Sunday, December 28, 2014

Anything But Boring

"It was the most boring picking line ever" said Bill Sweat, owner of Winderlea Vineyards and Winery, as the 2014 vintage brought in record yields and some of the most beautiful grapes ever seen in the valley. While this may have been the case for most vintners in the valley, for someone new on the scene (such as myself), the 2014 harvest still brought in much excitement and knowledge with every cluster that passed through the winery's doors.

Though I have been in the industry for a couple of years, I was able to pursue my first harvest at Raptor Ridge Winery where I was already working in their tasting room. Raptor Ridge primarily makes wine from both estate-grown and sourced Pinot Noir, with smaller lots of estate-grown Gruner Veltliner, sourced Pinot Gris, and Tempranillo from southern Oregon. Having worked in the tasting room and being familiar with a variety of Raptor Ridge wines, it was fascinating to see and taste the different grape varietals as well as the taste the same grape from different vineyards that pass through on the picking line. This gave me a clearer idea of how terroir greatly influences the profile of the wine.

And while the picking line may have been "boring", what I quickly learn was how much time it takes to set-up and breakdown the equipment for the picking line. At the end of the day, it took roughly an hour to rinse off ALL the skins and tannins off the conveyor belt and the de-stemmer. While very time-consuming (which I soon found to be a proper descriptor of any harvest), this provided me the opportunity to understand the process the grapes go through from cluster to barrel and how all the equipment works. It is one thing to read about it - quite another to be using then cleaning the equipment that makes it all happen!

Though my cellar experience was very limited, I was able to help a bit with pump-overs, which entailed simply holding the "rocket" in the fermentation tank, which would then pump the liquid from the bottom of the tank to the top to ensure a consistent fermentation process throughout the wine. It was not rocket science by any means - it really reaffirmed that we are really in the business of selling fermented grape juice.

To complete my hours and to pursue my research on my chardonnay project, I was able to stop by Walter Scott Wines while they were filtering and racking their Chardonnay. We tasted the Chardonnay prior to it being filtered and then afterwards - it was intriguing how the sediments and lees in a wine can change its textural and aromatic qualities. We also tasted through barrels from different vineyard sites, which was highly informative as my project pursues the questions of Chardonnay and place.

While the picking line may have been a quiet one, it was anything but boring as Sweat may have it. Really, I found it to be highly informative on not only winemaking, but also on this conversation of how place influences wine. Perhaps, too, this 2014 vintage was very telling of "our place" in time as our industry continues to grow more proficient and understanding of ourselves - anything but a boring process.

Friday, December 19, 2014


If there's anything I learned during my harvest experience, it's that wine-making is not a job for the weak.

During Harvest at White Rose, Amber and I donned our suspenders and XL shirts, and set out to accomplish a variety of different tasks.  Our wonderful supervisor, Jesus, showed us how to use a hose connected to a "keg" of wine to fill barrels.  Amber and I had a pretty good system going: one of us would top off the barrel while another would clean the rubber stopper, or bung.  We later found out this is normally a one-person job, but Jesus did assure us that we made it go faster. 

The most difficult task we worked on was definitely pump-overs.  In order to macerate the grapes and bring out flavors to the wine, we stood for about half an hour over the tank, holding firehoses that drew wine from the bottom of the tank and sprayed it over the top.  As others have mentioned on this blog, if one leans too far over the tank, they can be exposed to fumes that could cause fainting.  I don't know if it would be better to fall in the tank or off the ladder. Luckily, none of us are able to answer this question.

Jesus also showed us other areas of the winery, and other jobs that take place during Harvest.  Unlike most modern wineries, White Rose likes to take it old-school and use a man-powered grape press.  Not only is this very unique to White Rose, it also makes the wine-making process much more hands-on.

Probably what I appreciated most about this experience was learning both about the process and about the work that goes into it.  We could talk all day about different vinification methods and their results, but it's practically impossible to learn about the "Harvest Experience" without being there.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

White Roses and Red Wine

As harvest rolled around, we had the opportunity to get the hands on experience, just like the real vinos. I was able to do my harvest at White Rose Estate Winery and Vineyard.  It is a high class vineyard and the uniforms reflect that; white long sleeve shirts, tan pants and suspenders, they're pretty classy.

I got the exciting job of pump overs and cleaning the tanks. I learned that even if drops of wine were on the tanks, they attract fruit flies, and fruit flies can cause problems to the fermenting grapes (and who wants flies in their wine anyways?).

The pump overs were tedious, but I learned a lot while doing them. This is because during the 30 minutes that I held the hose for the pump overs, I had the opportunity to talk with Jesus, the head wine maker.  He told me his whole story about how he came to the states to work in the vineyards and do labor work, and now is one of the most prestigious wine makers in the Willamette Valley. He was extremely inspiring to talk to and taught me a lot about the wine. He also told me that if you lean over the tanks for too long, you could pass out due to the carbon dioxide, so I tried not to do that or else I'd fall off the ladder. I also tasted some of the fermenting wine, that was definitely a new experience. I tasted wine that had been fermenting for 10, 13 and 20 days. It was extremely sweet in the new stages, and was more and more bitter the longer it sat and you could taste the alcohol in the later stages as well. You can tell the changes in just the short days that it set. It was intriguing and was an experience I will always remember.

I unfortunately did not get to do a lot of the labor work, due to an injury. The time I did get to spend was great and I learned a lot from Jesus. White Rose was a great place to have this experience and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Harvest in McMinnville

Harvest was such a blast! I was happy that I split my harvest time at several wineries.

For most of my hours, I was with Vista Hills (either up at their Treehouse tasting room or at the winery space they share with Elizabeth Chamber Cellars). With Vista Hills, I learned how to sample clusters, get a pH and brix reading, and what those readings meant. Later on, those same vines I had sampled were harvested—and I was one of the people sorting the fruit! Bright and early, I was at Elizabeth Chamber Cellars, climbing up a scary faux ladder to the sorting table. After several tons of fruit (and earwigs), the crew all went out to lunch, then came back again for many more tons of fruit.

On other days with Elizabeth Chamber Cellars, I did pump overs, punch downs, and added yeasts to vats of wine. There was always something new to learn and I loved being able to just pop in to help whenever I had a free hour or two.

The longest day of harvest work was with Remy. She called me out of the blue one day and asked if I could come in to help—she wanted to give the day off for an employee's birthday. Remy runs an incredibly clean winery, which means that there are very few fruit flies but lots of caustic and citric acid involved. With her, I did all of those same tasks as well as so much about cleaning a winery! It sounds like a minor thing, but it was very interesting. I also filled barrels with Remy. Thankfully, she was patient and forgiving when I overfilled two of them. The first one was a loss of gallons of wine as I freaked out about what to do. The second was just a few quick ounces.

Lastly, I visited R. Stuart and Co.'s winery several times just to hang out with coworkers and see how a larger winery functions.

Overall, I had so much fun working harvest. Most of all, I loved meeting all sorts of people who work in the wine business. Getting to connect with them and develop friendships with them was a joy!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fall Harvest Experience: TONS of fruit

I worked at A to Z Wineworks and REX HILL for my fall harvest experience! The main thing I did for four weekends was sort fruit, and it was a fascinating experience. After meeting my supervisor inside, I would go out to fruit sorter and put on a massive plastic apron. Then, I would climb onto a wooden platform where I stood all day to sort. There were always three to four people sorting fruit at one time; we would look for mold, giant spiders, unripe grapes, and leaves that could not go into the wine. I learned a lot about the sizes of different types of grapes (for example, Pinot Noir fruit is relatively small), I learned about the different colors of grapes, and I learned about all of the different insects that are involved in the sorting process. The most fruit we sorted in one day was about 40 tons! It was exhausting, but I met some really cool people (there was someone from Germany, someone from Switzerland, someone from Australia, and someone from New Zealand!) and I got to eat yummy food. Overall, I really enjoyed my fall harvest experience, and I now have a deeper understanding and appreciation of where Oregon wine comes from.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Harvestin' Woman

The harvest of fall 2014 was one for the books. Let me set the scene. You drive into rolling Dundee Hills covered in the curving green of vines and accented with the scattered burst of purple grapes. You top the hill to find a well kept grass and bark landscape supporting several wooden chairs to bask in the sun and revel in the stupendous view. You are sipping on the finest White Rose Estate Pinot Noir when two chipper young ladies dressed in white long sleeves and fantastic suspenders cross your path. Those young ladies are named Amber and Sherry.

As the newest additions we had a ton to learn - including our men's jean size. Fitted in our new ensembles, we headed to the winery. We began with simple tasks such as cleaning bungs and sanitizing equipment. After showing our skills, we were promoted to pump overs. Twenty minutes per tank were spent spraying wine through intoxicating scents and a layer of fruit flies; all while maintaining our balance on a ladder high above the cement winery floor. As the weeks went on we learned more about the industry and important tasks that were completed in the winery during harvest and crush. From barrel topping to tasting the fermenting wine, we experienced everything that White Rose Estate employees do on a daily basis.

Our time at White Rose Estate came to a sad end, but the hands on experience and knowledge we gained will be kept and built upon as our internship continues into the final two phases.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fall Harvest Experience: Lab style

I completed my fall harvest experience at Coeur de Terre Vineyards, owned by Scott and Lisa Neal. First off the place is absolutely gorgeous. Every drive out there left me breathless due to the hidden vineyard 15 minutes off of highway 18 overlooking a small valley. 

Being a chemistry major I spend most of my time in the winery and lab instead of out in the fields. My tasks included taking tank temperatures, measuring brix, checking the pH, calculating the titratable acidity and using a mass spectrometor to look at the malic acid and YAN values of the fermenting grapes. I learned very quickly that you do not work in a closed environment around fermenting grapes or you will pass out from the large amounts of carbon dioxide they are producing. 

There is so much to learn about what happens in a winery beside just the grapes being cut and pressed. See the decisions Scott makes from the data I provided to him was a great way to follow the grapes through their stages. I look forward to doing more work there as time allows in the following year. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Vinum Docet

This is the first post for Vinum Docet, which is Latin for "Wine Teaches," which you will use for January, and throughout the spring 2015 semester. You will post here about your capstone projects, your January Term trip in Oregon and Burgundy, and for your internship in the spring. This blog will also be made available so that others can follow us, and see what we are doing along the way.

For your first entry, in the next week, I would like you to post about your fall harvest experiences, and what that entailed. Thanks! Jeff