"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.