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  • Writer's pictureNeil & 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

In the vineyard, things are looking good! The vines are pruned and buds ready to pop open soon. We are seeing LOTS of bluebirds and the goldfinches are just about to transition from their winter grey feathers to their summer gold. There are beautiful little wildflowers blooming in the vineyard alleyways. Last two years, bud break was just around April 21, but right now we are predicting an earlier bud break, by maybe a week or two, based on the early spring flowering of nearby fruit trees and daffodils. We have been active in the barrel room, doing weekly stirring (‘batonnage’) of the 2019 wines. The 2017 Syrah (it is going to be a winner!), and our new Pinot gris/Rainier Cherry dessert wine are now in bottle and on sale. Rosé and Pinot gris are the next on deck to be bottled.


To help us all get through these challenging times, we are offering a couple of wine and vine deals. First thing, for any ‘curbside pickup’, we are offering two different discounts: (1) if you buy three bottles, the third bottle will be 50% off. (2) for any case purchases (12 bottles), all you need to do is buy 9 bottles, and Bluebird Hill will put your last three chosen wines into your box, free. Maybe now is the time to think about sharing a special library bottle at home with loved ones? We are also happy to do the same, and do a delivery, to the Monroe, Corvallis, Eugene, and Salem areas. For anyone who visits, we are also totally open to having you take an appropriate ‘socially distanced’ walk around the property. The vines are very close to popping open, and there are many good weather days ahead in the long term forecast. The pruning is done, and as of today, we have about 50% of the vine cuttings raked up out of the rows. We can certainly arrange for an appropriately safe conversation and have you take a walk around our place! One walk around the perimeter of our property is approximately one-half mile, and there are great views on a clear day from the northeast and southwest corners of the property. If you have only spent time at the tasting patio area, it is surprising to see two other completely different views from those spots. Just give us a call (541) 424-2478 or text (541) 505-6010 if you’d like to come out. We understand that you may prefer to shop our wines online during this time so we will be offering $1 ground shipping (Continental US Only) on purchases of 3 bottles or more through April 30th. Use coupon code FLATTENTHECURVE at checkout to take advantage of this offer.

If you are out there healthy and in good spirits, we’d love to share some photos of our friends sharing a bottle of Bluebird Hill at home. Send them to us or post it on our Facebook page.

On one other front, we have arranged a date for our 2020 charity event, “Play It Forward – 2020”, a golf event benefiting our local United Way and local activities close to us here in Monroe, in south Benton County. Last year, we raised about $6,000, and a good amount of that went to help fund a new relief nursery in Monroe, to help care for toddlers and preschoolers from at-risk families. This endeavor is a first-ever nursery program, and is being led by the Old Mill Center of Corvallis. If you would like to help us with this August 10 event, either by participating, being a sponsor or event volunteer, or donating an auction or raffle prize, please, PLEASE let us know! Normally, we would be out, making face to face calls to solicit support, but under the circumstances, it looks like we are going to do a lot of our outreach electronically. More to follow, but please let us know if you would like to be involved.


We have cancelled our Spring Open House which had been scheduled for April 10-12. We tentatively will open for the season the first weekend in May and that will also be our Wine Club pickup weekend. Keep an eye out for email updates and check our Facebook page and website for updates as well.

We all hope these social distancing measures are successful in managing this health crisis and that all our families emerge well and whole. Thank you for continuing to support small, independent wineries in this difficult time. We appreciate you all and look forward to raising a glass of wine with you soon.


Neil & Sue Shay

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