Vintage Update – October 2022
If you visited the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills this month, you would have heard the low rumble of tractors carrying bins full of grapes from the vineyards into the wineries. You would have seen crews of vineyard pickers, with buckets and clippers in hand, out among the vines. You would have smelled the sweet whafts of perfume coming from the wineries as the pressed grapes began their fermentations. The sights, the sounds, the smells – all of it is unique to harvest.
Harvesting the fruit is the first step toward making wine. When to begin the harvest is dependent on numerous variables including the varietal of fruit (white grapes are typically harvested first, followed by red grapes) and the level of ripeness a winemaker is looking for. We had an extended period of dry weather in October that allowed grapes across our region a prolonged “hang time” where flavors built as they slowly ripened. Generally daily harvest activities begin in the mornings and wrap up by noon, which allows the sugar levels in the grapes to remain stable.
This is the 35th anniversary for Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Véronique Boss-Drouhin has been the winemaker from the start. She anticipates this vintage to be reminiscent of ’93, ’08 and ’12 because of the delayed harvest. “I really like the slow, late ripening. It’s always a bit of stress because you never know if the weather forecast will stay dry, but when it does, I find it makes very fine wines,” she says. “This year the fruit is beautiful, the colors are unbelievable in the fermenters, and the flavors are lovely. The wines of 2022 should be delicious and age very well.”
Once the bins of grapes are filled in the vineyard, they’re taken by tractor to the wineries where they’re weighed and poured onto the sorting line. Any leaves, stems and under-ripened or damaged clusters are removed, allowing the remaining grapes to begin fermentation. With red wine, it’s most common to see the grapes destemmed before fermentation with the skins, which extracts the color proteins that give red wine its color. White grapes will normally be pressed whole cluster; the juice is removed for fermentation and the skins are discarded. Some winemakers will produce white wines fermented on skins which gave rise to the “orange wine” category.
Once the grapes are happily tucked into their tanks, the winemaking teams will add a yeast to inoculate the juice and begin fermentation. Other winemakers prefer to let the natural yeasts of the vineyard get the “ball rolling”. When red wine is fermenting, carbon dioxide is released and lifts grapes above the juice below, forming the cap. The winemaking teams will “punch down” the cap once or twice a day as they immerse the grapes back into the juice. It takes significant physical effort! After the fermentation is complete, the must is pressed to extract the wine from the skins before it’s eventually“racked”into barrels for aging.
The Dundee Hills is host to varying sizes of member wineries. Some farm less acreage, producing less wine. Other wineries distribute into supermarkets and across the nation; they’re producing wine at a much larger capacity. Doug Vuylsteke is the winemaker at Wine by Joe, which has national distribution. He reports they’re focused on bringing as many tons of grapes into their facility as possible before the October rains arrive. “Mother Nature always wins,” he says. “We brought in 500 tons of fruit in the last four days.”
Ian Burch, the winemaker for Archery Summit, leads a team that farms 65-acres across the Dundee Hills with vines that date back to the 1970s. “It’s been a wonderful year so far. The green canopies on the vines are still capturing the sunlight. The freshness, acid and color are all there, so I think we can expect wonderfully balanced wines,” he reports. “There’s no such thing as a perfect wine, but my team and I are trying to make it.”
All told, most winemaking teams will spend about two months of dedicated time at their wineries to process the grapes, complete fermentation and begin the aging process. Of course, none of this would be possible without the help of the harvest interns who are critical in helping their winemaking teams capture the essence of this vintage. “We have 12 interns this year, which includes a couple returners from last year,” says Nate Klostermann, winemaker at Argyle Winery, which marked its 35th harvest this year. “We bring in an average of 40-tons of fruit per day, but two days ago we brought in 117 tons of fruit, which I think is an all-time record for us!”
This is the perfect time to visit the Dundee Hills to see this winemaking process in action and to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of harvest for yourself! Interested in planning a visit? Our trip planning tool can help you and our blog will provide endless ideas for your itinerary.