• Neil & Sue Shay

Flattening the Curve

Hello, Friends! There are a bajillion things we’d love to be starting with, related to wine and vine, but in the forefront now, is this other, most important matter. Impacting our own lives, our relatives, our friends, all of us in Oregon and around the country and world, is this unbelievable battle we’re now involved in, fighting against the corona virus pandemic.

Vetted by Neil (not a card-carrying virologist, but recall, he does hold a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), here is a somewhat technical summary of what we are dealing with: COVID-19is a highly infectious respiratory disease caused by a new (or mutated) strain of coronavirus. The disease was discovered in China in December 2019 and has since spread around the world. COVID is short for coronavirus disease. The number 19 refers to the fact that the disease was first detected in 2019. This category of viruses were first named Corona (“Crown”) viruses, years ago, because of the circular arrangement of surface proteins on the outside of the virus (the virus ‘coat’), appeared to look like a King’s crown, according to some microscopists. The technical name of the virus that causes COVID-19 is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, abbreviated as SARS-CoV-2. In the recent past, there have been other corona virus outbreaks. Typically, corona viruses are best hosted by other species, like bats, for example, but sometimes mutations happen that allow the virus to crossover and thrive in other species, like humans. Since we are not typically exposed to corona virus infections, there is not much (or any?) natural immunity in the population.

What we have seen, first in China, then in Iran and Italy, is an exponential growth in number of cases and hospitalizations. In China, we are seeing the number of cases now dropping, and are hoping to see the same in other countries. Unfortunately, now, we are on the ‘left side’ of that peak in the USA. Where the peak will go to, and when the peak will be, remains to be seen. Thinking that a 2- or 4-week change in social behavior will end this in the USA is probably naïve. Our best hope right now, is that proper social behavior will indeed help flatten the curve of “infections x time”. Another incredibly lucky break would be if (and a giant IF it is), there would be some ambient temperature effect on SARS-CoV-2 infections, as we apparently see with influenza. If it would be, that as the outside temperatures rise with spring and summer, that the viability of the virus will decrease and transmission would hopefully decrease. At best, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed. A lucky break or gift like that would help buy us time to develop better therapies and hopefully, a vaccine.

At nearby Oregon State and U. of O., the initial response was to move winter term final exams to online testing formats. Some departments cancelled finals altogether, and simply gave students the grades they earned throughout the term. After finals week and a week of spring break, we’ve now been advised to teach spring term classes online. Other universities, on semesters, have sent students home for spring break, and are asking students to remain home until further notice.

Savor Cannon Beach 2020

In Oregon and locally, we’re now confronted with closures of restaurants, bars, and tasting rooms. As an example of how the changing landscape affected our little winery, is a look back at last weekend. Weeks or months in advance, we were looking forward to the second weekend of March, it was going to be a special weekend of activity and wine sales for us – we were set up to attend three different, and concurrent wine and food events: Savor/Cannon Beach; Sip/McMinnville; and the Oregon Cheese Festival in Central Point. We had a battle plan to take this on: Sue would go to Cannon Beach, Alexis to McMinnville, and Neil to Central Point. Long story short, Sip and Central Point cancelled their weekend-long festivities the night before, while Savor felt that their format of scattered, small-scale tasting events was safe and controlled. So we loaded up the truck for Sue, and she headed out to Cannon Beach on Thursday to attend a dinner that evening. There were two short tasting events on Friday before the organizers then decided that the Saturday and Sunday events needed to be cancelled. A few days ago, we were notified that the Astoria wine event the end of April is now cancelled and won’t be rescheduled at all.

The frank, ‘good news/bad news’ on these turn of events, at least in our case, is as follows: we are lucky, as a small winery, although we consider ourselves a 24/7/365 business, Neil is still working at OSU and Sue has her own B&B business (although this is shuttered for the immediate future due to the current crisis). So anticipating a one, three, or six month hiatus in business, we would be ok, we are grateful, we are covered. However, we also have a few employees who depend on the cash flow from Bluebird Hill Cellars to provide them with their income. We are hopeful we can do enough online and ‘curbside’ business to get these folks what they need in the coming months of uncertainty. So if you could help us out with an order, we will do our best to put together a nice set of wines for you and get them into your hands in a safe, socially-distanced manner! (See details below)

Our wines fared very well in winter judging. Our 2018 Pinot gris and four different Pinot noirs all received gold medals. At Savor-Cannon Beach, two Pinots were awarded golds, and two others were awarded double-gold (if you don’t know, double gold means the judges voted unanimously the wine a gold medal). The two double golds were also given 96 point scores by the judges. These two scores (for the Flagship 2017 Pinot noir and the 2017 Willamette Valley Reserve) are the highest ever received in our brief history.

Buds starting to push through in the Pinot Noir
Willie guarding the vineyard

Vine cuttings from the South Block