As autumn arrives, we collectively begin to focus on harvest. We’ve spent the entire year growing quality fruit and now we’re getting closer to picking.
Vineyard manager Mark Feltz walks the rows sampling each block within each vineyard by clipping clusters off of vines to get a representative sample. The excitement in the air is palpable. Everyone is hoping for perfect fruit: a harmonious balance of flavor, aroma, sugar, acid and tannin.
Berries are analyzed in the lab but they are also tasted, squeezed between fingers, and felt on the tongue of winemaker Steve Doerner to check for the softness of the skins and ripeness of the tannins. Stems and seeds are checked for lignification.
After results have been catalogued, picking dates are chosen. The weather in the Willamette Valley this time of year is completely unpredictable – often a winemaker has to choose to let fruit hang through rain or pick before the deluge descends. If threatening rain clouds aren’t hovering, Mark and Steve will generally leave the grapes on the vine as long as they can
Every cluster on the Cristom estate is picked by hand in the cool air of the early morning. Usually the first fruit to come in is off our estate Pinot Gris vineyard Emilia. The first Pinot Noir is almost always a Pommard block in Louise followed by a Dijon 113 block in Jessie. Steve and Mark will strategically select the next vineyard blocks to be picked based on taste, sugar, and acid ripeness. Once harvested and brought to winery, the half-ton picking bins are gently dumped onto a sorting table where a crew of four will do a final sort to remove any unwanted or unripe berries or leaves.
It’s a few harried and intense weeks and then suddenly it is over. Another harvest is behind us and we turn our attention to managing the fermentations of the new vintage.