Harvests of various varieties and vineyards are complete, some not even begun.  We have 313 tons picked, with all Pinot Gris in tank, with all Ribbon Ridge and all but one block of Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir in house and in process, and with only a couple days more Chardonnay to be picked.  Fermentors have begun to turn, so the remainder of Corral Creek Pinot Noir will begin to come in over the weekend.  Pinot Noir has begun being barreled down. Whites like Gruner, Pinot Blanc and Riesling which are late ripeners have yet to start.  A hot year compresses harvest as described earlier so, although an ideal scenario might have given us enough fermentors and press equipment to start picking and not stop, winemaking is an art of balance, rhythm and sometime tradeoffs.  And, in a final ripening season like this, a pleasant set of tradeoffs.

How well a Harvest Crew works together is key to weather an intense pull like this, both in the vineyard, where the Ordaz family continues to be the Chehalem family, and in the winery where Wynne, Katie and Greg put together a well-vetted top-notch squad from around the globe.  Thrown into the fray immediately, they began bottling most of 2014 Pinot Noirs and Reserve Chardonnays and …other stuff—some 11,000 cases.  Nice warm-up for a harvest that began mid-week of that bottling, September 2nd.  The vineyard crew and winery intern crew worked together, then split until the end of harvest.  The character of each winery crew is different but equivalently delightful.  We welcomed this year, with all staying in the Chehalem House “dormitory”:

  • Anne-Sophie REVIRON is back! The small French dynamo and lab analyst extrordinaire, gives us her energy and a knowledge from last year’s harvest at Chehalem to jump-start the crew. Schooled in Burgundy, both at the CFA Viticole in Beaune and at the University (IUVV) at Dijon, receiving her Masters there, she worked 8 harvests at Maison Albert Bichot, including the year Wynne had a fellowship in Burgundy, spending most of her time spent at Bichot, where they casually met. Her English is even better than last year and she knows where to escape to for hikes and mushrooms and…
  • Rosslyn Knox is one of two New Zealanders this year, a requirement we impose since we’ve developed a core Kiwi family over the year, having almost 35 Kiwis over 19 years, including great winemakers now both back home and here. Referred to us by Dustin from last year’s crew, Roz has worked prior harvests at Peregrine in NZ, has a BS in Food Science and is in a post-grad Oenological program in Hawkes Bay. She was on NZ’s international Under 23 rowing team and participates in Ironman competitions. Strong of body, very intelligent and obviously a great team player.
  • Georgie Lowe also hails from New Zealand, bringing a brightening eruption of humor most times, as well as experience at Felton Road and Craggy Range, friends and past harvest intern location of Wynne’s. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from Lincoln University in Vit and Oenology, where she seemed to lead everything, with multiple honors as “Future Leader of the…”—Universe, I think. People always mention how tall Georgie is (Roz is too), but I know it might irk her, so I won’t mention it.
  • Philip Apel is a bright, red-haired German from the Mosel who studied towards an International Wine Business degree at Geisenheim, graduating this July, and has worked harvests both in Germany and, last year, at Stags Leap Winery in California. He was raised on his parents’ vineyard and winery in Nittel, in the Mosel. A soccer player, mountain biker and marathoner, Philip considers it is a weakness that he’s very ambitious and doesn’t like to lose—that’s bad? His English is very good and his humor is sharp. Very hard worker.
  • Joey Santora has a last name you might recognize—he’s Katie’s younger brother and had this perfect gap to fill at harvest time, so we jumped at getting him on the crew. A Utah Chemical Engineering grad in 2013, he was just too interested in what Katie does to pass this up. Being an avid rock climber and outdoorsman, after Harvest he will likely find an in-between job on Utah’s slopes. Yes, do it now before you get roped into a permanent job. Good spirited and yet quiet, he’s perfectly balanced—just like all ChemEs or Chemists!
  • Will Buck is a welcome late addition to the team just this week–having had not enough abuse in a California harvest, he signs on with Chehalem to augment the crew. He has grown up in the wine business, first in Maryland at a legendary winery Boordy, first owned by Phil Wagner an early pioneer in the East and then by his uncle Rob Deford (an old acquaintance of mine on the WineAmerica board) and Will’s family; Will then has spent the last 4 years in a Colorado winery and most recently doing harvest in the Russian River at Gary Farrell. He fit right in.

Wynne, Katie and Greg’s strong winemaking crew made stronger with these aggressive, hard-working interns who “don’t like to lose.” And a vintage that continues to look like a real winner too.


Weather and Its Implications

Weather over the last week or so has given what we needed, a cool-down and a small burst of rain.  As seen in the graph and tables on this page, the record hot year IS still a record, but has at least begun moderating to where it is almost exactly where 2014 was with September 23rd’s Cumulative Degree Days of heat being reached on September 28th last year.  With 2015 heat coming early in the growing season, phenological ripeness came earlier, so harvest began almost 2 weeks earlier meaning at this point we are 80% done with harvest, last year only about 57% complete.

Gratefully, we note 0.86 inches of rain for the month, early at a time when vines needed it to push nitrogen and balance chemistries. It also was harbinger for a generally cooler trend to the bright, dry weather—only the 2 days early in the month were recorded as above 90F, so the cool end may keep 2014 our over-90 record-holder.  This cool, dry end is a bit similar to the 2003-2004 tandem last decade, with 2004 retaining late season acidity to make brighter, less ponderous wines.

With 2014 an excellently balanced year, in comparison 2015 should be even better balanced due to a cool finish.  I’m calling 2015 and 2014 vintages TWINS based on ripeness, cleanliness and general flavor, color and aroma characteristics.