Winemaker Q & A

#WVHarvest2018


We caught up with some of our vintner friends to find out how they survive harvest.


 


Dave Specter (Owner & Winemaker – Bells Up Winery)

Q. What IS your harvest attire of choice?

A. My wife Sara refers to it affectionately (I think) as the “Oompa Loompa Suit.” It’s an old orange hoodie worn under my brown, chest-high waders. I avoid the green curly hair and my songs aren’t teaching morality lessons, but otherwise I can’t argue the resemblance.

Q. What is your favorite harvest snack?

A. My good friend Jim Dill at Vidon Vineyard makes delicious pickles that are about as big as my head and nicely spicy. He calls them “Dill’s Dills” and just one of them is enough to power through a long physical afternoon.

Q. what is the most challenging part of harvest?

A. Definitely logistics management. Even with a tiny, 400-case operation like mine, there are five vineyard pick dates to coordinate, plus making sure all the processing equipment is clean, operational and ready to receive the fruit in time. And then assembling harvest and sorting line volunteers. And making sure we have enough food on hand to feed those people—thankfully my wife Sara takes care of that part.

And finally, of course, finding time to pray that the weather holds up until your fruit is off the vine and in the door safely!

Q. what is your favorite part of harvest season?

A. Believe it or not, my favorite part is at the end of an 18-hour harvest and sorting day, when it’s dark and I’m soaked, sticky and covered in grape skins. I’m exhausted and in desperate need of a shower. But I know that I’ve put in a good, honest, hard day’s work and that long days like this are what makes it possible to produce amazing wines that put smiles on the faces of our customers.


remy drabkin (Owner & Winemaker – remy wines)

Q. What IS your go-to harvest snack?

A. Same as everyone else: beer.

Q. What’s your favorite part of harvest season?

A. At Remy Wines we believe in keeping the mind and body healthy during harvest. Not only do my mom, wife and friends cook us delicious meals, we have weekly massage, acupuncture and yoga every few weeks and at least one round of “harvest haircuts.” Other than actually making the wines, treating our team to a little self care is my favorite part of harvest.

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

A. 1972 Wilmes Press competes for my fav piece of equipment every year. The runner up is always the thing that doesn’t break.

Q. What’s your favorite place in town to grab a drink after a long day?

A. My shower… cold beer in a hot shower in the middle of the night is just about the perfect end to a long day.

Note: Media director Erin Butler, on the right in the photo, adds that she wrote a song about shower beer, sung to the tune of “O Christmas Tree”: 
The water’s hot, but you are cold; 
Your can is silver, but you are gold
Oh Shower Beer, Oh Shower Beer
How do I love thee… (repeat)


florent merlier (Winemaker – van duzer vineyards)

Q. What is your harvest attire of choice?

A. The key piece of workwear to attack a long harvest day is my Mascot Pants. European-made, those are lightweight heavy duty fabrics with a reflective band (safety first) and they are slightly water repellent. This started the nickname Mister Fancy pants from my friend Andy Gribskov (winemaker at Anne Amie Vineyard), who’s secretly jealous.

Q. What’s your favorite harvest snack?

A. Well it’s pretty obvious: burritos, a “French classic.” Easy to eat in any conditions (on the forklift, while sampling the vineyard, on the sorting table…), a perfect balance of carbs, meat and on top of that it is pack with at least 5 veggies (+/-). There is a rumor at Van Duzer that there is a direct correlation between the amount I eat and my stress level. I call this fake news.

Q. What’s your favorite part of harvest season?

A. Punching down is the pinnacle of the harvest experience where the mix of heat, the slight oxygen depravation and the blast of warm carbon dioxide (increasing heart rate) produce by fermentation mixes with volatile aromas (floral and fruity) dabbing the cellar, creating that exhilarating sensation. I would be lying if I said that finally getting a day off after two months of hard labor isn’t also satisfying.


jessica mozeico (owner & Winemaker – et fille wines)

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

A. Being wet! I am always so jealous of wine tasters that come to the winery looking so dry, warm, and chic with their cute little leather boots and cozy sweaters.

Q. What’s your favorite harvest snack?

A. Tacos, tea, cheese sticks, and whatever Crush Crew lunch my mom made for us.

Q. do you have any tricks for staying organized during the most demanding days?

A. I write everything down. The data and decisions are flying by in warp speed and I won’t remember it at the end of the day, week, or vintage. I write my impressions down in a daily log (measurements, additions, smells, tastes, etc.), which is why I carry one of those little Sharpies and paper towels in my pockets so I always have something to write with. Months later when I am tasting through the wine, I can review what happened during crush and start to see if I notice any themes.

Q. What advice would you give to someone approaching their first harvest?

A. Ask your colleagues for their impressions of the wines. Palates are subjective so we each bring our own perspective to what we are tasting. Listen to what others have to say about what you are smelling and tastingit may expand your point of view.


Mark rutherford, assistant winemaker; Joe Wright, winemaker; Alex Lindblom, lead harvest intern; nick shown, cellarmaster  (left coast cellars)

Q. What is your favorite harvest snack?

A. Beer.

Q. What is your harvest attire of choice?

A. Yoga pants (Editor’s note: Pics or it didn’t happen.)

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

A. Dumb questions ( YES, there are such things).

Q. What is your favorite piece of harvest equipment?

A. Bottle opener.

Q. What is your favorite part of harvest season?

A. Impromptu feasts!

Q. What is your favorite place to grab a drink after a long day?

A. Yeasty Beasty.

Q. Do you have any harvest superstitions?

A. Don’t think a day off in the middle of harvest is a good idea. 

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

A. Write it down / Drink Water / Eat.

Q. What advice would you give someone approaching their first harvest?

A. Enjoy it!


Steve Anderson (Winemaker, Eola Hills Wine Cellars)

Q. What is your harvest soundtrack?

A. Chumba Wumba, “I get knocked down”

Ottmar Liebart, “Barcelona Nights”

EDM channel (Electronic Dance Music): Fast, loud and keeps the right pace to get things done.

Q. doing anything different in the cellar this year?

A. Trials with new yeast (new to me), just in case I can find one better suited to my style of winemaking.

Q. What is your favorite harvest snack?

A. Lasagna. Pizza is second-best, albeit easier to get.

Q. What is your favorite piece of harvest equipment?

A. Pulse-Air machine. It is used to mix the fermenting grapes. Quick, simple, efficient.

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

A. Rain.

Q. What is your favorite part of harvest season?

A. Evenings when everyone is gone home, I am unloading fruit and pressing juice, looking at the stars and moon, and a meteor shoots across the sky. Literally awesome.

Q. What is your favorite place in town to grab a drink after a long day?

A. Long days and into night. Home is best. A beer in the shower, and into bed!

Q. Do you have any harvest superstitions?

A. No superstitions, but I started not shaving until harvest is over. Just for fun!

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

A. White board posted daily with incoming fruit and requested tank movements. COFFEE! Espresso! And more coffee, with chocolate milk!

Q. What advice would you give someone approaching their first harvest?

A. You have to be committed. We get this one chance to harvest each year at a specific time, and believe me, it is hard, long hours, and seems never-ending! When we are done you will be proud, and pleased. The paycheck will be surprising as well! OVERTIME GALORE!


Luzaan Bahr (Assistant Winemaker – Union Wine Co.)

 

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

A. There is never enough time in a day. With our size winery we operate around the clock and even then I wish there were more hours in a day to smash some grapes.

Q. what is your favorite thing about harvest season?

A. There are so many! I will always remember the very first time I smelled freshly pressed grape juice doing my first harvest season. This was the moment I knew I wanted to be a winemaker. So every year I walk around and smell that distinct pressed juice aroma I am reminded why I love what I do. My other favorite is that it is also the time of year when the sunrises and sunsets are extra beautiful in the Valley.

Q. where is your favorite place in town to grab a drink after a long day?

A. Hot Seat bar is a hidden gem in Tualatin and they have the best Hawaiian Margaritas. I can never only have one.

Q. What advice would you give someone approaching their first harvest?

A. Ask questions and ask a lot of questions. I always encourage interns to get as involved in every aspect of the process as possible to get the best full experience that harvest has to offer. Work hard, work smart, but try not to take yourself too seriously.


Jerry Murray (Owner & Winemaker – Project M Wines)

 

Q. What is your favorite thing about this time of year?

This time of year the light is simply beautiful. Autumn evenings take on this yellow and orange tint that, to me, is shared by the color of foliage as it begins to die for the year. I also believe that during this time of year we are inclined to focus more. Throughout our evolution this was the season of harvest and preparation. I think Fall is when we are capable of doing our best work.

Q. What is your go-to harvest attire?

A. I get into my work and in return it gets onto me. My work “uniform” is more or less an old t-shirt, a pair of Duluth Trading Company Fire Hose Logger Pants and a long sleeve button up shirt with chest pockets. No fashion awards have yet been issued.

Q. What’s your favorite place to grab a drink after a long day?

A. Earlier in my career, before starting my family, I often found myself heading out after work. My favorite spot was the Blue Moon in McMinnville. Now my favorite is place to grab a drink is home. Being home keeps me grounded and reminds me why I do the work.

Q. What’s your key for staying organized and sane during the busiest days?

A. For me the key to staying organized is getting an early start. Getting to the winery before everyone else allows you to get a game plan together before you start getting bombarded with requests, questions, problems, etc. It isn’t uncommon for me to arrive at the winery at 4:30 a.m. on some days.


Jim Maguire, DTC & Tasting Room Mgr (pictured); Dominique mahé, winemaker; Sam Hockett, harvest intern (Furioso Vineyards)

 

Q. what do you find to be the most challenging part of harvest?

A. From Dominique Mahé, winemaker: “This year it has been the inaccuracy of the forecast regarding rain. Days that were supposed to be no rainit’s pouring. It makes it very hard to schedule picking and production crews.”

Q. What is your favorite piece of harvest equipment?

A. From Sam Hockett, harvest intern: “The de-stemmer because it’s fun to watch the separation process with the grapes going into the fermenter and the stems being collected to be composted.”

Q. Where’s your favorite part of harvest season?

A. From Jim Maguire, DTC and Tasting Room Manager: “The change in the weather. Mornings become cool and everything is covered in dew. The vineyards play hide and seek in the morning fog. Mother Nature and the entire staff seem to be holding their collective breath before the craziness of harvest hits us.”

Q. What advice would you give to someone working their first harvest?

A. From Sam Hockett, harvest intern: “Be prepared to not know exactly when you will start or when your shift will end, especially at a small winery. If you live locally – you need to clear your schedule. Harvest is harvest and your time is no longer your own.”


Stephen Hagen (Farmer and Winemaker at Antiquum Farm)

 

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)

 

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)

 

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)

 

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)

 

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)

 

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).

 


 

Clare Carver (Owner & Winemaker – 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)

 

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)

 

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!


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.


Leo Gabica (Winemaker – 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.

 


Bruno Corneaux (Proprietor & Winemaker – 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)

 

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.