From afar it might appear that during harvest the same routine is being followed by every winery in the state. Get a little closer, however, and you’ll see that each ‘estate’ has their own distinct traditions and particular ways of handling the stresses of making wine. To highlight some of these unique, and often idiosyncratic methods, we’re going to take a look at what several winemakers and their harvest crews were (and are) doing this year across Oregon.
First, if we zoom in on Illahe Vineyards west of Salem, you’ll see one of the most pastoral winery scenes imaginable: Bethany with baby Beckett on her hip and her husband (and winemaker) Brad sweeping past on a tractor. As tranquil as this looks at first, the folks at Illahe get by with large doses of mischief and humor. Any winery that recognizes the value in taking time out of a busy harvest to dress up in Amish garb, well, they’ve got things solidly in perspective.
Not only are they funny, but they are also incredibly resourceful; It is all-hands-on-deck when fruit starts coming in from the vineyards. Not even Beckett escapes the grind and toil of harvest work.
After the bubbling fermentation vessels, another thing that is understandably universal is the need for regular, hearty food. At Illahe, Bethany is often tasked with preparing food for their crew, specifically – massive amounts of protein.
Not far away at Cristom Vineyards, the Gerrie family is known to splurge by hiring a chef to cook lunches during harvest. Unsurprisingly, this has a very positive effect on morale. Some also attribute this to the wine that is occasionally consumed with this meal.
In the interest of balance – and the necessity of fiber – Cristom’s Sales Manager, John, is known to fix the occasional salad, like this number with endive, apple and pinot noir grapes.
Meals like these are a lovely break from the grueling – and dirty – reality of harvest work. Hours straight spent sorting fruit and pitchforking out bins can leave you looking stained, sticky and sometimes slightly crazed. To break this up a bit, Lyn Penner-Ash has her crew dress up for what they call ‘Formal Friday’. Off with those crusty overalls and grape-varnished sweatshirts and into whatever formal attire they can wrestle up.There is nothing quite so satisfying as washing barrels in a wool blazer.
Rumor has it that a handful of rogue winemakers across the state strip down to their birthday suits in an effort to connect with their wine in a more natural way. This is also said to substantially expand the wine’s sense of terroir.
Harvest is not only a time to renew old traditions, but begin building new ones. This year, the folks at Matello Wines, Brittan Vineyards and Walter Scott Wines all made wine the first time in new facilities. Matello was perhaps the busiest, with winemaker Marcus Goodfellow running what is essentially a co-op. The shared winemaking space and mutual creativity is a model that is spreading in Oregon, with Carlton Winemakers Studio leading the way and more than one new project in Portland proper. At these places, all bets are off, as traditions mix and mingle, often into the wee hours of the morning.
Whether it is the established wineries or the new upstarts, Oregon’s wine industry has long nurtured individuality in it’s artisans. A glimpse into the winemaking community anywhere else in this country wouldn’t turn up as much diversity – and tomfoolery – as you find in Oregon. United as they are by the science of winemaking, it is how they approach their craft – often as unique as their personalities – that makes them distinct.
below, Penner-Ash crew on “Formal Friday”
Lastly, a bit of advice: If you find yourself in a winery where shots of whiskey are being poured at 3:00 in the morning and the winemaker is wearing a goat costume, just roll with it. No one cares if you haven’t showered in eleven days, this is Oregon and it’s time to punch down.