One Eye on the Vines, the Other on the Sky

Being based in Vancouver, WA, GiftTree corporate headquarters is just a jump over the bridge to Oregon and a 45 minute drive to Oregon wine country.  Not only do we sell a good deal of Oregon Pinots, but we are also big fans, so you can imagine our happy surprise to hear that this year’s Pinot harvest would be much larger than expected due to a recent onset of repeated, sun-baked afternoons.

The spring started out very cool and, with the typical rain-drenched falls we face in the Pacific Northwest, winemakers were worried the grapes would age prematurely on the vine. What would happen in that case is that the vines, already stressed from an intentional lack of watering before picking, would quickly absorb the rainfall and this would send sugar levels plummeting, leaving the remaining juice extremely diluted.

Even though winemakers have learned a lot in the last four decades since Pinot Noir was first planted in the northern Willamette Valley about dealing with inevitable fall rainstorms, it’s still nice to know that this year’s harvest will be plentiful and that winemakers will not have to resort to other viticultural methods.

Such processes – all of them aimed at removing water and concentrating the remaining juice – are often out of the traditional realm of winemaking. These sometimes controversial operations include the viticultural equivalent of a wind tunnel, which employs steady blasts of air to evaporate as much water as possible from the skins of drenched clusters before they are crushed and placed in fermenters, as well as other methods such as freezing a portion of the juice. Adelsheim has been using reverse osmosis filters to remove water from the grapes, but the most controversial tool, and one still sneered at by some wine-industry purists, is the entropy evaporator. First introduced in the Bordeaux region of France nearly two decades ago, it uses low heat and a vacuum to essentially boil away unwanted water from the juice of freshly crushed grapes.

But back to the extended sunny fall season we have experienced. Earl Jones, founder of Abacela in Roseburg, comments “Any concerns we have right now are that the sugar machine may be a few days ahead of the flavor machine. If things cool off just a bit, we’ll get longer hang time, which will tend to bring sugars and acids into synchronicity. You get that and you’re in for a special vintage.”

We’ll be anxiously waiting to taste it.

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