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Ben Thomas, Red Winemaker
August 13, 2013 | Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Winemaking | Ben Thomas, Red Winemaker

Tales from the Cellar - Early August at the Winery

A menacing visitor entered – stage left – soon after fruit set this year in the form of a nasty hail shower.  The grape-sized hail pelted away at the vineyard for only a minute or two, but in our hearts it felt much longer. Hail always strikes terror in winemakers and vine growers, and after three short vintages in a row, we feared the worse. But upon inspection, we were relieved to see only a little bruising in blocks 32 and 33. Our luck was in sharp contrast to some fellow winemakers from Burgundy that I met last week at the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville. They were hit hard, some losing 80% of their crop. I feel terrible for them, especially after having traveled through Burgundy this past spring and hearing so many tales of woes of recent years, including bad hail last year as well. Some chateaus may be forced to close simply for the fact of having no wine to sell. This wine growing business is not for the faint of heart when one’s crop could be lost to a few minutes of hail.

But the weather hasn’t only brought danger. A warm spring and early summer have given the vines a fantastic boost. We’ve even seen signs of veraison (the first coloring on the skins) in some of our Pinot before the end of July. This is extremely early. The benefit of this is that we’ll be able to pick the grapes at the peak of their ripeness, rather than be forced to pick early due to the onset of the fall rains that close our last days of October ripening like a stage curtain. What we hope for now is a cooler than average August so the grape sugars don’t rise too quickly and force us to pick early. Here’s to high 70s and low 80s through August!

The 2012 whites that we have out in the tasting room right now are really delicious. The Pinot Gris, while still crisp, boasts some lovely tropical aromas this year along with a pleasant grassiness reminiscent of a Sauv Blanc. I also think the 2012 Gewürztraminer is the best we’ve made since I’ve been here. But of all our wines this year, there’s one that I’m opening the most on these warm evenings: the 2012 Rosé. It is everything I want in a Rosé: strawberries, peaches and a savory note that I just can’t place. To corrupt one of my favorite lines of Shakespeare: a Rosé by any other name would not smell as sweet. I believe we have some left.

But what of the Pinots, you ask? Well, we are just preparing the blends now, and I am beyond excited. I’m seeing uncommon richness in color and palate, but still with our trademark complexity and “earthiness,” for lack of a better term. The 2012 “Red Cap” should be out at the start of October. I think it’s going to be our best one yet. And while we’re on the topic of the Pinots currently in barrel, hear me now and listen to me later (to quote Saturday Night Live’s Hans and Franz), the 2012 Parsons’ Ridge is going to be exceptional. Unfortunately, it won’t be out until 2015 because it’s pretty flamboyant and is going to need some time to mellow a bit.

But here I’m being the parent that dotes too much on the baby brother. The 2010 and 2011 Pinots are showing very nicely and just got some love from Stephen Tanzer, who is arguably the most respected wine critic out there right now. The 2011 Red Cap which came out a little tight is really opening up nicely as well.


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