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  • Writer's pictureNeil & Sue Shay

Happy Birthday, Mom’s Block!

So hard to believe our last blog post was about two months ago! We’ve been plugging away, trying to take care of things out in the vineyard and in the winery, all while taking care of business, and hitting the road for our winter wine festivals, off-site tastings, and wine walks.

AND trying to stay dry!!!

The big story this winter in the Willamette Valley seems to be the cool and wet winter and spring we have been experiencing, compared to the past five or ten years. Many long timers here in the valley are telling us this is the kind of weather that they used to have every year, twenty or more years ago.

As a telling example, bud break seemed to be quite typical last year, happening around April 12 or 13. Now, writing this on April 19, the buds are looking like they will need at least another week or more, before we are going to see any fresh green plant matter on our vines!

What does this mean, or does this mean anything?? The answer is YES, what it means is that grape harvest will be delayed, regardless of how warm the summer is! Neil often mentions to guests about the impact of temperatures on harvest, and the influence is that the timing of bud break can impact the harvest date by plus or minus three to four weeks, whereas summer temperatures might speed up or slow down harvest by perhaps a week, plus or minus. So, mark your calendar, right now it looks like the winegrape harvest of 2023 will be in October, and not in September!

Josh Price started with us in January and has the vineyard looking great; vines are pruned and tied down, the vineyard cuttings have been mulched into wood chips, and we’ve put down some vegetation retardant in the vine rows. All we need now is for the buds to pop!

In the winery, we’ve been busy as well. We blended the 2021 Chardonnays, the tanks and barrels, and on April 14th we bottled about 100 cases of the 2021 Flagship Chardonnay, this is now a new release, on the current tasting list. We also put two barrels of that blended Chardonnay back into barrel and this will eventually be bottled as the 2021 Reserve Chardonnay. Both wines, the Flagship and Reserve, are tasting great and expressing beautiful Chardonnay character - - we’re predicting this will be a gold medal winner!

We also bottled the 2022 Pinot gris and Rosé just this past weekend, and these two wines are on the current release list as well. And something new, too, we got ahold of a small batch of 2022 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, and is be a new release for us as well, our first ever 100% unoaked Chardonnay. Next in line after that will be the 2022 Duology (our Chardonnay/Viognier white wine blend) and the 2021 Flagship Pinot noir. So it looks like by mid-May, we will have about six new release wines on the tasting list for you to check out! Please plan a visit – or two!

Along with the new releases, we’ve also been keeping up with the 2022 Pinot noir, which has been resting comfortably in the barrel room over the winter. After barreling this wine at the end of October and beginning of November, we’ve been going back to each individual barrel and stirring up the yeasty sediment back into suspension. This ‘batonnage’ serves to help release flavor and aroma compounds from the sediment and contributes greatly to aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel of the wine. And recently, we had a chance to taste through all the 2022 Pinot noir barrels, and we’re excited! This wine has great promise and is already tasting great for a young five- or six-month-old wine. We also have been barrel stirring the 2022 Chardonnays, and for sure, these wines are doing very well! It is seeming to us that 2022 will be a great vintage.

Now, this is a ‘wine geek alert’: the next few paragraphs are a little bit more about battonage and some of the science behind the practice. Feel free to read them or skip over them if you don’t want to know more about batonnage!

First of all, the sediment I mention above, has a name. In winemaking, the sediment at the bottom of a barrel or tank is called the “lees”. We can actually categorize lees into two different types: ‘gross lees’ and ‘fine lees’. Gross lees is the stuff that sediments early on, like immediately after we press white grapes to make juice on day one, or press fermented red wine grapes, after the yeast finish consuming all the sugar and converting it into alcohol (this might be around day ten to fourteen). The gross lees include pieces of grapes, any debris that might have been attached to the picked grapes, and pieces of stems, seeds, and skin. This is material we definitely do NOT want in our barrels, this is why we do an overnight settling of our white wine juice or pressed young red wine; so we can leave those gross lees behind and transfer the much cleaner juice or wine into barrels. Sometimes, winemakers call this settling step before barreling juice or wine as ‘going into barrel clean’ (vs. transferring the unsettled juice or wine; this would be ‘going into barrel dirty). We try to go into barrel clean, because the gross lees can sometimes transmit off-flavors, green notes, and other undesirable characteristics into the wine.

Now, what happens next, is fermentation in barrel for white wines, and a bit of fermentation, and then malolactic fermentation for red wines. The fine lees develop during this time; the major component of fine lees is dead yeast cells. Unlike the gross lees, fine lees have the potential to significantly improve the body, flavors, and aromas of a wine. When the sugar is gone, yeast cells undergo ‘autolysis’, the breakdown of the physical structure of the yeast cells – they break apart into small pieces. One of the good parts of this autolysis, is the broken yeast cells release a category of molecules called mannoproteins. These molecules naturally enhance the mouthfeel and body of wine. These mannoproteins can also reduce the astringency or harshness associated with seed and skin tannins. Further, they can help stabilize color, help keep good acidity in the wine, reduce oxidation (think browning – we don’t want that to happen to a white wine!), and provide better clarity.

So back to batonnage: the stirring helps take these mannoproteins off the bottom of a barrel or tank, and get them back into suspension, where they can do all those good things that we listed in the previous paragraph. Eventually, after battonage, the mannoproteins will settle back down to the bottom, and that’s why we will stir them up again in a week or two. Eventually, all the benefits of batonnage are achieved, and then we let the lees pack down to the very bottom of tank or barrel, and then we ‘rack’, which is the transferring of the wine to another container, and we leave the lees in the very bottom, to be discarded. Anyway, that’s the long and short of batonnage! (wine geek alert over!)

And speaking of the 2022 wines, weekend before last, Sue and Neil drove up to Zenith Vineyard in the Eola Hills, for their annual winemakers’ dinner hosted by Tim and Kari Ramey, owners of Zenith. This is an interesting event, it’s a combination ‘customer appreciation’ dinner for Zenith, and a technical tasting event. Zenith grape customers are all invited (there are about thirty different customers!) to bring their young 2022 wines, out of the barrel, and bring samples to taste, we go around the table and compare production notes. Bluebird Hill brought their 2022 Zenith Pinot Noir and the Zenith Chardonnay.

We received nice comments on both, and Tim remarked to us that the 2022 Chardonnay already had the quality of a finished wine in the bottle. We also brought bottles of the 2018 and 2019 Zenith Reserve PN for the dinner the Ramey’s provide after the tasting and got some nice comments on those two as well. The 2019 Zenith is on the current wine list, and some of you may remember 2018 was a 93 pointer that received gold medals at more than one event. (The 2018 is still available from the Bluebird Hill Wine Library list).

Otherwise, we’ve been on the road, been to wine festivals at Newport, McMinnville, Portland, Florence and Central Point; this winter the 2019 Reserve Syrah has been one of our most popular festival wines. This gold medal winner is still on the current wine list, but the number of cases in inventory is dwindling and we’re recommending you call in an order to make sure you don’t get left in the cold when this wine is gone. Sue has also gone above and beyond, traveling to The Emporium in Veneta, the Corvallis Wine Walk, and several wine shops; Josh has gone out to Keizer and Stayton; and Neil and Sue poured at one of Nick Cheatham’s Winemaker Wednesdays at his new place in Corvallis, Corazon Wine Bar.

So now we want to turn the page, and tell you what’s ahead:

The biggest news upcoming is Mom’s Block Ten Year Anniversary: Hard to believe, sometimes it’s just been a blur, but May of 2023 will be our ten-year anniversary of the planting of Mom’s Block. This section of Pommard Clone Pinot Noir has already been the source of several gold medal, 90+ point wines from this small single block of about 400 vines! We will celebrate with a vertical tasting of wine derived from these vines going all the way back to 2015, paired with some special food and great music! This is a special event, at a special time, Saturday June 3rd, 5 pm to 8 pm. A special menu will be available from Boss Hawgs BBQ, music from our great friends, Tom and Craig, ‘The Hipbillys’, and as we just mentioned, special library tastings of some of our most special Pinot Noirs ever. So please, please, please, celebrate with us, put the date in your calendar! Early RSVPs will enable you to reserve seating, once seats are booked, you will need to bring your own lawn chairs to sit back and enjoy the classic rock tunes of the Hipbillies! Please RSVP for this event, admission is free, guests can order food from the Boss Hawgs food truck and Wine Club members will get a 50% discount on the special library flight we will be offering.

Otherwise, please plan on getting out to us on Memorial Day Weekend; Sue is already cooking up some extraordinary food treats to pair with our wines.

We’ll also be hosting two wine dinners at Corvallis Club, one is a members’ dinner on May 4, and the second is a charity dinner where we are partnering with the Old Mill Center, one of our most dear charities.

You can also catch us at the Astoria Warrenton Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival: April 28-30.

and at the following events over the summer:

May 5th 4 to 8 pm Albany

May 13 - 14 12 to 5 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

May 17th 4 to 8 pm Veneta

May 20th 5:30 pm Zoom Call

May 24th 5 to 7 pm Corvallis

May 26 - 29 12 to 5 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

June 2nd 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

June 3rd 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

June 14th 4 to 8 pm Veneta

June 16th 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

June 30th 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

July 12th 5 to 7 pm Corvallis

July 14th 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

July 15th 5 to 7 pm Eugene

July 22nd 3 to 7 pm Philomath

July 28th 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

July 29th and 30th 11 to 3:30 pm Corvallis

August 2nd 4 to 8 pm Veneta

August 5th 11 to 8 pm and August 6th 11 to 4 pm Florence

August 5th 12 to 6 pm Yachats

August 11th 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

August 12th 5 to 8 pm Corvallis

August 16th 5 to 7 pm Corvallis

August 25th 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

August 26th 1 to 5 pm Cannon Beach

September 6th 4 to 8 pm Veneta

September 8th 5 to 8 pm Bluebird Hill Cellars

September 13th 5 to 7 pm Corvallis

We know that we have a lot to be thankful for. It's all of you that make it possible for us to live our dreams every day. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Stay safe and healthy, and we hope to see you on the Hill or at one of our upcoming events in the near future!

Best always, Neil and Sue

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