Our 2016 Harvest began before September, the first time ever on August 30th, and ended one month later, September 30th , never touching October for the first time ever! With this vintage showing earliest-ever Budbreak and earliest-everHarvest timing and with almost non-existent rain, this could be California! However, it wasn’t all Baja-Oregon in nature, since the heat didn’t bake things as searingly as the last three years when we saw Region 2 levels.
So, although we are different from the cool climate we’ve learned to love, I shouldn’t complain—especially since the fruit condition and resulting ferments are exceptionally high quality, with great concentration, ripe aromas and flavors, and beautiful balance. Berry sizes are 15% smaller than 2015, meaning excellent skin-to-berry ratio, which helps determine flavors, aromas, color and fruit tannin structure—all important to full-impact reds and rich whites. Acids are moderate, sugars too.
The earliest vintage ever, weather anomalies started from the beginning, with a warm winter similar only to 2015, where both accumulated significant heat (38 CDD) in January and February, 2016 following with a relatively wet March (>6 in rain) and immediately yielding Budbreak the first week of April (2nd and 7thfor Corral Creek and Ridgecrest). The Spring continued very warm, with heat accumulating 652 degree days in the 40 days between April 1 and June 10th, which is 32% warmer than 2015 and 79% warmer than the 2004-15 period, making Bloom also earliest on record (May 28th at Corral Creek). However, Bloom was less-than-ideally placed at a very hot time, making for inconsistent and irregular fruit set, showing as hens-and-chicks, loose clusters and generally smaller berry size. The growing season was warm and wetter than normal, with more powdery mildew pressure than normal. Veraison, or color change, again was earliest ever, beginning August 2nd at Corral Creek, with all vineyards quickly falling in-line due to hot mid-August temperatures. Final ripening was warm, with good nighttime cooling. Later picks saw minor desiccation of berries. Final cumulative heat accumulations.
Yield for all varieties at CHEHALEM vineyards, at 2.44 tons/acre, was 16% lower than the 2013-15 average of 2.86 tons/acre. Berry sizes for Pinot noir averaged 1.01 g this year, compared to 1.20 g in 2015 (16% smaller). Fruit analyses showed whites with 20-23 brix sugars, reds 22-24.5 brix; pHs for whites were 3.10-3.30, reds 3.30-3.50; acids ranged 3.5-7.0 g/L for whites and 4.5-6.0 for reds—so, low to moderate alcohols, with enough acid for good tension and ageability, and without any shrillness.
Similar to the odd entertainment of our election season, this vintage had it all, was bizarre, and yet may end exceptionally well!
Before They Leave, A Nod to the Harvest Crew!
This was a front-loaded vintage, with Harvest Interns arriving up to a month earlier than normal, greeted by a week of bottling 2015 wines and immediately shifting into cleaning, sampling and fruit processing mode. That bustle rose to a crescendo quickly, with half of all fruit into the winery by September 13th and with a rapid taildown to the point that sightseeing and goodbyes start later this week.
It’s pleasing, as in almost all years, to see a diverse mix of strangers become “family,” working and playing like champion teams do, the whys becoming intuitive and the hows ingrained as muscle memory. We welcomed this year, with all but one staying in the Chehalem House “dormitory”:
- Joey Santora is back! Working last year with us in-between the varied adventures of a recent college graduate, Joey decided to pass back through this year. Being Katie’s brother, he knew there was a chem lab role available and being a Utah Chemical Engineering grad he slipped into wine and grape analyses like it was a comfortable slipper. Hard working, quiet, and with a great sense of humor, we are hoping for a third harvest next year!
- Chris Sengl has to keep his hands sticky with ripe grapes. Raised on an organic boutique winery in Austria, after graduation from Klosterneuberg with an enology and viticulture degree Chris has worked in medium-term winemaking roles in Austria, done other-hemisphere harvest stints in Chile, South Aftrica and most recently in New Zealand at Framingham. A strong team player, he helps in all roles and pulls his weight also in assessing beer and wine at the table. He speaks four languages, English better than most Americans.
- Jess Spera hails from Colorado, where she graduated from Boulder with degrees in History and Anthropology, Jess forthwith dove into food, beer and wine, locally and then outside, working wine harvests at Skinner in California, Kooyong/Port Philip Estate on the Mornington Peninsula in Australia, and most recently earlier this year in New Zealand at Craggy Range. Equally at home in the lab, on forklift, or doing punchdowns, she is versatile and has plans to make Oregon home for awhile.
- Valentin Hochart is another European cutting wide swaths through varied wine countries and technologies. Val spent his high school years in New York City, returned to France for university, graduating with degrees in Engineering (Water and Environmental) and later Enology, from Poitiers and Toulouse respectively, working in Paris in Engineering and Project Management roles, then moving from water to wine with harvests in France and Italy for 2014 and 2015. A very good English speaker, also with fluency in Italian and French (of course). Broad interests and sense of humor.
- Alex Francis was already a member of the CHEHALEM family, working in Tasting Room Sales and Events, when she insisted she needed to know the full process, the hands-on grapes to bottling detail you only get by doing. Alex grew up locally, a member of a great family—her father was a somm and friend—and so she knew wine rudiments from the first. She also didn’t have to live at the Chehalem House “dormitory,” and yet was every inch a cheerful, hard-working member of the team. She will move to a full-time, key role in the marketing team.
Wynne, Katie and Greg are, of course, the hub of this team, giving guidance and spinning out work orders, working even longer days than the interns, signing their names to the quality of the wines that 2016 Harvest will give.
The Vineyard Crew, led by Chad’s expertise and example, is hard-working, longstanding and talented, working the entire year, from pruning through harvest, some the full 12 months, making our vineyards special vineyards. Juan Ordaz, the patriarch of the family that constitutes most of the crew, turned 75 this year, 29 of them working with us.
A toast to all that made Harvest 2016 a great vintage!
Weather and Its Implications
Early, Early Early
This is the year of Earliest Ever.
The Winter was warm, Budbreak was early and 2016 never looked back! This was the Earliest Year Ever for Budbreak, Bloom, Veraison, and Harvest and, although the late growing season wasn’t as hot as the prior three vintages, it was still in the same new, warm norm. Fruit from 2016 is fully ripe but not overripe, has moderate sugars (to give moderate alcohols), retained moderate acids and looks to give intense, easily extracted dense wines, due to small berry sizes. Yields were good but not over the top. Potentially an excellent-to-classic vintage, 2016 may elicit the Earliest Ever media pronouncement of greatness. And our Earliest Ever Fall vacation!