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Posts Tagged ‘2008 vintage’

When we planted it in 1979, the Southeast Block looked just like the other two Pinot blocks planted that year on the newly cleared east side of our vineyard, with cuttings from Dick Erath’s Pommard clone Pinot noir stuck directly into the ground without benefit of phylloxera-resistant rootstock.

But soon after these three look-alike Pinot blocks started producing fruit, differences in their soil depth began to assert themselves. The South Block was always a bit overly vigorous; the Flat Block was always a bit weak.  The Southeast Block was always Just Right, and was clearly destined to be Goldilocks’ favorite.

To top it off, in 1998 the famous French geologist Yves Herody, consultant to many of Burgundy’s biodynamic vignerons, declared that our Southeast Block was created by a different geological event than the blocks next to it, giving its parent rock a Unique Mineral Content.  By then it had already become our glory hog.

During the ‘80’s, when we were still selling most of our fruit to other wineries, the Southeast Block was the Chosen Block of Domaine Drouhin Oregon.  After 1991, when we started bottling our own Southeast Block designated wine, it regularly got the highest score of all our Pinots.  It was almost always our Featured Wine at the International Pinot Noir Celebration.  It usually provided our Chosen Barrel for the ¡Salud! auction.

Always a prima donna, unwilling to share the spotlight, the SEB has never been a component in our Casteel Reserve.

In 2006 the Southeast Block was the Chosen Block for the Cellar Crawl Collection, a “best block” fruit trade experiment between Bethel Heights, Penner-Ash, Ken Wright, Cristom and Solena.

This year the 2008 Southeast Block was selected as the only Oregon Pinot for the inspiring wine list at Boston’s new Legal Harborside Restaurant, a collection of only 50 wines from around the world “whose personality originates from an individual place, wine whose identity reflects a single family’s connection to the particular parcel of earth that it tends.”

As Ben described it for the Harborside Collection, “The roots of these own-rooted vines have grown down and explored our rocky volcanic soil for over thirty years, and in doing so have produced wines that are defined far more by their place, than by vintage or by the hand of the winemaker.  Since my father first started bottling wines from the Southeast Block as single-block designates in 1991, this block has given us wines with a firm backbone combined with robust savory fruit and a deep minerality that is unique to this place.”

The Southeast Block is thirty-two years old this year. There are signs that phylloxera has finally discovered its unprotected roots, but Mimi’s worm tea is being liberally applied to boost its immune system, and we believe its best years may still be ahead.  Certainly the 2007 and 2008 Southeast Block Pinots are two of the most glorious and ageworthy wines we have ever produced.

If the Southeast Block were a person, who would it be?

Ted:  Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart  (a bit rough on the outside, but solid intellect and sweet heart on the inside)

Mimi:  Robert Redford (good when young, great when old)

Ben:  Paul Newman (better than Redford, same reasons)

Kate:  Katherine Hepburn

Mimi:  SEB can’t be a woman, but if it were, it would be Katherine Hepburn

Pat:  Sean Connery (tough but smooth, becoming more interesting with age)

Mimi:  Not Sean Connery.  SEB can’t have an accent.

Terry:  Jamie Tombaugh (because if the SEB has anything, it has character)

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Nice 5-star send-off yesterday from Nick Passmore for our 2008 “black label” Estate Pinot Noir – currently shipping to our distributors around the country.  May be our first time featured on a “podcast,” what a kick.

Meanwhile seriously enjoying this wine at home – with beautiful sunsets and the sounds of crickets and grapes ripening on the vines…

Come and join us for a taste at the winery while this gorgeous Indian Summer lingers on!

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gold-vines-long-row

 img_0473 img_0446img_0436Last Saturday turned out to be the last sunny day of the season, and luckily it was the very day of our Cellar Club fall party.  Club members got to soak up the sunshine and the golden glow of the vineyard in the full glory of its fall foliage, taste the first wine of the 2008 vintage (very raw!), and sample new releases from the 2007 vintage paired with special treats from the local harvest bounty  (roasted tomato soup shooters, butternut squash croquets, chocolate covered cherries. . .) 

 

Vic Winquist catching up with Terry

Vic Winquist catching up with Terry

We had a surprise guest at the party, an old friend whose daughter is a new member of our Cellar Club.  Vic Winquist is the genius who spotted Bethel Heights Walnut Groves back in 1975, while flying over the Eola Hills in an airplane looking for the perfect vineyard site.  He bought the property and lived here for two years in a trailer, while he cleared and planted the first 14 acres of grapes at Bethel Heights.  In 1977 he sold the property to us, but he stuck around for our whole first year to help us figure out what we were doing.  After that he went on to find and develop quite a few more of the most famous vineyards in the Eola Hills, including Temperance Hill, Canary Hill, Cristom (originally called Mirassou), Witness Tree (originally called Gentzkow), and Zenith (originally called O’Connor), before moving on to another career in Arizona.

img_0454Vic made a little speech during the Cellar Club party, about how he’d splurged on a recent major birthday, going to see Jimmy Buffett in Las Vegas and then dinner at the Bellagio, and how thrilled he was to see Bethel Heights Pinot Noir on the wine list there.  In many ways, Bethel Heights is his baby too!

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img_0396Last week the first-picked lots of 2008 Bethel Heights Pinot noir finished fermenting, and on Saturday the first barrels of the new vintage were filled.  Terry and Ted and Ben were having a hard time curbing their enthusiasm as they tasted little beakers full of the new wine (“incredible color,” “fantastic fruit flavors”).  It’s not considered very wise to make these kinds of comments at this stage in a new vintage, so I’ll leave it at that.

img_03721Jim Lee, eponymous co-owner of Jessie James Vineyard, has been helping out throughout this crush by monitoring the progress of fermentation in each tank and bin daily, to make sure the temperature is warm enough and the yeast is active enough to make a clean job of it.   At peak fermentation in Pinot noir, the temperature should be between 75° and 80°, and the Brix should drop 5 or 6 points a day. If this isn’t happening on its own, the guys wheel in the heat exchanger and make it happen.

Torpedo with Alanna's crush-colored hands

Torpedo with Alanna's crush-colored hands

When the yeast finally finishes its work and all the sugar in the juice has been converted to alcohol, it’s time to press.  First, most of the juice is drained off by inserting the torpedo into the bin, or opening the screened valve at the bottom of the tank, and pumping out the “free run” juice, which is kept separate. Then all the remaining juice, full of skins, seeds and stems, is dumped into the press and slowly drained – this is also part of the free run. 

 

from the press into the press pan

from the press into the press pan

 

some goes into the discard bin

some goes into the discard bin

After the free run is finished, the bladder inside the press is very slightly inflated, and the resulting “light-press” juice is also kept separate. Finally, the air pressure in the bladder is gradually increased and someone who  knows what to look for stands there and tastes the “hard press” wine frequently as it drains into the press pan.  As soon as they taste astringency, the pressing stops and whatever is left in the press is discarded.  The hard press wine is used for topping barrels through the year. Perhaps surprisingly, it sometimes becomes a prized component in the final blends.

 

 

From the press pan, the juice goes to a settling tank for at least three days so the heavy lees (dead yeast cells) sink to the bottom.  Then the juice is racked off the lees into another tank and settled again to make sure it is as clean as possible before it goes into barrel.  The fine lees that remain in suspension stay in the barrel and settle out over several months.

Don pumping lees out of the bottom of the settling tank

Don pumping lees out of the bottom of the settling tank

Don with hose and flashlight

Don with hose and flashlight

Getting the settled wine into the barrels is a matter of very long hoses snaking through the entire length of the building from the fermentation rooms to the barrel cellar below the tasting room.  Someone stands down in the cellar and watches the holding tank fill up, then yells “Stop” very loudly to the guy running the pump upstairs.  Then the barrels are filled from the holding tank using a flashlight to see when the wine reaches the top of the barrel. This is nerve-racking work, but it smells really good – all that lovely fresh pinot noir fragrance mingling with the aroma of brand new French oak barrels. 

Finally each barrel gets a tag that tells the entire history of the wine inside:  picking date and block; yeast used; date pressed; date barrelled.  Over the next twelve months we will get to know each of these barrels very well.

Pat Dudley

bhvcellar2008

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Saturday, 8:00 a.m.  Well, it has begun!  The crew arrived at Bethel Heights at dawn, and the boxes are filling up with Pinot noir.  Temperatures went down to freezing last night, but no harm done yet – the leaves are still on the vines, and the last two days have been dry and sunny, with no rain on the horizon until at least next weekend. (knock knock)  Perfect conditions for harvest, except that our vineyard crew leader, Javier Garcia, broke his leg yesterday afternoon and was taken to Portland for surgery.  Scramble ensued!

Javier Garcia, Vineyard Crew Leader at Bethel Heights

Javier Garcia, Vineyard Crew Leader at Bethel Heights

Ted got the whole story this morning:  Javier rolled the four-wheeler over while he was driving around Temperance Hill Vineyard turning off the cannons, and pinned his leg, but fortunately had his cell phone and was able to call Brijido to come and get him.

Brijido is a veteran member of the crew and a highly skilled tractor driver, and fortunately he lives right next door.  After rescuing Javier, Brijido reluctantly stepped up to get the crew organized and ready to start picking at the crack of dawn today. We just hope this isn’t going to drive Javier crazy, because he really likes to see things done right (that is, his way), and he would be out there now running around on his broken leg if it were up to him.

We share our vineyard crew with Temperance Hill Vineyard, contiguous to Bethel Heights on the north.  They work in both vineyards through the whole year with minimal conflict, but when it comes time to harvest it is always a matter of extremely delicate negotiations between Ted and Dai Crisp, who manages Temperance Hill, to figure out whose grapes are going to get picked at any given time on any given day.  Often the crew picks at Temperance Hill all morning, so the grapes can be loaded up and delivered to whatever winery is receiving them by early afternoon, and then they come to Bethel Heights and work all afternoon, since our grapes only have to be transported a short distance through the vineyard to our crush pad.

These guys work non-stop, often twelve hours a day without a day off for weeks, literally running up and down the slopes carrying sixteen-pound buckets in each hand.  It is impossible to over-appreciate what they do.

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Mimi, Alanna, Ted, Jim, Don, Alex, Jacques, Keri, Terry, Ben, TomMimi, Alanna, Ted, Jim, Don, Alex, Jacques, Keri, Terry, Ben, Tom

It’s a tradition at Bethel Heights that Marilyn cooks lunch for the crush crew every day from the day the first grapes are picked until the day the last of the new wine goes into barrel. This year she was coaxed into starting a few days early, because the whole crush crew has been working for a week now getting the building ready – cleaning the presses, arranging all the new barrels in the cellar, getting the fermenting bins out of the shed, etc. etc.  They were getting hungry…

So yesterday Marilyn lured Keri away from bookkeeping to help in the kitchen (hard sell), and the two of them cooked up our traditional first lunch of the vintage, Mulligatawny Soup. The recipe comes from the good old Joy of Cooking. Marilyn advises adding more chicken and more rice than the recipe calls for when you’re cooking for hungry cellar workers.

Keri and Marilyn slicing and dicing

Keri and Marilyn slicing and dicing

According to Marilyn, this tradition of Mulligatawny Soup for the first harvest lunch goes back to 1977, the year Ben was born and Terry and Marilyn and four of their friends made wine in the basement of their house in Seattle. That was very shortly before we all moved to Oregon and started Bethel Heights Vineyard. Mulligatawny Soup is still a hit every time!

Pat Dudley

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Raincloluds over Bethel Heights

Rainclouds loom over Bethel Heights - Jack not concerned

Everything that could be done has been done, and now there is nothing to do but watch the weather forecasts. The last of the 2007 wines were bottled last week, and the winery has been cleared out, ready for action. The picking boxes are lined up. We did a final crop thinning two weeks ago: all the later-ripening wings and shoulders removed from each cluster – picky picky work! In a late year like this Ted doesn’t take chances.

Clip that wing!

Clip that wing!

A lot of wineries in the Willamette Valley started picking last week, hedging their bets against predicted rain. Others – including us – are waiting it out. Rain in harvest season is something we long ago learned to cope with here – that’s what our famous well drained hillside soils are good for. The average Brix of the samples we took at Bethel Heights a week ago was 21 – a nice respectable number that would produce wines of moderate alcohol – but everyone agreed that we should let them hang a little longer, so here we are.

Big rain did in fact start dumping on the Willamette Valley on Friday, and rain is expected to continue through the weekend. Some weather forecasts show dry weather for next week, others don’t. Ted reads them all, and looks out the window a lot, and calls his buddies to see what they think. All the growers have their favorite forecasters. Some pay a lot of money for hot tips from private weather gurus. People get a little weird when their whole harvest is at stake.

The decision when to pick is the most critical decision of every vintage. You’re not just waiting for the Brix (the measure of sugar content in grapes) to reach some magic number, you’re really waiting for the final stage of flavor development, which is more a matter of hang time than anything else – it can happen at 20 Brix or it can happen at 25 Brix. The only way to know you have it is to taste it, and you have to have the courage to wait for it even when the first of the big fall rainstorms is on the horizon. Twenty years of experience comes in handy at a time like this!

Stay tuned! I will keep you posted.  Pat Dudley

Picking boxes and Otis the cat ready for action

Picking boxes and Otis the cat ready for action

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