Posts Tagged ‘ted casteel’

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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Finally got them to  stand still long enough to be introduced!  Top to bottom, wearing their new Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine t-shirts:

Kate Ayres, Mimi Casteel, Jaime Guzman, Alex Bogetti, Pat Dudley, Don Kowitz, Jose Luis Martinez, Ben Casteel, Ted Casteel…   and Marilyn

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Don, New Kate, and Mimi smiling on Pinot

Another long and very satisfying day:  25 tons of gorgeous Pinot noir, including all of the Southeast Block and South Block, harvested under sunny skies.   6:45 pm:  Sun setting, Moon and Jupiter rising, and everyone is still smiling tonight as the work goes on.

Ted, Marilyn and Ben smiling on lunch

What the crush crew had for lunch today:  beef kebobs with chanterelles over risotto, and a side of Caesar salad – Marilyn is spoiling us, but no wonder everyone is still smiling!   We have TWO chanterelle hunters on our crush crew this year, our brand new Kate and our good old Alex.

Jack hanging in there

Jack is home from the kennel, cannon shell-shock averted.  Now that harvest is underway, he can head for the winery at daybreak (cannon-break) and spend the day under the table in the office until Ted turns off the cannons and it’s time for a moonrise walk!


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It was a long day yesterday!  28 tons of Pinot noir picked by early afternoon; sorting and destemming went on until long after sunset.  Back at it at daybreak today.  Ted wants to get all the Pinot picked this week, with rain on the horizon for Friday.  The fruit looks lovely and tastes great, with brix coming in around 22 average on all the lots picked yesterday.

Marilyn’s traditional first lunch of the crush:  Mulligatawny Soup!

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Triple Ten Sunday brought the sun back after our first rain event in October.  Forecasts look promising going forward.  While sugars are lagging a bit (20-21 Brix), the pHs are moving into the target range and flavors are developing nicely.  We may start picking at the end of this week, unless the weather gods favor us with a long stretch of dry weather.  Our philosophy here is to wait as long as we can to bring in the vintage.

The guns of October are now echoing around the neighborhood as the birds have arrived in earnest in the Willamette Valley.   Our air cannons never used to bother Jack, but now that he is almost completely deaf they drive him to distraction.  He must feel the vibrations. We finally took him to his favorite kennel, where he has friends who love him almost as much as we do.

While we are waiting we have been sowing cover crop at our Ingram site, spraying some of Mimi’s compost tea and getting the tractors reconfigured for their harvest tasks.   The winery is in full scrub-down mode.  It won’t be long now.



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Pat has been encouraging me to continue my 2010 harvest blog, and since she is downstairs working on her part of the website, I guess giving up part of my Sunday PM to the blog is ok.

Tonight I did my usual walk through the vineyard with Jack (12 years old and mostly deaf, but still the best company there is on a vineyard walk) and felt especially blessed. The leaves are yellowing in the cluster zone on schedule.  Fungal disease is under control. The crop is small and ripening fast.  Flavors are moving from green to blue fruits and are gaining in intensity.  The weather forecasts are very positive for the first half of October.  (The Climate Prediction Center just changed the long lead forecast to reflect this new view).  Jack is healthy and hungry.  We have a potentially great vintage in the making, in spite of a very cool spring and early summer.

The coolest vintages often, in my 30 years of experience, yield our finest wines if they have a strong finish, with cool and dry conditions.  I was interviewed by the press three time in the past couple of weeks, before the weather forecasts took an upturn.  They wanted me to talk about how worried I was supposed to be about the gloomy weather and the prospect of a “very challenging outcome.” (For example, watch this Channel 2 news report from Sept. 21).  But the latest from Bethel Heights is that another outstanding vintage may very well be at hand!

Ted Casteel

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"Just a normal September"

Since Pat and I returned from vacation on September 1st, the softening and coloring of the fruit has moved from 10% to 99% in the vineyard,  as the weather has shifted from cool and showery in week one to warm and dry in week two and then back to cool and showery in week three – a normal September.

We have been here before on many occasions. We are actually behind on rainfall compared to normal and compared to last year at this point.
Given the lack of serious weather events, I would like to single out a section of our vineyard that has a special story worth telling – it is our old vineyard Scott-Henry.  This includes our old vines in the West Block (planted in 1977), and our east side Pommard blocks, planted two years later.  These sections of the vineyard include many of our oldest vines, planted on their own roots (not on rootstock), which are moderately vigorous, and are wide-spaced by current standards (535 vine/per/acre.)  To provide a sense of where we are now at Justice Vineyard, 1930 v/p/a is our new norm.
To maximize the performance of our old vines, we have divided the canopy, vertically, using a technique developed by an old friend from the Umpqua region to our South, to improve canopy quality and produce world class grapes on these moderately vigorous vines. A significant part of our old Pinot plantations are now arrayed on the Scott Henry trellis. Four canes are deployed on two wires, separated vertically, to create a 8’ canopy that is narrow, balanced, and capable of producing reserve wines of very high quality.
Scott’s canopy innovation was intended to take vines that were overwhelmed by the power of river bottom soils to make decent or better Pinot.  I would like to think that we have borrowed his concept to elevate the quality of hill soils planted at wide spacing to produce wines of the highest quality.  Our Southeast Block has produced reserve quality Pinot noir on the S-H for almost a decade, and our South Block has become the most important component of the Casteel Reserve.  Is it because of their senior status or the trellis choice?  I am convinced that both are important contributors to wine quality.
Thank you Scott.
Ted Casteel

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