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  • Neil & Sue Shay


About a month ago, in our last blog post, right before Labor Day weekend, we were reflecting on the events of the year. Of course, almost everything most all of us have been doing has been put into the shadows cast by the Covid pandemic. A good deal of what all wineries do has been impacted, but maybe not so much for the grape farming. You can hop on the tractor or mower and be all by yourself, taking care of the various vineyard chores needing attention. Earlier in the summer, we were lamenting a bit of damage caused by a big rainfall during spring flowering – this impacted fruit set a bit, we seemed to have looser clusters with fewer berries than prior years. But as the summer progressed, the clusters bulked up, and even our young Chardonnay vines were sporting a beautiful array of robust looking clusters. We were getting stoked for a great harvest, regardless of what kind of curveball or slide Covid had thrown us! What on earth could get in our way at that point?

Well, long story short: fire… and smoke! You know that song, “What a difference a day makes? 24 little hours…”?? Well, our world, and that of hundreds of thousands of west coasters, was turned upside down by the Devil Winds that started on Labor Day. All was well for us in the Willamette Valley until Labor Day itself -- we were hosting a few local friends for a socially distanced potluck that evening, when the east winds picked up out of nowhere. By dusk, we were feeling the same winds that were fueling the spread of forest fires in Oregon, Washington, and California. The next morning, and for eight more days, our own experience with the fires was to be immersed in downstream smoke of various degrees. A friend relayed the news to us that one forest fire moved 55 miles from east to west overnight, on that first night, due to that wind. We grew used to the smoke and seeing a pink sun poke through a smoke layered sky during the day. Like many, we learned the ins and outs of AQIs. We are grateful that, unlike many, we were never in imminent fire danger. We have prayed for those who have lost loved ones and their homes to these terrible fires. The funds raised by our summer garden charity fundraiser, about $500, are going to go to relief efforts for those impacted directly by these fires.

Here are some ways that you can help out with those relief efforts too:

The American Red Cross teamed up with news stations KGW8 (Portland) and KING-TV (Seattle) to launch the Northwest Response Fund in support of those affected by wildfires in Oregon and Washington. Donating is as easy as texting the word “relief” to 503-226-5088. American Red Cross is also collecting donations for its three Oregon chapters (Northwest, Southwest, and Central and Eastern), which you can give via the website, phone call, text or mail-in form. In the Willamette Valley, United Way of Lane County Wildfire Response Fund provides immediate assistance to local nonprofits that are assisting families and individuals who are impacted by the fires in Lane County. The United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley is collecting monetary donations for its Mid-Valley Wildfire Relief Fund, and the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette launched its Wildfire Response and Recovery Fund. United Way of Linn, Benton & Lincoln Counties also established dedicated funds to meet the needs of community members in each county. The United Way funds are expected to aid services for food relief, shelter assistance, child care and health care. The Benton County Wildfire Response lists donation opportunities, and you can pledge monetary support to It’s On Us Corvallis, which is distributing hot and nonperishable food to those affected by wildfires. Many businesses in Lane County are also donating proceeds from sales to local relief efforts.

Here are our updates since the last blog post:

In the Vineyard: In late August and first weekend of September, we were predicting a harvest earlier than the past few years. The smoke, and a couple of impactful rain events set us back a bit, and this year our first pick was weekend of September 19-20, about the same as 2018 and 2019. We picked first for Rosé of Pinot noir, and then our estate Chardonnay.

As we posted on Instagram, that weekend we saw Cedar Waxwings show up in the vineyard, and between deciding on netting the remaining rows, or an alternative method, we purchased two Bird Gard Pro ‘Squawk Boxes’ and installed them in the vineyard on September 23. These boxes play recorded bird songs – including distress calls of the fruit eating birds (Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Starlings), and calls of birds of prey, including Red Tail and Cooper hawks. These boxes have been effective, and allowed us to protect our fruit, without the time and expense associated with netting.

The second weekend of harvest, we picked three tons of estate PN and week by week, after four weeks of harvest, we’ve now picked out all but six rows in the vineyard. What’s left? Our Pinot gris, we’ve decided to leave the PG hanging, we’re letting it hang on the vines to sweeten up more and more, right up until it appears that the clusters might start having a touch of botrytis, the ‘noble rot’, at which point we will pick and hopefully, make a late-harvest style, sweet dessert wine. As of today (10/11/20), the PG grapes were at 23.5 brix, pretty high for PG, but maybe in a week (or two??) we’ll be at 25, 26, or 27 and have some exceptional fruit to produce a yummy late harvest.

In the Winery: We have been bottling like never before! All the 2018 wine is now out of barrels and in the bottle! Right before Labor Day Weekend, we bottled 170 cases of our Flagship 2018 Pinot Noir. The 2019 Chardonnay was bottled next, followed by Mom’s Block PN, a South Block Reserve PN, two barrels of Zenith Vineyard PN, and the 2018 Reserve Chardonnay. Approximately 540 cases in 4-5 weeks! Even though business has been steady, this influx of newly bottled wine is making us get very creative regarding how to keep all this wine stored away in our climate-controlled case storage area… Space is tight – help us out, come out, buy some wine, help us empty the case storage area!!

We got some great news last week, we hosted Carrie Wynkoop a month or so ago for a wine tasting. Carrie is the owner of Cellar 503 wine club (503 = NW Oregon Area Code) and just placed an order for about 30+ cases of Bluebird Hill Red Blend! This will be a part of her club’s November package and is the biggest single sale of wine ever in our winery’s history.

Like all west coast wineries, we have been cautious about our fall 2020 winemaking, with grapes that may or may have not been impacted by exposure to smoke. Right now, everything is lo