Winemaker Q & A

#WVHarvest2017


We caught up with some of our vintner friends to see how they prepare for harvest.


 


 

Clare Carver (Owner & Winemaker – Big Table Farm)

16_RobSniffing-q-a
Big Table Farm is the collaborative effort of Brian Marcy and Clare Carver. We are a winemaker and an artist, we grow and produce what we love to eat and drink.
Learn more about Big Table Farm

Q. What IS your go-to harvest snack?

A. Banana Bread

Q. What’s your favorite beverage to drink during harvest?

A. Sessions

Q. What would your advice be to a winemaker going into their first harvest?

A. If your spouse is able, have them come in at the end of the shift and help cleanit will help them understand and make them part of the action… powerwashers are good marriage therapy during harvest.

Q. What is your favorite piece of harvest hardware?

A. My pressure cooker for feeding the crew!


Michelle Seufert (General Manager – Seufert Winery)

 

Seufert Winery handcrafts distinctive wines that capture the essence of Oregon. Attentive small-batch production of single vineyard Pinot noir and select white varieties showcase unique Willamette Valley terroirs.
Learn more about Seufert Winery

Q. What is your harvest attire?

A. Alo Yoga Pants, a good hoodie, and Columbia or Sorel Boots.

Q. What would your advice be to a winemaker going into their first harvest?

A. Be prepared and be flexible. There are always unforeseen variables. Adapt and evolve.

Q. What is your theme song during harvest?

A. Every year I pick a theme song, a hype song to get and stay motivated. This year is: I am Lion by James Poole.

Q. What IS your go to harvest snack?

A. Coffee

Q. What is your favorite piece of harvest hardware?

A. Wine Cap Punch Down Tool.


Anne Hubatch (Owner and winemaker – Helioterra)

 

Helioterra Wines is a small, artisan producer of Northwest wines made at Björnson Vineyard in Salem, Oregon.
Learn more about Helioterra Wines

Q. Where did your harvest intern come from this year?

A. This year’s harvest intern came from a friend’s ladies happy hour just two months ago. We met and hit it off. Any lady who has her own contracting business is a slam dunk for a harvest employee!

Q. What is your favorite harvest attire?

A. At Helioterra wines we have a harvest kick-off tradition. I am a lady winemaker, so we play on that and the brand name. On the first day of harvest every year, everyone who attends to help sort grapes MUST wear a pair of heels for part of clean up. It’s our annual HEELioterra Day!

Q. What is your favorite piece of harvest hardware?

A. I finally treated myself to a concrete egg this year! I will ferment my Melon de Bourgogne in the egg, and then age my Mourvedre in it! I cannot wait.

Oh. And my Blundstone boots of five years hard labor have finally blown out. I got a new pair… Priceless!


Jerry Murray (Owner & Winemaker – Project M Wines)

 

PROJECT M is the vision of owners Meg and Jerry Murray. That vision has been clarified and refined over their combined 30 years of professional experience in winemaking, marketing and sales.
Learn more about Project M

Q. What is your favorite piece of harvest hardware?

My favorite piece of harvest hardware is the punchdown tool. To me the punchdown is the essence of making Pinot noir. It provides a literal, physical connection between the winemaker and the wine. It’s an opportunity to examine, interact and exchange. For me there is nothing more thrilling than punching through a cap three quarters of the way through fermentation and being overcome with the aroma of dirty raspberries.

Q. What do you find to be the hardest part of harvest?

A. For me the hardest part of harvest is the time spent away from my family. I’ve had major life events coincide with harvest; the passing of family members, the birth of my daughter, for example. As a person you want to be able to put everything aside and focus on people when these things happen. As a winemaker you know the wines don’t wait and that you need to be there to guide them to where you want them to go. Now, with Project M being a family business, we are trying to blur the lines between “family” time and “work”. It’s hard either way.

Q. What’s your favorite beverage to drink during harvest?

A. Napoleon said; “In victory soldiers want champagne. In defeat, they need it.” There is something about the juxtaposition of the refinement and elegance of champagne and the grit and industry of the cellar that I just love. It reminds me that what we do is transform agriculture, through labor, into culture. But lets not forget about coffee. We need coffee too.

Q. What would your advice be for a winemaker going into their first harvest?

A. I often refer to a quote from the father of enology, Louis Pasteur; “Chance favors a prepared mind”. Spend some time playing out the “worst case” scenarios in your head and come up with a plan for them. If you’re ready for the worst thing that can happen, anything short of that will be a breeze. Also know that winemaking is a dance and the grapes always have the lead.


Jim Maguire (DTC & Tasting Room Mgr – Furioso Vineyards)

 

Q. What is your favorite beverage to enjoy during harvest?

A. Ice Cold PBR.

Q. What is your harvest attire?

A. Boots, kilt, t-shirt, gloves

Q. Where’s your favorite place in town to grab a drink?

A. Red Hills Market

Q. What is your favorite part about working in this industry?

A. The wonderful people I get to meet and/or work with.

Q. What is your theme song during harvest

A. We are the Champions, by Queen


Bruno Corneaux (Proprietor & Winemaker – Domaine Divio)

 

At Domaine Divio, Bruno Corneaux applies his traditional Burgundian crafting skills to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Domaine Divio

Q. Are you doing anything different for harvest this year?

A. We are harvesting our first ever Estate Pinot Noir. Trying different levels of whole clusters, experiment saignee for Rosé.

Q. What’s your favorite piece of harvest hardware?

A. Nothing fancy: traditional French oak barrels, well selected in France from friends in the cooperage industry; they are always pieces of art and part of the mysterious complexity in my wines.

Q. What IS your go-to harvest snack?

A. Roasted corn.

Q. Where’s your favorite place in town to grab a beer?

A. No time for beer.

Q. Where is your favorite place to grab a casual bite?

A. In between two tanks or in the field


Bryan Weil (Head Winemaker – Alexana)

 

With eighteen various sedimentary and volcanic soil types, our uniquely situated estate vineyard has earned a reputation for producing highly rated wines with exceptional balance and character.
Learn more about Alexana Winery

Q. What is your favorite beverage to enjoy during harvest?

A. PBR and Bubbles

Q. Do you have any harvest superstitions?

A. Don’t shave beard until Riesling comes in.

Q. Where have your harvest interns come from this year?

A. Oregon, California, Illinois, North Carolina

Q. What is your harvest attire?

A. Shorts, boots and a t-shirt.

Q. What is your theme song during harvest?

A. Anything Hair Nation.

 


Leo Gabica (Winemaker – Sweet Cheeks)

 

Founded in 2005, Sweet Cheeks Winery lies atop a 55-acre estate vineyard with plantings that date back to 1978, sitting on 140 acres of prime sloping hillside overlooking the Briggs Hill Valley. The vineyards were christened Sweet Cheeks because of the curious swell of the hillside that became evident as the soil was plowed and then planted with grapes.
Learn more about Sweet Cheeks

Q. What would your advice be for a winemaker going into their first harvest?

A. Have a plan, and don’t be surprised if that plan hits some major curves and bumps. The most important thing is to be patient. Be patient with the grapes, your harvest crew, your machinery, and yourself.

Q. How do you keep your team focused and energized during harvest?

A. I keep the crew focused and motivated by being by their side and actively participating step-by-step. It goes a long way for them to see you also doing punch downs, digging out tanks, operating the press when it’s freezing cold outside, and being the first one here and last one to leave. I also put on music and sing and dance until they (jokingly, I think) beg me to stop.

Q. What wines and foods are typically around your holiday table?

A. We always have Pinot noir and pork belly – and I look forward to it every year. My wife and I are from the Philippines, and we make a cassava cake for the holidays and pair with sparkling wines. We also host a post-harvest meal for the harvest crew at my house and make Filipino specialties. Everyone brings a different bottle of wine, and the day after harvest is the biggest holiday of the year in my book.

Q. What is your favorite part about working in this industry?

A. My favorite part of being in the industry is the relationships that are built. How many industries are you able to call your neighboring winery and ask them for advice? Not many. The people you meet, stories you hear, wines you enjoy, they all make this industry incredibly worth the long hours of harvest and stressing over weather in the spring and fall.

Q. What’s your favorite beverage to drink during harvest?

A. I should say wine, but it’s Four Roses.

 


Tracy Kendall & Associate Winemaker (Nicolas-Jay)

 

Q. What’s your favorite beverage to drink during harvest?

A. Beer, beer and more beer. In all seriousness beer does become quite a staple during harvest. While normally I’m a fan of super hoppy Northwest IPAs, I find harvest requires a lighter more refreshing ale, something you can drink and finish before you fall asleep after a long day. And two key words: Shower Beer. There isn’t a lot of time after a day of harvesting so killing two birds with one stone makes for a nice ending!

Q. What is your harvest attire?

A. Lots of layers and anything that keeps me dry. Boots, jeans, a past harvest tee shirt, hoodie, vest (every Oregon winemaker’s uniform), and a big rain jacket to top it off. Winemaking during harvest is mostly cleaning and you can’t be afraid to get wet, so good boots are a must!

Q. What are your go-to harvest snacks?

A. Goldfish. The perfect snack for 4 year olds and harvest workers — small, portable, a perfect beer pairing and salty.

Q. What would your advice be for a winemaker going into their first harvest?

A. Learn as much as you can. Be the first one there and the last to leave. Keep your eyes open, listen, pay attention and ask lots of questions. It you’re destined to become a winemaker there won’t be anything quite as exciting or wonderful as your first vintage — that’s when you either catch the winemaking bug or decide you don’t want to clean for a living. There’s nothing quite like it. Oh, and make sure you smell a new barrel being filled with Pinot noir for the first time, quite possibly the best smell in the world.

Q. What is your favorite part about working in this industry?

A. I know it’s cliché, but the community. This industry is filled with some of the most incredibly passionate and dynamic people I’ve ever known. Everyone comes with a different background and interesting story and chooses to make winemaking their path. Although you won’t make a ton of money making wine you’ll feel as though you won the lottery — beautiful wines, amazing scenery, fantastic food and incredible people.

 


Stephen Hagen (Farmer and Winemaker at Antiquum Farm)

 


Antiquum Farm is a small producer of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir set in rural Junction City, at the southern end of the Willamette Valley. Operating under a grazing-based viticultural approach, Hagen shares winegrowing duties with his fleet of estate sheep, geese and chickens.
Learn more about Antiquum

Q. What are you liking about the direction of the 2017 vintage so far?

A. I’m not a fan of the super early “best vintage ever” kind of seasons. It’s nice to not be looking at picking on Cinco de Mayo.

Q. Do you have any harvest traditions or rituals you employ every year?

A. I keep a good bottle of bourbon under my truck seat and a Waylon Jennings album close by in case I need a good cry.

Q. What is your most coveted tool or piece of equipment during crush?

A. My coffee thermos.

Q. Will you be trying anything new in the cellar this harvest?

A. Nope.

Q. What are you looking for when you decide to pick?

A. Flavors and physical maturity.

Q. As a farmer, what do you like about working with winemakers who use your fruit?

A. It’s kind of like jazz. There’s a through line. That’s the site. The voice of the vineyard provides the structure, but everyone has their own style and personality that riffs off of that central theme.

Q. As a vintner, what do you like about using your own estate fruit?

A. Our fruit has developed a unique signature. I feel this voice is directly connected to the way we are farming. Our farming techniques are born out of who we are and what is important to us. The wines have changed as we’ve changed. Making wines that clearly reflect these things is an intensely personal thing for me.

Q. Do your four legged and feathered vineyard crew members play any particular roles during harvest?

A. Just breakfast and dinner at that point. Everyone comes out of the vineyard as soon as we start to see ripening begin. The sheep are trained to not eat grapes vines. They will eat the fruit. Same thing for the feathered kids. The sugars get too tempting and they’ll leap up to pick berries.

Q. Do you have any tricks to staying organized during the most demanding days?

A. Eat an awesome breakfast. Super important. Also, use August to prepare and go do something fun in early September.

Q. Are there any glaring misconceptions people have about harvest?

A. It isn’t all baskets overflowing with gorgeous bread, cheese, and wine on vintage quilts in a flowering meadow. It’s more like coffee, cheap beer, bees, and sleep deprivation. BUT, it’s still awesome. It’s totally cool if you want to come take part, but I’m putting you to work. There’s no room for someone standing around trying to get their Instagram on while trying to get run over.

Q. What bit of advice might you give to somebody working a Willamette Valley crush for the first time?

A. Retain a sense of humor and be nice. It’s just wine. There will be plenty of legitimate opportunities to blow a head gasket, so don’t waste them.

Q. What is your favorite part of this busy time of the year?

A. I really love harvest season, but my favorite part comes after. I love when you’ve just finished and then it POURS rain. I’ll make a fire and sit there all day and make my lists for winter.

 


Andrew Rich (Winemaker at Andrew Rich Wines)

 

A longtime member of the Willamette Valley scene, Andrew Rich specializes in Rhone varietals like Syrah and Roussanne, in addition to the requisite Pinot Noir. Each fall, he makes his wine at the Valley’s flagship cooperative, the Carlton Winemakers Studio. Here, the bustle of harvest is amplified as about a dozen labels share a single production space.
Learn more about Andrew Rich Wines

Q. What are you liking about the direction of the 2017 vintage so far?

A. Here we are at the end of September, and we only just brought in our first Pinot—and now we’re going to wait several days before picking more. This has been an odd start to harvest in comparison to the last three vintages, but it’s shaping up to be more like the vintages of old, with beautifully ripe fruit, lower sugars, and good acidity. I’m extremely optimistic.

Q. Do you have any harvest traditions or rituals you employ every year?

A. None that I can discuss in public.

Q. What is your most coveted tool or piece of equipment during crush?

A. A glass. Really. But what I value most is the hard work of our crew, without whom…to say nothing of the growers who have put in nearly a year’s worth of work to get us the best possible fruit their vineyards can deliver.

Q. Will you be trying anything new in the cellar this harvest (technique, varietal, etc.)?

A. We’ll be working with a couple of new vineyards—always exciting; what will they give us?—and a lot of old ones that are tried and true. But techniques? Pfft.

Q. What are you looking for when you decide to pick?

A. I look at how the vines are doing. Are they still vibrant or are they starting to shut down? How is the fruit holding up? Firm, soft, desiccating? Is it clean or is there a little botrytis? Are the seeds brown, is the pulp still attached to them? And then of course there is the chemistry. And everything is predicated on the style of wine I want to make. Gradually I’ve been moving, or trying to move, toward earlier picking for livelier, taughter wines, but I guess you could say I’m neither an early or a late picker.

Q. What’s key to working in a shared facility such as Carlton Winemakers Studio?

A. At harvest the heart of the Studio is our white board with the schedule for the next two weeks. It lets everyone know who is planning to crush or press on a given day, and how many tons. Really it’s all about communication.

Q. The Willamette Valley is known for its collaborative spirit. Is that even more the case come harvest?

A. Definitely, because it’s a time when you might need to borrow something at a moment’s notice or you might need a bit of timely advice about a problem child fermenter. And commiserating with colleagues about the weather never gets old.

Q. Do you have any tricks to staying organized during the most demanding days?

A. Yes, a well-organized assistant winemaker.

Q. Are there any glaring misconceptions people have about harvest?

A. If I hear someone talk about Lucy stomping grapes one more time….But the truth is, we still do that occasionally.

Q. What bit of advice might you give to somebody working a Willamette Valley crush for the first time?

A. Embrace the rain.

Q. What is your favorite part of this busy time of the year?

A. The excitement of the first fruit’s arrival, the relief of the last press load, and the daily beer break at sunset.

 


Merrilee Buchanan Benson (Winemaker at Tyee Wine Cellars)

 

Tyee Wine Cellars sits in the southern part of the Willamette Valley, in rural Corvallis on the pastoral Buchanan Family Century Farm. Winemaker Merrilee Buchanan Benson benefits from growing up on the property, which has armed her with a lifelong love of wine and a tremendous understanding of her estate vines.
Learn more about Tyee Wine Cellars

Q. How many vintages have you worked in wine country?

A. I grew up at Tyee’s estate vineyard and winery, so if you count my childhood labor, I’ve worked over 40 years in Oregon wine country. 2017 will be my 14th year as Vineyard Manager and my 12th vintage as Winemaker at Tyee Wine Cellars.

Q. What are you liking about the 2017 vintage so far?

A. Lots of good fruit coming in right on time, October.

Q. Is the vintage reminiscent of one you’ve worked before?

A. 2008, because of the high quality fruit, an October harvest and because I’m feeling optimistic.

Q. Are you trying anything new or making any new styles of wines this year?

A. So excited to get new fruit for the very first time this year from little Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer vines planted in 2014 in Tyee’s estate vineyard.

Q. What’s the most underrated tool or piece of equipment in your cellar?

A. Those little wood chips that you pound into barrels that stop leaks and therefore save so much money.

Q. What kind of additional help do you have this time of year at the winery?

A. Tyee operations are in the third year of a husband-and-wife duo to get all the processing done, which equals long hours and lots of work but it’s fun, flexible and we’re totally committed. We also have some much needed part time help with tasting room sales and all the work that harvest and crush entails.

Q. Tyee is completely solar powered. Does that pertain to any aspects of harvest in particular?

A. The solar array at Tyee is connected to the grid and it annually produces enough power to counter the power that the winery uses.

Q. What’s the key to staying organized and energized during the long days of harvest?

A. Things are constantly changing being organized and reorganized so part of the key is to maintain flexibility and not cut off too many options. The energy comes mostly from the huge responsibility of dealing with tons of fruit, also sugar converting to alcohol creates energy, plus there is that whole ‘fall is in the air, November rains will come’ urgency that feeds the harvest frenzy.

Q. What do you like most about making Gewurztraminer?

A. I dislike making Gewurztraminer because the thick skins take so long to juice in a whole cluster pressing. I like Gewurztraminer because from vine to wine it smells and tastes like ambrosia.

Q. Is there a block or part of your estate’s fruit you like working with the most? If so, why?

A. Im so privileged to get to work with the old vine Pinot Noir that I grew up with on its own roots planted at Tyee in the 1970’s and 1980’s. With all their lilac, rose, jasmine, berry and earthy complexity, these vines contribute the most to my love for Pinot Noir.

Q. What advice would you give a first-timer working a Willamette Valley crush?

A. Prepare to get wet, expect lots of action from the birds and the bees and try not to ask too many questions as you will find you know much more when it’s over.

Q. What is the most satisfying part of harvest for you?

Satisfaction usually starts to set in when the last of the Pinot Noir is pressed out and barreled down.

 


Ariel Eberle (Winemaker at Yamhill Valley Vineyards)

 

Yamhill Valley Vineyards has been turning out wine from its McMinnville estate for thirty-four vintages and counting. Winemaker Ariel Eberle talks about the power of the senses and some of her favorite vineyard sites.
Learn more about Yamhill Valley Vineyards

Q. What’s your take on vintage 2017 thus far?

A. So far this vintage has been the best of both worlds, the two worlds that I like to refer to as a California-like Oregon year (2014, 2015, 2016) and a true Oregon year (2010, 2011, 2013). This is because I have seen amazing variability in the micro-climates that we bring in and process. Just a few hundred feet in elevation completely changes the chemistry of the fruit. Lots of the clusters in the lower elevations I have seen have one green berry which will help to provide acidity, but if too many make it past the sorting line it can contribute to green or stressed flavors. I believe this will be a “winemakers” year and we will see a lot of variation in quality depending on decisions made going into the fermentor. Decisions such as when to pick and how aggressively to sort. I am beyond grateful to have a village of people available to presort in the vineyard as well as at the sorting table to pull out many of those little green berries. So far, ferments are smelling ripe and rich, we are about a third of the way through fermentation on a lot of our lots and the winery smells could be confused with a bakery during blackberry pie season.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from making wine in the Willamette Valley?

A. The biggest lesson I have learned is to to maintain my idealistic tendencies but allow myself to be flexible day to day, minute to minute. There is no replacement for experience — and experience allows the best winemakers to stay on their toes and change a plan at the drop of a hat. Wisdom has taught me that logistics rule in many cases and being strategic, prepared and flexible along the way can be worth your weight in gold.

Q. What is your go-to piece of equipment or tool in the cellar during harvest?

A. The nose knows! And the other senses as well. I am blown away by how practice makes perfect when using your organoleptic assets. The ferments, grapes, wine and Mother Nature are the ones in charge when it comes to my work. My job is to be a translator and interpreter; to listen, see, smell, taste and touch the clues I am given by the fruit and nature and act accordingly. This includes everything from a stinky ferment that is crying out for air or nutrients to an unhappy de-stemmer that is moaning for a bushing to be replaced. It’s a full body experience being a winemaker.

Q. You balance two labels during crush, how do you stay on top of the two?

A. I credit this ability to my tribe above all else. The support that my partner, friends and winery owners provide me allow me to do this. It’s amazing to have the support of the Burger Family (owners of Yamhill Valley Vineyards). They allow me to make my label here at the winery which means my little bin of A Cheerful Note is checked for brix and temps along with the other 70+ vessels that may be fermenting at the same time. Each vessel is its own ecosystem, with its own destination and needs. The team at YVV treats them all with attention to detail and care. It’s an opportunity that I am grateful for and I don’t take it lightly. I am very lucky to work for trusting, generous and wonderful people.

Q. What is your favorite varietal to work with and why?

A. Pinot Noir of course! It is the diamond of varietals, taking in sunlight and reflecting it in an infinite amount of ways. The spectrum of flavors you can get from Pinot Noir is insurmountable. It is the symphony, not the solo. That being said I am looking forward to working with new varietals in years to come, namely; Sangiovese, Albariño, and Tempranillo.

Q. Is there a particular vineyard or block you love to work with each harvest?

A. I love the Lakeview block at Yamhill Valley Vineyards. I’m in love with its beauty and the fruit that it provides. It is a stressed sight so it is predisposed to holding acidity which can make it hard to time the pick just right. Patience is a virtue and this block has taught me some about that. I also love that I was able to be involved with the planting of this block in 2009, I feel like we have grown up together and there is a very special and sentimental connection for me.

Q. What do you like most about the Willamette Valley winemaking community?

A. I love how everyone is so open and helpful to each other. I never feel like winemakers are holding onto secrets — quite the contrary, we all want to see each other succeed and knowledge has been and continues to be shared. The Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference held at Steamboat Inn on the Umpqua river every summer is a very good example of the openness of our community. I have learned from world-renowned winemakers there and also been given the opportunity to foster friendships all over Pinotland from our time together.

Q. Where would you like to work a harvest if you could, anywhere on the planet?

A. I would love to work a harvest in Greece! I have never travelled there but I have a fascination with their culture, history and love the wine and food as well. I think I would learn so much and gain a new perspective which is something I continually strive for.

Q. What advice might you give to a somebody working their first crush in the Willamette Valley?

Get ready to get strong and dirty! You will do things you never thought possible. If you are open and go with the flow, this experience can shape you into a better version of yourself. Take the time to look up to the skies, admire the horizon, smell the roses (and the ferments) whenever possible and stock up on lots of coffee! Here we go! Onward!

 


Luisa Ponzi (Winemaker at Ponzi)

 

Q. Where have your harvest interns come from this year?

A. This year, we have interns from France, Germany, Atalanta, Texas, and right here in Oregon.

Q. When you aren’t tending to the grapes, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

A. What spare time?

Q. What do you find the hardest part of harvest?

A. Balancing harvest with other responsibilities. It just takes over.

Q. What is your harvest attire?

A. Jeans and flannel, boots

Q. What wines and foods are typically around your holiday table?

A. Whatever my mom is making paired with Ponzi wines.

 


Brad Ford (Winemaker at Illahe Vineyards)

 


Situated in the rolling foothills of Dallas just outside of Salem, Illahe Vineyards began with a planting of Müller-Thurgau in 1983. Second-generation vintner Brad Ford walks us through the cellar and his label’s adventures in sustainability, with rainbow mug in hand.

Learn more about Illahe Vineyards

Q. What’s your take on vintage 2017 thus far?

A. It’s been a good one. We got a lot of heat, but not as much ripeness as our previous years, so we had to wait through a few rains. They were mild enough that we got a fine harvest. It should be really fun following these wines in the barrel.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from making wine in the Willamette Valley?

A. I’ve only made wine here, so I can only guess what it’s like in comparison to anywhere else. I’m happy we have vintage variation. This job wouldn’t be interesting if I just ran pumps all the time.

Q. What is your go-to piece of equipment or tool in the cellar during harvest?

A. The rainbow mug! It’s essential for tasting press cuts. The best mug is a normal coffee mug with some stability and a bright, prominent rainbow with a good indicator of its previous owner or place of origin, for example: Grandma or Reno (We collect rainbow mugs, it’s one of the weird things we do here).

Q. Illahe pays special attention to sustainability and energy conservation, exemplified by your in-house bike pump. What other likeminded practices are you employing during harvest?

A. This year Nathan Litke rigged up our bike to the destemmer. It was phenomenal! We increased destemming power by about 250%.

Q. You just embarked on a tour from your Dallas estate to Portland by way of horse and canoe. Can you elaborate a bit on that adventure?

A. Our 1899 expedition is the culmination of our two-year work with our 1899 wine that we make without electricity or modern winemaking equipment. We started the 1899 project in 2011, and it was kind of a bummer to do all that work and see a truck come pick it up, so three years ago we thought, ‘what if we can get it to Portland without a truck?’ So we did, by way of horse, bike, and canoe. It took three days and 96 river miles. It really puts in perspective how much time things used to take without the technology we have today. This year, we moved ten cases down the river. It keeps getting better — we had a glamping dinner, a bunch of nice swims in beautiful hidden swimming holes, and quite enough wine. Sometimes it’s nice to slow things down.

Q. Is there a varietal you’ve always wanted to work with (and why)?

A. I’m looking forward to beginning a chardonnay program. I’m so glad we have great chardonnay experts in the valley to learn from.

Q. What do you like most about the Willamette Valley winemaking community?

I love how welcoming they are. I was born here, but I would never have been part of the community without a great deal of acceptance and sharing from my neighbors.

Q. Where would you like to work a harvest if you could, anywhere on the planet?

A. DRC (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti), of course.

Q. Is there a winemaking error you’ve made in recent history that you look back and now and laugh about?

A. The only one I try to avoid is not thinking too hard about all the mistakes I’ve made, which are uncountable. Practically, I wish I had spent more money earlier.

Q. What advice might you give to a somebody working their first crush in the Willamette Valley?

A. Stay here! We’re getting so much better every year, there’s room for everyone.

 


Brianne Day (Winemaker at Day Wines)

 

A key player in the Willamette Valley’s growing natural wine movement, Brianne Day operates from her nine-label collaborative in Dundee. Here, she chats the joys of co-fermentations, motherhood amid the madness and the importance of the White Board.

Learn more about Day Wines

Q. What are you liking about the 2017 vintage so far?

A. In most of my fruit, the TA is really high and pH is nice and low. With all the heat we’ve had this year, I wasn’t expecting that. I have Pinot in fermenter right now with 7.8 TA and 3.34 pH – bam! Sweet spot! Additionally, all of my wines are incredibly well behaved this year; very little reduction, no VA, no EA (ethyl-acetate). Since I do all native ferments, they often have EA when they start, but this year they are kicking into gear and getting warm so quickly, there’s no EA. I also like how much fruit is available this year, I have a bit of hand which always feels good.

Q. Is the vintage reminiscent of one you’ve worked before (which one and why)?

A. Maybe a bit like 2014. Lots of fruit, good acids, happy ferments.

Q. Are you trying anything new or making any new styles of wines this year?

A. Oh yes, I always do. I am making a Syrah-Viognier from Deux Vert vineyard in honor of my new baby son Viggo. I am trying to build this wine to last, I want him to be able to enjoy it when he’s older. I’m also making Chenin blanc from the Willamette Valley, it’s a grape I’ve always wanted to work with so I’m particularly excited about it.

Q. Does having a restaurant background affect your outlook on wine in any way?

A. For sure. I think it has made me super aware of cost of goods when making a wine, so I can price it competitively and for glass pour. I’m always trying to hit the right place with wine lists in mind — I think about the margin and price point constantly, from the cost and quality of fruit, to glass, packaging etc. In harvests like this, I will pick up last minute fruit that has a discount price to lower my COGs and pass a little savings through to my distributors. It also has made me more aware of what diners want to drink (there are definite demographic based patterns) as well as how the actual wine interacts with food.

Q. What’s the most underrated tool or piece of equipment in your cellar?

A. Underrated…so many things are SO useful and we’d be up Shit Creek without them (like the pressure washer and forklift). But underrated? For me this year I would have to say the Ergobaby. I’ve been carrying Viggo around in it all harvest and he loves it, he sleeps through anything; loading the press, driving the forklift, pigeages (traditional grape stomping), punchdowns, pump-overs, sorting. In fact, he loves it so much I wear it at home sometimes when I need to get him to sleep, and we’ve already worn one out and had to replace it.

Q. What’s the key to staying organized and on friendly terms in a shared facility like Day Camp?

A. A couple of things: 1. Staying flexible. Everyone’s schedule is a ballpark and we all have to keep that in mind and show grace to our roommates with their timing and schedules as well. Everyone in our space has a real can-do, community-minded attitude and we all seem to be on the same page of maximizing efficiencies even if it means stepping back and letting someone else go into the press or onto the sorting line first. But that flexibility is the big saving thing when there are nine winemakers in a building together. 2. Nate Wall and his White Board. I hired Nate (an old friend and industry stalwart) in August and it was absolutely the best decision I’ve made in years. Nate is keeping the rhythm of harvest beating along, putting out all fires, and keeping us all on track, with patience and calm good humor. He’s a life saver, and his White Board is always up to date with the schedule and allows all of us to communicate even though we come and go at different times.

Q. What varietal outside of Pinot Noir do you love working with most this time of year?

A. Oh gosh so many! I like to co-ferment all of my blends, the aromatics this creates are such a joy! My Syrah-Viognier, Pinot noir-gris-blanc, Müller Thurgau-Muscat-Riesling, and Viognier-Pinot gris all have such awesome aromatics. Its so fun to watch them progress through fermentation. They are full of surprises.

Q. Is there a particular vineyard or AVA you love sourcing from?

A. I get a real kick out of the Applegate Valley AVA. I have gotten Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet franc, Vermentino, Muscat, Syrah, Viognier, Malvasia Bianca, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Primitivo and Merlot from the Applegate Valley and that kind of variety just sparks off a creative inclination in me. I start feeling like a mad scientist/artist with that kind of material to work with, it’s so much fun. Herb Quady is a real saint and is making all of that possible. He’s the genius who planted most of these grapes, who tends them, and who keeps an eye on the fruit for the right pick dates. I might have fun playing with the perfect fruit, but Herb is the one who makes sure it’s perfect before I receive it.

Q. What advice would you give a first-timer working a Willamette Valley crush?

A. Don’t go to Lumpy’s. You’ll never be the same.

Q. What is the biggest harvest misconception?

A. That it’s all hard work and rock music and beer drinking. I can’t drink a darn thing because I’m breast feeding, I have to turn the music down because my little guy has new sensitive ears, and I go to sleep as soon as I possibly can instead of hanging out shooting the shit. But then these are all things specific to this year for me. Maybe next year when he’s one I’ll get back to beer drinking and shit shooting (hah, I wish).