What a difference a year makes
We talk about with winery guests all year long; the fact of the matter is that harvest time is the ‘Super Bowl’ of vineyard and winery operations throughout the year. After harvest, the vineyard gets a chance to rest, to sleep for a few months, before pruning begins in anticipation of bud break in the spring, followed week by week, month by month, with shoots growing like crazy throughout. Flowering, fruit set, leaf pulling, hedging, veraison, more leaf pulling, all with an eye on harvest. Then the measurements begin, monitoring the steady climb of sugar content in the grapes as acid levels drop to an appropriate level that will allow us to determine when the grapes are finally ‘in balance’. This ‘balance’ is defined by three parameters, sugar and acid being two, with the third being a less quantitative measure, the flavors, aromas, and tannic nature of the grapes.
For us, this delicate balance first came to exist a bit early this year, our first pick was about a week earlier than the previous two or three harvests, on September 14. Probably, this earlier start was more due to an earlier spring, and earlier bud break than it was due to hotter weather during the summer. (Fortunately, those super-hot days we had this summer happened well before our grapes started ripening - - in contrast, berry growers, for example, suffered devastating losses in crop this summer when those hot temperatures occurred concurrently with their fruit ripening in July and August.)
With smaller crews than in previous years, we picked on four weekdays that first week – for Rosé, Chardonnay, and two days of Pinot noir, from the South Block. More than a ton of fruit each day, we brought in 5.5 Tons in those four days… Then, a break over the weekend, a wet weekend with just enough rain to make us wait it out, we wanted a bit more ripeness in the fruit from the still to be picked Mom’s Block and most of the North Block. On Friday the 24th, we picked out about six rows of Pinot noir clone 777 and then all of Mom’s block, and then a heroic Saturday morning, September 25th, we moved to the North Block and picked out the Pommard, 115, and 667 Pinot clones, 2.5 Tons in about four hours of picking.
At that point, we knew we had a record harvest, not quite a week later, on September 30th, in less than two hours, we picked out six rows of Pinot gris to complete the harvest, 12.8 Tons in total. We believe we’re close to what we can reasonably expect to pick from our vineyard, although there are still a few areas out there that we know are not fully mature. As many of you know, we’re planted at a pretty high density, five feet between rows, and five feet between vines in the row (“five by five”), to maximize production from our 3.25-acre vineyard. Another way to think about it: vineyards planted at a lower density may be a bit easier to manage during the season, but we have managed to plant perhaps four or five acres worth of vines (5,500 of them!), on our ~three acres. The down side is that the tractor work is a bit more difficult, with the narrow spacing between the rows, and also, as we are reminded at harvest, because the vines need to be hedged at five feet tall, to prevent rows from shading their neighbor rows, our bottom, ‘fruiting wire’, is so, close to the ground, it involves a lot of bending over to collect ripe fruit clusters into our picking buckets.
So with that in mind, the sore backs and nicked fingers during the harvest, we are very grateful for our stellar picking crew: vineyard manager Nick Cheatham, our OSU interns, Terran, McKenna, and Tommy, and tasting room server Warren picked his share of full buckets throughout the two week-plus harvest. On the volunteer side, we were overwhelmed with the help from neighbors Jim and Doreen (you two were the MVPs of harvest!), along with other friends who helped a bunch (pun intended): Tom, Tracy, Jason, Bill, Gary, and Henry. Afterwards, we sat and enjoyed a filling lunch and usually, our two blush wines, the Blanc and the Rosé, before the staff got back to it, and processed the fruit just picked.
And we haven’t talked about it yet, the fruit we picked this year was exceptionally balanced and beautifully ripe! (harvest day after harvest day, we can recall looking at full bins of beautiful, clean fruit) Sugars and acidity levels were spot on: although in some years, we need to bump up sugar levels here or there, or tweak the acidity of a freshly produced juice or must, every single pick, every bin of fruit, had great sugar levels and good acidity, there wasn’t a single bin of fruit this year that needed any adjustment of sugar or acid, a very rare occurrence.
And oh yes, as we were handling 12.8 Tons of Estate fruit, we also brought in 2.4 Tons of Chardonnay from our Monroe neighbors, the Strodas, 2 Tons of Pinot from Zenith Vineyard, a ‘short ton’ of Pinot gris from Walnut Ridge Vineyard, and juice from 2 Tons of Viognier from Aurora Colony. And then, at the end, a single bin more of Chardonnay showed up from our friend Barbara Benner, owner of Sunrise Vineyard in Cheshire. Add it all up, Estate and Purchased, we processed about 20 Tons of fruit in less than four weeks. This amount is a record for us as well. We even needed to put our new 2000 Liter steel wine tank into emergency service as a fermenter, using it to ferment the entirety of the Zenith Pinot noir, a 50-50 mix of Pommard and 777 clones.
So now, as we write this post, all the reds have finished primary fermentation and the bins are washed and stored away until we’ll need them again in September of 2022. The Pinot is in barrel, we’re keeping those barrels warm right now to allow the malolactic conversion to occur before the winter. The whites are almost, but not quite yet finished with their own primary fermentation. Many of you know, the past several years we have been cool fermenting all of our whites and Rosés at 58-60°F, these wines ferment slowly, taking a few weeks longer to finish than if we rushed them through at 70 degrees or more. The payoff for this patience, we believe, is fresher and more pronounced aromas and flavors.
And yep, while all of this was happening, we also finished bottling 500+ cases of 2019 Pinot noir and 130 cases of our new (and yummy) Red Wine Blend. Along with our staff, interns, and volunteers we listed above, we thank Bill, Tom, Iliana, Bill, Katherine, Deborah, Mark, Bruce, Jason, Tracy, and others for helping us sparge, fill, cork, label, and stack bottled wine. We’ve arranged and rearranged all our storage space multiple times, playing a ‘Rubic Cube’ game with 40 pound cases of wine. As wine leaves the property in guests’ vehicles, on a weekly basis, we’re rearranging our case storage room to accommodate all of the 2019s…
So now, finally, as we’ve mentioned, we’ve gotten all the picking bins and fermenters cleaned up and put away for the year. The deck area is cleared (finally!) and we just ordered a new storage shed to help us put away harvest equipment for the year. We’re looking forward now to more leisurely weekends, offering outdoor tasting throughout the fall, either on the patio, with a warm firepit nearby or a wood fire in the Chiminea, or on our porch where we can offer a cozy spot, protected from the wind, again with heat provided by a propane space heater. So put a visit, or regular visits on your fall calendar, come out to Bluebird Hill and enjoy a flight or a glass, take in the view, and talk wine with Neil and Sue.