Pinot was vinified from 85% BBH Estate fruit and 15% Zenith Vineyard fruit. A mixture of five clones (40% 777, 25% Pommard, 15% 667, 10% each 115 and Wädenswil) and fermented with three different classic Pinot noir yeasts. Great fruit and acidity, you won’t be disappointed with this offering. Several friends who’ve tasted through all of these 2018 Pinots felt the Flagship might be as good as the reserves!

2018 Mom’s Reserve Pinot Noir: 93 Points

This lovely Pinot was made from the Mom’s Block grapes which was then blended with the very best barrel of wine from the North and South Block (only one each). Mom’s Reserve represents the very best of our estate wine, rich in Pommard fruit character. Really classic Pinot aromas and flavors, great acid, oak and tannin balance. Vinified entirely with classic RC212 yeast, clones are Pommard (50%), 115 (35%), 667, 777, & Wädenswil (5% each).

2018 Zenith Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir: 93 Points

This wine reflects the special qualities of the Eola Hills fruit – 50% Pommard and 50% 115, two classic Pinot clones from Zenith Blocks 6E and 1F. Like all the 2018’s, it was aged in barrel for 24 full months before bottling. Modestly oaked at 15% new, the wine was vinified with RC212 and Laffort RB2 yeasts. Cherry fruit flavors are backed up with nice tannin and very light oak.

2018 South Block Reserve: 94 Points!

The new ‘big dog’ on The Hill, this wine is 100% Bluebird Hill South Block, a mixture of 777 (30%), 667 & Wädenswil (25% each), and 115 (20%). The 10% new oak contributes to a wonderful balance of red fruit, floral aromas, appropriate acidity, and smooth tannins. We think this wine will eventually sit side by side with our 2016 WV Reserve Pinot as one of our best releases ever!

A Stirring Story:

As a small producer, we like it that we can keep close tabs on all of our wines; we make all our winemaking decisions based on how we feel our wines are evolving. As many of you know, our timeline usually involves the release of Rosé and Pinot gris in the spring, after spending the winter in the barrel room. Chardonnay is aged for about 12 months before bottling, except the Reserve Chardonnay, which is aged for 24 months. All Pinot noir at Bluebird Hill, on the other hand, stays in the barrel for a full 24 months. We like what that second year in barrel does for the wine, the tannins evolve slowly in that second year providing, in our opinion, a better mouth feel to the wine.

For both Chardonnay and Pinot noir, we try to go into barrel ‘clean’. This means that for the case of Chardonnay, the pressed juice made on harvest day settles overnight, the next morning, we take a very clear white juice off a layer of solids and move it into tank or barrel for fermentation. For the case of Pinot noir, after fermentation in our one-ton ‘Macro Bins’, we collect free-run wine and a very light press, low tannin fraction. These two fractions are combined and allowed to sit in a storage tank overnight. In just one night, we can see several inches of solids sedimented at the bottom of the settling tank. We collect the upper layer of partially clarified young wine (hence the ‘clean’ term) and transfer it into barrels. At this point, sometime in October usually, the barrels are kept a bit warm, around 65-70°F, to allow the malolactic bacteria to grow comfortably, and consume malic acid as a fuel, converting it into smoother lactic acid. We monitor the barrels for completion of this process, and as they do, they are transferred to the cooler barrel room, which is kept around 58°F. Typically, as it was this year, most of the barrels finish and are in the barrel room by Thanksgiving.

During the malolactic fermentation, and afterwards, during the first winter of aging, we engage in the process of stirring the wine in the barrels. Sometimes this takes some acrobatics or holding of one’s breath if the barrel is in an awkward spot in a corner or up on the third row! The purpose of the stirring is to mix the yeast cells that have sedimented to the bottom of the barrels back up into the wine. The French call this Bâtonnage, which is generally now translates to ‘the practice of stirring wine in barrel with a stick or paddle’ – although purists might say, no, Bâtonnage means to go after something with a stick, to hit something with a stick!

The other term, we suppose, that goes hand in hand with Bâtonnage, would be ‘sur lie’ aging. This term, also French, means ‘on the lees,’ the lees being the muddy sediment at the bottom of the barrel. At Bluebird Hill, for at least the first year, we keep our Chardonnays and Pinot noirs on the lees. Lees are mainly the dead or sleeping yeast cells that accumulate in the bottom of the barrel of a still wine that has completed the malolactic conversion. We, and others like the way bâtonnage allows wine to develop more weight in the mid-palate, bringing creaminess and more complexity to the wine. The stirring breaks apart some of the yeast cells, and allows some smaller molecules, proteins, including some called ‘mannoproteins’ and other polysaccharides to escape from the yeast cells, and become a permanent part of the wine. So really, it does not seem that bâtonnage would serve any real purpose without your wine being ‘sur lie’! What we’re trying to accomplish is just get a little bit of the yeast cell material to break away and become a permanent part of the wine.

In our barrel room, bâtonnage occurs more frequently in the fall, we reduce the stirrings to once per week, or less, over the winter, depending on how we feel our wines are maturing. Bâtonnage and sur lie aging generally contributes to increased mouthfeel, body, and aromatic complexity of our wines. In the Chardonnays, sometimes it contributes “yeasty” or “nutty” notes to the wine’s aroma and flavor profile. Enhanced contact with the yeast may help to protect the wine from becoming oxidized, too! We’re not totally convinced about color, but some winemakers insist bâtonnage contributes to deeper or more stable colors in red wine. If you stir too much, too often, you can reduce the fruitiness of your wine.

So long story short, in the one or two years our Chardonnays and Pinot noirs stay in the barrel, this is where we are now, what we are doing for our 2020 wines. The bâtonnage slows down, in the springtime, we may only stir once per month, and by summertime, we usually like where we are with our wines, and stop the practice altogether.


Treat your sweetheart to dinner by Cascade BBQ and Bluebird Hill wine delivered right to your doorstep. Orders must be received by noon Wednesday, February 10th for delivery between 1 and 5 pm February 14th.


Teriyaki Glazed Smoked Salmon 7oz $32 Served with roasted red potatoes w lemon and dill, grilled asparagus and roasted garlic aioli.

Suggested pairing: Bluebird Hill Cellars 2018 Chardonnay or 2018 Pinot Noir $32


Smoked Prime Rib 12oz cut $40 Served with roasted fingerling potatoes and seasonal roasted vegetables. Comes with au jus and horseradish sauce.

Suggested pairing: Bluebird Hill Cellars 2017 Red Wine Blend or 2017 McNary Vineyard Syrah $32

4oz Traditional Cupid Heart Box Filled from Burst Chocolates $12

Purchase any 3 Bluebird Hill wines at a 20% discount to qualify for free delivery.

Place your order by calling the winery at (541) 424-2478, emailing us at or by registering online here.

This would be a good opportunity to take advantage of our January/February wine specials (see below) and have them delivered with your Valentine dinner!

Now, to our Current Specials:

Take advantage of our special pricing between now and February 28, 2021

Chardonnay Three Pack

2018 Chardonnay 91 Points/Editors' Choice Wine Enthusiast

2018 Reserve Chardonnay 93 Points Wine Enthusiast

2019 Chardonnay 92 Points/Editors' Choice Wine Enthusiast

Retail $113/Sale price $99 + 10, 15, or 20% additional wine club discount

Pinot Noir Six Pack

2017 Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir Double Platinum 2020 Wine Press NW Platinum Competition (#1 Pinot Noir in the Competition)

2017 Barrel Select Reserve Pinot Noir Gold 2020 Wine Press NW Platinum and Savor NW Competitions; 92 Points James Suckling

2018 Pinot Noir 92 Points Wine Enthusiast

2018 Mom's Reserve Pinot Noir 93 Points Wine Enthusiast

2018 South Block Pinot Noir 94 Points Wine Enthusiast

2018 Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir 93 Points Wine Enthusiast

Retail $277/Sale price $249 + 10, 15, or 20% additional wine club discount

Award Winning Mixed Case

2019 Pinot Gris Silver 2020 Oregon Wine Competition

2018 Chardonnay 91 Points/Editors Choice 2020 Wine Enthusiast

2018 Reserve Chardonnay 93 Points 2021 Wine Enthusiast

2019 Chardonnay 92 Points/Editors Choice 2021 Wine Enthusiast

2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir Silver 2020 SIP Magazine "Best of the NW"

2017 Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir Double Platinum 2020 Wine Press NW Platinum Awards (#1 Pinot Noir in the competition)

2017 Barrel Select Reserve Pinot Noir Gold 2020 Wine Press NW Platinum Awards, Gold 2020 SavorNW, 92 Points James Suckling

2018 Pinot Noir 92 Points 2021 Wine Enthusiast

2018 Mom's Reserve Pinot Noir 93 Points 2021 Wine Enthusiast

2018 South Block Reserve Pinot Noir 94 Points 2021 Wine Enthusiast

2018 Zenith Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 93 Points 2021 Wine Enthusiast

2018 Birdhouse Dessert Wine Gold 2020 Oregon Wine Competition and Double Gold 2020 Wine Press NW Platinum Awards

Retail $454/Sale price $399 + 10, 15, or 20% additional wine club discount

Wine Press Northwest Platinum Pack

2017 Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir Double Platinum

2017 Pinot Noir Double Gold

2018 Birdhouse Dessert Wine Double Gold

2018 Pinot Gris Gold

2017 Barrel Select Pinot Noir Gold

2017 Estate Pinot Noir Gold

Retail $278/Sale price $258 + 10, 15, or 20% additional wine club discount


Four Different Virtual Tasting Packs: $86-$130

Virtual Tastings: Join owners and operators Neil and Sue Shay and taste through some of their outstanding whites and reds! Recently described as a ‘Rising Star of the Southwest Willamette Valley Wine Region” Bluebird Hill Cellars produces Pinot noir and Chardonnay along with other whites and reds typical of the region. Wines are made from both estate fruit and other lots obtained from select premium vineyards. Just in the past few years, Bluebird Hill has received gold, platinum, and double-platinum awards and 92+ point ratings in numerous blind tastings. Neil and Sue provide a fun and relaxed atmosphere to their virtual tastings, with a focus on tailoring their events to the needs and prior wine tasting experience of the group. Tastings may include a virtual tour of the vineyard and winery, with a focus on understanding the qualities and attributes of wines included in the experience.

We are available for private and corporate group virtual tastings. Just give us a call at (541) 424-2478 to discuss.


**Bottle sales only**

December 2020 through April 2021. Curbside pickup and local deliveries (3 bottle minimum purchase for deliveries) available 7 days a week. Call (541) 424-2478 to schedule.

We so look forward to welcoming you back to the Hill when the weather improves and to sharing all our new releases with you. In the meantime, stay safe and healthy, and we hope to see you for curbside pickup or local delivery in the near future!

Best always,

Neil and Sue

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