Thursday, October 27, 2011

Harvest at Ghost Hill

Wednesday began on a bit of a sour note. Linda was backed up in meeting and we were trying to get on the road to Carlton to help sort fruit. As we got ready to leave, barely in time to make it up there at a reasonable time, we opened the garage door to fine our more adventurous cat had secreted himself in the garage while I was taking this out to the car. Out he went under the garage door the moment it opened. To say I was upset would be a ...well, let's just say I am glad there were no small children within earshot. Linda, ever calm and present, walked out and found him enjoying hide and seek in the garden, and after a short chase, he stopped in the dry leaves in the gutter and had a good roll. She calmly went over and picked him up. Back in the house, dusty and happy, and we were getting later and later.
We made it up in record (well not quite record time, after all, Linda was in the car with me) time and dashed in to Horse Radish for a plate of Hummus and salad.
Rebecca (seen above trying NOT to fall in) , the winemaker for Ghost Hill, was all ready for us, gave us our stations, and in came the grapes.
We were using the facility at Carlton Cellars, owned by my friend Dave Grooters and his partner/ wife Robin Russel, and were under the gun to finish and have things cleaned up so the next batch could come in.
The picking began at 11:00 on the Bayliss- Bower vineyard and we had Wädenswil on the sorting table by 1:00. The clusters were huge and firm. I tasted a few random grapes and I was amazed by the development in structure and complexity. These had a semisweet flavor bursting with rich,lush flavors of blue fruit, spice, pepper, and a soft mouthfeel. The seeds were brown and the skins were dense but not overly thick.. Very pleasant hint of acid.
We found very little botrytis as the leaves had been cut back to avoid standing water on the fruit and there very few unripe clusters.

Next came the 777 and man was it intense! This grape usually has a sweet, dark juice and a firm fruit with a thicker skin than other Pinot Noir grapes. These were no exception, rather, they were some of the finest firmest, most flavor filled 777 grapes I have ever tasted. Dark fruit, thicker, chewier skin with none of the usual bitterness, just a slight acidic feel on the tooth. This is going to be an exceptional year. We found a bit more mold deep in the clusters but still very little. The smaller more conical clusters were larger this year due to more hang time and because of the intense dropping of fruit done for the development of the best possible fruit. Most vineyard dropped fruit to 1 cluster per stem.
After a short break we started in on the 114 and I was amazed at the cluster size in these bins. The fruit, being thinner skinned than the 777, was easy to burst and the flavors were sweet and rich, not from high brix, usually higher in this clone, but from the long cool maturation that took place.
This is called physiological ripeness (or physiological maturity) of grapes is a relatively recent addition to the discussion of ripeness in viticulture and winemaking. The phrase has become a "catch all" term used to describe other factors in the development of ripening grapes that affect a wine's quality beyond the standard measurements of sugars, acids and pH. These factors generally includes evaluating the ripeness of tannins as well as the development of other phenolic compounds that contribute to the color, flavor and aroma of wine. In many ways, the concept of physiological ripeness is similar to the French term Engustment (from the Latin root gustis or taste) which denotes the stage of ripening when aroma and flavor become apparent. Research has shown that most aroma compounds develop in the berry in glycosylated form as secondary metabolites which occur late in ripening as the build up of sugars have leveled. This stage is distinct from the sugar/acid interactions of ripening because it is possible for a grape to be "ripe" in the context of sugar and acid levels but still be very immature when it comes to the development of tannins, aromas and flavor that characteristic a complex or quality wine.
For the most part, many of these qualities are difficult to objectively measure so evaluation of the physiological ripeness of grapes is centered around observing and physically sampling the grapes. With experience winemakers and viticulturists learn to associate certain taste and characteristics with different stages of development. They evaluate the skin and pulp texture of the berry as well as the color of skins, seeds and stems. If the seeds are still green, the tannins inside the grape are more likely to be harsh and bitter. As the tannins continue to develop, the seeds start darkening in color. They will observe the lignification of the stems as they turn from being flexible and green to hard, woody and brown (for many varieties but not all) indicating that vine has completed its work in developing its "offspring" grape clusters and has started to store carbohydrates and resources for its next growing season. During the ripening period winemakers and viticulturists will continually sample grapes throughout the vineyard in the weeks and days leading up to harvest. (from an article in Wickipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ripeness_in_viticulture)
Absolutely joyful flavors.The smell of these grape filled the winery as they were crushed.
On to the last and my surprise favorite, Pommard. The clusters were small and had good brown stems on much of the grapes. The taste of these was what I will call meaty. Dense, ripe, smooth, and satisfyingly flavorful. I could eat bowls of these for breakfast. Very little sweetness, just that mature taste mentioned above.
The last tank was filled with a blend and we selected whole cluster with brown stems for the tank. Can't wait to try that one.
After a few hours of clean up, we bade farewell and headed in to Dundee for a bite at Dundee Bistro. There are so many fine places to eat but I had my heart set on the deconstructed clam chowder.
Manilla Clam Chowder with Mussels & Fuji Apples
fingerling, applewood bacon, leeks, cream & spinach 16

I was not disappointed. I had it with a glass of the 2009 PONZI Willamette Valley. Perfectly balanced, not to sweet and held its own against the apple and cream tastes.
A long drive home with a 1977 performance from the Met of Il Trovatore on the radio, ending the day on a fine note.
There are few things more wonderful than having your hands in the wine you will one day drink!
Mark my words: This WILL be the best year Oregon has seen for developed flavors and character of the wines. This will be the benchmark!

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