By mid-summer 2020, we could see that the vintage had potential for amazing quality. The grapes were small and the clusters were loose, resulting in low yields, a higher skin to juice ratio, and excellent sun exposure on each grape. Summer temperatures were close to ideal, with very few heat spikes, which kept the acids and aromas robust. By the end of August, we believed the 2020 vintage would rival or surpass the 2012 vintage in terms of acclaim.
Fire & Rain
Then around Labor Day, many parts of Oregon caught fire. Unusually big winds whipped those fires into devastating infernos that displaced many people, damaged forests and leveled small towns. Some fires were near the Willamette Valley wine country, but at our vineyard we had only a light layer of smoke. Still, we needed to determine if the grapes were affected by the smoke, so we made a mini test batch of wine called a ‘micro-ferment’. The results: our grapes had a noticeable ash flavor.
Eventually, some wonderfully refreshing rains came and banished the smoke from the sky. The rains seemed to have washed some of the soot off the grapes, because when we made another micro-ferment, it tasted much better. This was encouraging, but we wondered if the rains had washed off ALL the soot. So we made two more micro-ferments. One, we rinsed the grapes with water. The other, we did not rinse. Though not dramatic, the difference was noticeable. So for the 2020 harvest, we rinsed every lug of grapes.
The Pandemic and Harvest
Because of COVID-19, we had already planned to change our harvest process. Instead of crews of 12 picking grapes in the vineyard, and crews of 6 sorting grapes in the winery, we decided to do the entire harvest ourselves! Joel and our son Jason picked grapes for 14 days, with help from our son Adam and a few friends. Low yields and low cluster weight made the picking slow, but we were very selective, and were able to avoid sorting the grapes in the winery. We picked the grapes into stackable, slotted, yellow boxes which, it turned out, made them easy to rinse. At the end of each day, we dumped the rinsed grapes directly into the de-stemmer. We were very thankful that Jason was available to help, and that we could spend a couple of gorgeous Oregon October weeks together to bring in the 2020 vintage. Soon Jason will be off on new adventures in life and we will be left with fond memories of a crazy harvest and a tear in our eye.
Vintage 2020 Reprise
The fermentations are complete and the wines are in barrel. We are cautiously optimistic that we saved our 2020 vintage from catastrophe because the wines taste great! With such low yields, we will be making only
220 cases, but we think this vintage will deliver on its initial potential.