It is hard to find a place as beautiful as Oregon’s Willamette Valley during grape harvest. Our warm summer contributed to a moderate growing season followed by another early harvest. While we love our rain it can be tricky when it comes during harvest; knowing when to pick the grapes for their optimal ripeness in that vintage is essential.
Grapes that are picked early can be more acidic and have less ripe fruit flavors. (Think of Granny Smith apples compared to ripe raspberries). Most winegrowers look for that perfect balance of acid to sugar ratios. When grapes are allowed to ripen fully they taste more luscious. Rain can interrupt this process.
In Oregon the weather can also vary dramatically from year to year between warm and cool vintages. Warm years tend to have more luscious fruit characteristics while cooler years have more structure and complexity of flavors and tend to age longer.
2016 is shaping up to be a good year for both quantity and quality of grapes in our region. Harvest began early for many wineries in August and will be likely wrapping up in late September or October. While a little rain won’t ruin the grapes, it can make it difficult for them to ripen properly and if there is too much rain then you run the risk of developing mold which can damage the grapes.
Most winegrowers and winemakers would agree that the best wines are made in the vineyards. The longer the grapes can ripen on the vine the better the quality of the wine. Many winemakers prefer to let the grapes express their natural fruit and terroir characteristics without too much manipulation of flavors during the winemaking process.
Depending on how hot it is during harvest some winemakers choose to pick grapes while it is still cool, often before daylight to preserve the flavors in the fruit. Once the grapes are picked, either by machine or by hand, they are brought to the production facility where they are sorted and pressed into wine. The skin stays in contact with the juice to impart flavor and color to the wine. Depending on how robust or delicate the finished wine will be, the skin contact time varies.
A load of Pinot Gris grapes for processing at Duck Pond Cellars
After separating the skins from the juice, the wine is placed in tanks or barrels to continue the aging process. Wine can be aged in stainless steel or other neutral (flavor) tanks or barrels. Oak barrels are used to impart flavors to the wine and are used in combination to achieve the perfect flavor balance.
Winemaking is part science, part art and a bit of magic. When you drink Oregon wine we hope you will experience the magic of our beautiful wine country.