Posts Tagged ‘Willamette Valley’

Bethel Heights is pleased to announce the release of our first 2009 vintage Pinot noir. We had a very warm summer in 2009 that gave us ripe, rich Pinot flavors, with a cool end of season to retain acidity.  The wines are luscious and vibrant, and drinking beautifully even at this early stage in their life.

We are also pleased to announce that both our 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (immediate release) and our 2009 Estate Grown Pinot Noir (anticipated June release) have Stelvin closures instead of corks, promising that the wine in every bottle is exactly the same vibrant, flawless wine we put into the bottle, uncompromised by any degree of cork taint.

Our fearless second-generation leaders, Ben Casteel and Mimi Casteel, precipitated this decision to move from corks to screwcaps after a long, arduous year of road trips.   After opening and pouring many bottles of Pinot noir at trade tastings, seminars, wine dinners, and distributor ride-withs all over the country, each of them returned home with stories about repeated experiences of bottles that were just a bit “off.” The bottles that put them over the edge were not the ones that were obviously corked, with that nasty smell that no one can miss; they were just dumb. It was the subtle variations that bothered them the most.  No one could tell there was any problem with those bottles except those who knew the wines intimately, and knew how beautiful the wine was before it went into the bottle.

Lots of excuses are made for such bottle variability.  We are finally convinced the problem is with the corks.  No matter how much we pay to get the best corks, there is always a certain percentage that robs the wine of its integrity after it goes into the bottle, maybe as high as 10%.

We’ve been using Stelvin closures on most of our white wines since 2004.  Without fail, they retain their purity and freshness in the bottle.  Many wineries throughout the world have been using Stelvin closures on their highest quality ageworthy wines for years now, with great success. There was simply no longer any reason to say no, when Ben and Mimi dug in their heels and said “no more corks” for these wines that travel all over the country making new friends for Bethel Heights.

Our 2009 Casteel Reserve and single vineyard Pinots are still cork-finished, since these are destined primarily for the cellars of people who already know our wines.  But we’re keeping an open mind about 2010…

Meanwhile, the entire Bethel Heights family is very pleased to introduce our 2009 cork-free Pinot noir and we welcome comments from all who meet them.

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2010 was the most compressed harvest we’ve had in the Willamette Valley since sometime back in the dim and distant 70’s.  We waited until the last possible minute to pick, waiting for our gorgeous Indian Summer to bring on the final flavor development that makes a great vintage.   When that moment came, there were storm clouds on the horizon.

We could never have pulled off this vintage without a vineyard crew that went way above and beyond the call of duty.  Our crew of twenty-five people worked ten hours a day for five straight days, barely stopping to eat.  They picked 95 tons at Bethel Heights and Justice in just 5 days = 190,000 pounds = 38,000 pounds per day = 1520 pounds per person per day = 95 buckets per person per day.

These are the heroes of the 2010 vintage!



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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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Pat has asked me to do a blog on the 2010 harvest, so consider this to be the first entry.  The big news about the home stretch of the 2010 vintage is that we are going to have to use all of the tools in the toolbox to be successful this autumn. If the cool weather that we have experienced this year continues, this may well be the coolest year in the Willamette Valley in the last fifty years. Ironically, on a global scale, this is the hottest year ever recorded. Just our luck!

I have to admit that years like this get my blood up. The challenge of using all of the tricks we have learned in the past decades to make fine wine in spite of some pretty dicey cards having been dealt us by Mother Nature is what gets me up in the morning.

Thankfully, we have a pretty sparse crop out there because of the ragged set.  Small crops ripen faster, and we have added some judicious thinning to give us an extra edge.

Last week we pulled leaves on the west side of the vines, now that hot weather is no longer a threat. (We pulled the morning sun side in July). This aids in ripening, and provides good ventilation around the clusters – a hedge against botrytis.

Now, all is in readiness, and the really hard part begins, the waiting. . .

Ted Casteel, On the Heights above Bethel

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Mimi and Ben spent the last few weeks rolling out the barrels for our first bottling of 2009 Pinot noir – about 180 barrels, selected for our 5000 case Bethel Heights Willamette Valley blend.

They kept bringing little tastes of the blend into the tasting room as it grew – very happy with this wine!

First thing Monday morning Jon Casteel will roll his mobile bottling truck up the hill and Casteel Custom Bottling will go into action.  A sight to see, if you  happen to visit next week!

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