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Archive for July, 2008

 

Bethel Heights Southeast Block Pinot Noir on July 28, 2008

Bethel Heights 2008 Southeast Block Pinot Noir on 7/28

The 2008 vintage in the Willamette Valley is about three weeks behind “normal” this year, due to an extremely cold spring.  We had snow in March and cold rain into mid-June.  Here at Bethel Heights, bud break didn’t happen until April 20, and bloom didn’t begin until the twenty-first of June. Happily, very intense summer conditions pushed us through bloom in a heartbeat, giving us a good fruit set and reducing our concerns about the end of the season.   The vines have been making up for lost time by growing so fast you can practically see the shoots elongate, if you don’t blink.

 We had a late beginning like this in 1999, 91 and 93, and they turned out to be excellent vintages with great aging potential, thanks to prolonged Indian Summers lasting well into October.  Needless to say, we will be thinning the crop very energetically in the next few weeks, to hedge our bets. 

Ted Casteel  

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Steamboat Conference at play, 1999.  How many famous Pinot noir producers can you spot?  Terry will have to explain why the all have napkin ears on their heads.

Steamboat Conference at play, 1999. How many famous Pinot noir producers can you spot? Terry will have to explain about the napkin ears on their heads.

Steamboat Conference at work 2000 (Terry's photo)

Steamboat Conference at work, 2000. 

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Here is what I wrote in Quoi de Neuf? (the Oregon wine gossip column) back in August of 1988, when everyone was going off to the Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference and I was staying home with the kids:  

“Among the Burgundians in attendance were last year’s three most eligible Grand Cru bachelors – Dominique Lafon, Christophe Roumier and Etienne Grivot… 

People who don’t get to go to Steamboat may be partially consoled by the beautiful new cook book from the Steamboat Inn – everyone knows this technical Pinot noir conference is just an excuse for fantastic food and fishing anyway.  The book is Thyme and the River by Pat Lee and Sharon Van Loan.”

That cookbook remains a family favorite, and Pat Lee and Sharon Van Loan still preside over the food at Steamboat, which is just as good now as it was then, as I finally got a chance to find out for myself last fall at a Wine Board retreat, twenty years later… 

Ben and Mimi on the left, Jessie second from right, Robert and Jon in front, left.  Terry’s original wine press in the background!

Bethel Heights Casteel kids in 1985: Ben and Mimi on the left, Jessie second from right, Robert and Jon in front, left. Terry’s original wine press in the background!

And speaking of Dominique Lafon, he is certainly back in Oregon big time this year, what with being the big star in the headline seminar “Sustainability without Sacrifice” at the International Pinot Noir Celebration this week (which panel includes our own Ted Casteel, we might add).  And then there is this headline from the July 8, 2008, Oregonian

International star adds luster to Willamette pinot noir

Burgundy’s Dominique Lafon and some top foodies converge to create custom bottling

“Now, for the first time in his career, Lafon is acting as a consulting winemaker outside of Burgundy, for a new Oregon label, Evening Land Vineyards. ”   

Evening Lands is what happened to Seven Springs Vineyard, in case you hadn’t heard. Read all about it at:  http://www.oregonlive.com/living/oregonian/katherine_cole/index.ssf?/base/living/1215467783128700.xml&coll=7&thispage=1

Pat Dudley

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Terry Casteel and friends admire the press he used to make his first Steamboat pinot noir (now a garden decoration)

Terry Casteel and friends admire the press - now a garden decoration at the entrance to Bethel Heights - that he used to make his first Steamboat pinot noir. (left to right: Mark Vlossak (St. Innocent), Ben Casteel, Steve Doerner (Cristom), Terry Casteel, and Steven Westby (Witness Tree).

Bethel Heights has been participating in the Steamboat Conference since the early 80’s. The first year we took a wine to show was 1981. Back then the event was called “The Pinot Conference,” and an attempt was made to alternate the location between Oregon and California. That first year I attended we met at Acacia Winery just outside of Napa, and camped out in Mike Richmond’s house. Meeting in wine country in fact didn’t work.  The northern California winemakers were at best part-time participants because they were all distracted by their responsibilities at work. A few years later it was decided to move the conference out of wine country. The Steamboat Inn was chosen as the permanent location for many reasons, the central one was that we all fell in love with the place and the people who run it.

That first year Bethel Heights was not a commercial winery, but they included our first effort at making wine from our own grapes (albeit amateur) in one of the blind tastings.  Needless to say, I was very nervous, ready to be drummed out of the Pinot noir club before we were even a member.

Just before our flight was tasted, a very well-known California winemaker showed his face for the first time. It was a strong group of wines. Before the discussion started, the California winemaker announced that he unfortunately couldn’t stay, but wanted to offer a parting comment. He said that the two strongest wines in the flight were obviously made by the same winemaker, and the winemaker was probably from the Napa area. He pointed out the two wines and then he left.  Feeling more than a little pre-empted, the group had an abbreviated discussion and then pulled off the bags. The well known California winemaker was totally wrong in his assessment. No one was surprised that the first of the two wines was the Acacia “St. Clair”. We were all (pleasantly) surprised that the second wine was the Bethel Heights amateur offering. The winemakers were quite complimentary. In all the years since as a commercial winemaker, I have never had another wine show so well. I also learned that it is risky to make pronouncements in blind tasting because, more often than not, you are dead wrong: a good lesson learned early.

Terry Casteel

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When I sit down to work at my desk (in Chicago), so far away from the action, I always like to click through some of my vineyard photos to try and connect (remotely) and get the BHV juices flowing. Here are a few from a visit last Spring:

Owen Casteel Somers, walking home to his grandparents' house

Owen Casteel Somers, walking home to his grandparents' house

At Bethel Heights, we’ve been talking a lot in recent years about succession planning and our identity as a family business. I’ve been reading as much as I can get my hands on about the roll of family business in the modern American economy. I’d be curious to hear from anyone who knows more about this study conducted by faculty from Kennesaw State University, Loyola University Chicago, and Babson College. It’s dated 2002. I’m curious whether these statistics have changed since its release:

“(F)amily-owned business accounts for 89 percent of total annual U.S. tax return filings. They generate 64 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. And, they employ 62 percent of the nation’s workforce.”

Big numbers. I’m curious to know where that number has gone in the last six years.

Right now, my nuclear family is gearing up for our end-of-summer visit to BHV. I’m getting stoked for Aunt Marilyn’s hummos, my dad’s spaghetti ala carbonara, an exhaustive taste through the cellar, a visit to the new property to see how things are coming along, and hopefully some really constructive planning at our big annual meeting.

**Hopefully my amateur photography will inspire Uncle Terry to post some of his really fantastic, off-the-hook vineyard and winery shots.

Jessica Dudley Casteel (Jessie)

Row tag overlooking some still-sleeping pinot back on March 31, 2008

Row tag over sleeping Pinot noir back on March 31st.

Great Aunt Marilyn holding Evelyn Casteel Somers

Great Aunt Marilyn holding Evelyn Casteel Somers

Mimi Casteel and Stella Casteel Gunn, brand new back in March

Mimi Casteel and a brand new Stella Casteel Gunn

Owen Casteel Somers and his Grandma, Pat 'Crunch-Crunch' Dudley, enjoying a bedtime story

Owen Casteel Somers and his Grandma, Pat 'Crunch-Crunch' Dudley, enjoying a bedtime story

Charlotte Stuart and Owen

Charlotte Stuart (youngest of Maria and Robert, of R. Stuart & Co.) and Owen Casteel Somers, setting the table for Easter dinner.

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Ben Casteel talking about pH

So, after that last post I decided to ask Tony Soter why he ruled pH out of the conversation at the Cool Whites seminar, and this is what he said:

Pat,

pH is a technical reference to a measure of acidity that is confusing to most non technical people because the number goes up as the acidity goes down which is the opposite of titratable acid measurements which are more intuitive i.e. higher number equates with higher acidity.

I think pH is for geeks in the sense that it potentially confuses people while providing no additional insight worth the trouble to understand the concept.

Hence if I have any say (as I attempted to muster as the seminar moderator) I like to keep the subject clear.

Do I make myself clear?

Feel free to post.

TS

I appreciate Tony’s point here. After 30 years around winemaking, I still don’t really know what pH is. I know “H” is Hydrogen. I think “p” has something to do with ions, whatever they are. As far as it concerns wine, I understand that pH is the opposite of acidity: low pH = high acidity = food friendly and age-worthy; high pH = low acidity = flabby. I talk about acidity a lot, because acidity is one of the most important keys to great Pinot noir. I never use the pH word.

On the other hand, Bethel Heights’ winemaker Ben Casteel (my nephew) uses the word pH a lot, even when he’s talking to me. So I said, “Ben why can’t we just talk about acidity instead?” He had a pretty good answer: acidity in wine is a less stable measurement than pH – it can change over time and under different conditions. So for technical winemaking purposes pH is a more reliable measurement than acidity. He grudgingly admitted that the rest of us can probably get by talking about acidity instead.

Ben is going off to the Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference next week, which is one of the most geeky technical gatherings of winemakers ever invented. They will probably talk about pH a lot.

Pat Dudley

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I remember when we were standing around at a typical road show wine tasting in 1998, in a typical hotel ballroom in Chicago, behind our typical white tablecloths, in alphabetical order: Adelsheim, Bethel Heights, Chehalem… David and Harry and I saying to each other how “this could be a tasting from anywhere – we look just like everybody else. We need to get these people out to Oregon.”  That was the beginning of Oregon Pinot Camp.

Every June since 2000, invited members of the wine trade from around the country have been coming to Willamette Valley wine country for OPC:  three days of total immersion in the Oregon wine experience. Small-group workshops at wineries and vineyards during the day, grand tastings and dinners under the stars at night. Much much better than a road show.

This year Bethel Heights hosted two sessions of the “Cool Whites” workshop. Three flights of six wines each were tasted and discussed: Chardonnay,Pinot Gris, and “Fruit Salad” – an eclectic assortment of other white varieties, which this year included Riesling, Arneis, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc.

Bethel Heights winemaker Ben Casteel introduced the Fruit Salad flight by saying that even though these are minority varieties in Oregon, often available only at the wineries in very small quantities, these are wines that winemakers love to drink, and that’s why they make them. We have Ben to thank for the fact that we are making Gewurztraminer again at Bethel Heights, after a thirteen-year hiatus, and planting Riesling in our new vineyard after pulling it out of the estate vineyard sixteen years ago.

Ben Casteel, Dave Paige (Adelsheim Vineyard), and Michael Davies (Rex Hill) listen to Moderator Tony Soter telling the Pinot Campers at the Cool Whites Seminar at Bethel Heights that panelists are not allowed to say the word “pH” in the seminar.  What’s that all about?  Need to investigate further.

Ben Casteel, Dave Paige (Adelsheim Vineyard), and Michael Davies (Rex Hill) listen to Moderator Tony Soter telling the Pinot Campers at the Cool Whites Seminar at Bethel Heights that panelists are not allowed to say the word “pH” in the seminar. What’s that all about? Need to investigate further.

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