Posted by Josh Bergström
For the first time in ten vintages, I have not harvested any fruit in the month of September. Usually our young vines are ready to come in around the week of September 20th. Currently, our ripest fruit is sitting at 22.5 degrees Brix with good skin color and ripe seeds, but concentration and flavors have not yet begun to pique our interest. And of course, the first major rain event of the harvest season is scheduled to arrive this Thursday. Joy of joys.
Actually, this is my favorite time of the year. Deciding when to pick fruit will ultimately determine the quality of the vintage and our winery’s style for the year. And the gamble on waiting or picking early is now here. It is often times a well-calculated decision based on tasting and laboratory analysis and cross-referencing more than 5 different weather forecasts … but sometimes it feels more like walking up to a roulette table and putting a million dollars on black.
In this business, where most of our risk lies with weather patterns, we try not to make decisions that aren’t well thought out. This time of year finds us tasting juice from individual blocks numerous times per week, sometimes even comparing ripeness and flavor in juices from morning and afternoon samplings off of the same site in the same day. Will the rain be a lot or a little? Will temperatures stay low and keep botrytis at bay, or will we get the mid-October Willamette Valley rains known as the “pineapple express,” which may force us back out into the vineyards to spray once again, or force our hand at picking? Maybe we’ll see only three or four days of rain, and then enjoy more fine weather. The reality is, at this point, it’s anyone’s educated guess.
The funny thing is, though, that everyone is trying to make an educated guess this time of year. Every winemaker and vineyard manager I know (including myself) are looking at weather websites, the local news or one of the several subscription-only weather forecasts trying to figure out what is going to happen. And then we all call each other recounting the latest news. And then it gets ugly, like a bad game of “telephone.” Stories and rumors of the next big storm, which undeniably is of Biblical proportions, begin to swirl and build momentum. Cell phones ring at a furious pace and tensions mount and fingernails get gnawed off and bottles of beer are senselessly slaughtered by the hundreds and then true pandemonium sets in.
And then, when the storm that was supposed to bring Armageddon with it actually lands, it is never as bad as was first imagined. The rains did not create floods. The soil was not washed away and the vines did not drown in a raging current. This is when I usually turn my phone off or conveniently drop it in a bucket or tank. Then I go back to peacefully watching the weather forecasts.
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