If the grape harvest were a race, it would be the Tour de France. We’ve made it out of the low country, through the forested foothills, and well into the mountains now. Our most challenging ascent to date was crested last weekend as we saw three full days of processing Pinot Noir (and a little Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla) while simultaneously pressing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. All but three blocks of Coast Range Pinot Noir have gone down the sorting line, and we’re happy to catch our breath after the steep climb up L'Alpe d'Huez. The toughest leg of the race may be behind us, but we’re far from crossing the finish line.
Each morning we’re greeted with the wonderful new aromas that come only during harvest. Empty space in the tank hall continues to shrink as we add more and more to the oak vats and puncheons — 20 active ferments are now holding everyone’s attention. We’ve gently increased the temperature on a few of the slower ferments, while we’ve cooled down those that are developing structure too quickly. Pump overs were the rule last week, but now we’ve added more punch downs to the daily routine. They may take a few extra minutes on the whole cluster ferments, but we’re seeing good tannin structure married with the beautiful floral notes that often accompany this type of fermentation.
Aside from a high volume of fruit processing, the L'Alpe d'Huez stage comes with another list of plans — draining and barreling down the Pinots. Several of our first ferments have been drained into holding tanks, left to settle over night, and then sent into the barrel cave where they’ll live for the next 11 months. Did we mention the over cellar? It’s stocked with a harvest’s worth of fermenting Chardonnay, both sparkling and sans bubbles. There’s even 15 barrels of Rosé of Pinot noir fermenting there as well.
We’ve finally seen our first round of Riesling, but more will be arriving from all three of our vineyards: Ribbon Ridge, Wichmann Dundee and Coast Range estates this week. As for the upcoming Tour route, the twists and turns are still there but at least they slope a little more in our favor.
Check out the Trisaetum Harvest 2016 video!
My background in wine has been in the UK, where I grew up and went to college, as a sommelier and retailer. I first began enjoying wine in England working as a waiter, and then in Scotland where I was studying and working as a Somm and retailer. Scotland’s wonderful fresh seafood and delicious produce fostered a love for enjoying wine all the more. When I graduated I wanted to learn more about wine production and have been traveling between Australia’s Barossa and Tamar Valleys and the Pacific Northwest for the past two years, with Oregon’s Willamette Valley being my fourth harvest. It is very special to live and work in new regions, as there is always the opportunity to learn more techniques and processes and of course try more wines. The Northwest, in particular, is a very special place to me, with its dramatic mountains, the Gorge and beautiful, open farmland. I also have family in Portland and have loved visiting in the past. Therefore Oregon’s wine country was always somewhere I wanted to work and I was drawn to Trisaetum by my love for elegant, cool climate wines — Riesling in particular. The welcoming, passionate and innovative environment here has been a joy to work in and as harvest continues — and the Riesling continues to ripen — I am getting more and more excited. Learning from James has been one of the harvest highlights so far — from tastings of juice samples through to finished wines I have been able to develop both my palate and my understanding of what each vintage means for him and for his and Andrea’s beautiful vines. As Mother Nature continues to be kind to us with beautiful weather and wonderful fruit I hope to continue to learn and put my head down to make 2016 one to remember!
I started like most people, while I was abroad in Spain. Over there a glass of wine costs you a euro while a Coke costs two or three. I ended up drinking a lot of local, regional wines — the people and culture made it very immersive. Later on I started traveling a bit more and to subsidize my traveling I started Bartending and developing a palate and tasting more and more wines. About a year ago on a whim I decided to start the Court of Master Sommeliers and passed the intro test about a week later. I was a restaurant director and sommelier on South Beach in Miami for a few months before I went back to Spain for a few weeks and decided to learn more about winemaking. Six months later I'm here in Oregon up to my shoulders in barrels and up to my knees in grape skins and loving every minute of it.
My time in Oregon wine country has been filled with exciting experiences in a completely new professional role. I’m a former TV Meteorologist from Denver, Colorado. Although I join the harvest team with only a basic understanding about wine, I’m quickly building my lexicon and an appreciation for all local varietals. Trisaetum’s dry and off dry Rieslings have become my absolute favorites. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of harvest as we begin to process Riesling from the Coast Range and Wichmann Dundee estates. While working as a meteorologist, I attended an annual weather conference with climate experts, atmospheric specialists, and other members of the TV industry. One year, we had a speaker that presented on the subject of “Weather and Wine.” Other than being an instant topic of interest, I got my first academic introduction to wine. We learned about how growing regions can be impacted by changes in global circulation and long-term climate patterns. Even if I wasn’t directly invested in the wine business at the time, everything does seem to come full circle — look where I landed! I’m enjoying broadening my horizons on Ribbon Ridge and can’t wait to taste this wonderful vintage.
Harvest is off to a great start as we’ve finished the first full week of fruit processing at Trisaetum. We’ve managed to pick, press, and begin fermenting selected blocks from all three of our vineyard estates — Ribbon Ridge, Coast Range, and Wichmann Dundee. Mother Nature gave us the window we needed to ensure sugar levels did not increase faster than the physiological ripeness of the grapes. Plenty of fruit is still waiting on the vines, but we’re very happy with the small dent we’ve made in a relatively short amount of time.
We started the week with a Chardonnay pick at our Ribbon Ridge Estate. The presses got a good workout and several barrels are already filled. After a quick taste on Friday the crew unanimously agreed that the ferments are progressing well. At our Coast Range estate, a cooler site compared to Ribbon Ridge, we picked a little Pinot Noir for our sparkling program. The acid, sugar, and pH were just right for blanc de noirs, so we picked and pressed some Coast Range fruit on Wednesday — it ended up giving us beautiful colors for brut rosé.
The second half of our week was busy sorting and destemming Pinot Noir from our Ribbon Ridge and Wichmann Dundee Estates. Thursday and Saturday were highly productive considering the large volume of fruit that arrived on our crush pad. The “all hands on deck” approach was as helpful as ever, and at some point every Trisaetum employee had a spot on the sorting line. It’s a testament to their teamwork since our winery has a shorter list of personnel, and essential if we want to leave the building before midnight. We tackled 24 tons of fruit on Saturday alone. But who’s counting?
It’s great to see several of our fermentation vats filled again, and even more encouraging seeing the native yeast already hard at work. New aromas have been developing with each passing day — especially in our two ferments with a 50-50 whole cluster-to-destemmed ratio. How do we know that the wild and added yeast is reacting with the grapes? After we press into the vats with the punch down tool, we can see a bunch of little bubbles rise to the surface. This means that the yeast is converting some of the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
We are currently employing a mix of punch-downs and pump-overs in the tank hall each morning and again each evening. It takes some muscle to punch through the grape cap (especially with 50 percent whole cluster ferments), but the intern team is quickly adapting to the daily workload and performing at a high level for us.
The checklist wasn’t short this week — logistics and preparation were paramount in the daily workflow. Vibes are good and spirits are high. We’ll see how we end up in another seven days!
Nine months out of the year, harvest is visible on the horizon but it comes into better focus during the summertime. Even though the vines go dormant over the winter, work behind the scenes never stops. From the fall ferments, to the mid-winter bottling, and eventually the April bud break, there’s a steady swing to day-to-day life in the winery. Then, all of a sudden, we’re crossing off the last few days of August — it’s time to make some wine. Did we prepare enough? Are all of our ducks in a row? We’d like to think so. But no matter what, the vines are about ready to bring us an exciting eight-week stretch.
(Bird's-eye view of Trisaetum Winery on Ribbon Ridge)
The word ‘exciting’ has a thousand meanings over the course of harvest. Some days it's a labor of love. Other days the reward is more obvious. But in spite of the time crunch, let’s face it, we get to pick, ferment, press and bottle our grapes. Not a bad gig. These are guaranteed to be the busiest weeks of the year. They’re also guaranteed to be the most memorable.
(Stephen filling barrels in the cave)
Tuesday of this week, the full-time cellar crew and our harvest interns — all six of us — met in the lab to sample clusters of Pinot and Chardonnay from our Ribbon Ridge estate. We wanted to size up the grapes, and measure the sugar, pH and acid levels from four separate vineyard blocks. The sample clusters were crushed into juice, and we also checked the consistency of a few whole grapes to develop a timeline. Using a spectrum of palette descriptors ranging from “green banana” to “cherry” to “blackberry” the consensus landed right between strawberry and rhubarb. Tasty? No doubt. But the challenge comes with choosing the best harvest day for a particular grape clone. If we pick too early, the flavors aren’t there yet. If we pick too late, we’ve lost the acidity that adds life and vitality to our wine. As usual, time is a balancing act.
(Our dog 'Brix' gives final Chardonnay approval)
The spectrometer confirmed our palates’ opinions of the Chardonnay. Acid had a leg up on sugar, and was just where we wanted it for sparkling wine. The call was made and we decided to pick a little fruit for Blanc de Blanc on Thursday — just three days apart from when we harvested the same blocks for sparkling wine last year. At 6:15 a.m. it was just light enough, so we started picking. By 8:00 a.m. the press was full and harvest was officially underway. There's already a new fizz happening in the cellar.
(Pinot cluster in the sun)
As for the Pinot? Clusters were re-tasted on Friday. We’ll give it a little more time on the vine — a few more days of hang time should bring the flavors closer to our target. We suspect by the middle of this week we’ll be picking the first Pinot Noir of harvest.