Archive for September, 2011

Sustainable Farming

September 26th, 2011 by Nicolette Bailey

In Youngberg Hill’s last blog on farming we discussed organic grape growing and the difference between growing grapes organically and making wine organically.  Today, we will talk about the difference between organic and sustainable farming.

Organic farming is basically a building block to sustainable farming. Sustainable practices are a little more arbitrary in that in most cases there are many different certifying organizations and you do not have to be certified organic to get sustainable certification. I like to compare sustainable farming to maintaining and improving the health of your own body. Every year, you go to the doctor, get an exam, and have tests done to find any deficiencies or excesses in your body. Then you take appropriate action to correct those deficiencies or imbalances. Youngberg Hill does the same with the vines and the soil. We test each year to determine any deficiencies or imbalances the vines or soil have and then we take corrective action via composting, cover crops, and other organic measures  to improve the health of both the plants and the soil. Our goal is for both to be healthier in the future than today and we are doing it systemically.

Youngberg Hill uses these practices because we believe that by improving the health of the soil and the vines, that health will translate into healthier vines that will live much longer, hopefully hundreds of years. Under current “standard practices” vines are typically replaced after 30 to 40 years, if not earlier. Older vines continue to draw more deeply on the terrior of the vineyard and the fruit will develop more character and sense of place. That transitions into wines with more vitality, more unique qualities, and more life and vibrancy.

Farming with these practices will produce wines that have different characteristics than the average commercial bottle of wine. By taking the opportunity to taste these wines, you will be able to identify with those characteristics that most appeal to you. Do you know how old the vines are of the wines you are drinking? Do you know where the fruit was grown? What qualities do you identify with?

Steamboat Oregon Pinot Conference

September 22nd, 2011 by Nicolette Bailey

The Steamboat Conference is a Pinot Noir producers’ seminar with winemakers from around the world. The main purpose is to critically taste Pinots and openly discuss growing and making wine from Pinot Noir. This is a serious peer review and peer support event that meets every July.

The Steamboat Conference started in 1980 as a means of “Improving the Breed”.  Like the wine, the Conference continues to evolve. Today its objectives are the following:

1. To bring Pinot noir producers together to blind taste and evaluate unfinished Pinots from around the globe, New World and Old.

2. To openly exchange information and share experiences regarding the growing of Pinot noir and the styles and techniques of Pinot noir winemaking.

3. To improve the overall growing and producing of Pinot noir.

“Steamboat Process” is the blind tasting and critical discussion of one unfinished, unbottled barrel sample Pinot Noir from each of the wineries present.  There are usually 25-40 wines that are critically reviewed.  Everyone has a voice in each wine reviewed.  Each table does a panel report to all and then the winemaker must blindly take ownership of the wine. At that point the bottle is unveiled.

Once you take ownership of the reviewed wine you then present your facts relating to farming, harvest, and winemaking.  And the personal pressure is almost to the point of blowout.  Additional peer input is provided supporting your efforts to produce the finest Pinot Noir possible.  It is amazing after standing in the defense of your wine to have the “Rock Stars” of the industry wholly focused on assisting in your success.

After the conference and a good night’s rest in my bed at the vineyard I immediately proceeded to the winery to make a minor correction driven by the feedback from their “Steamboat Conference”.  Tough as it can be, continuous improvement is a critical objective and the Steamboat Conference is one of the best tools we have to move higher in our pursuit of excellence.

A Discussion on “Organic” Wines

September 19th, 2011 by Nicolette Bailey

There continues to be confusion on many fronts as to what constitutes “organic” wines. First, lets differentiate between grape growing and wine making. In the English language there is not a word for both the winemaker and the farmer growing the grapes. In French, the word is ‘vigneron’. The French vigneron also considers him or herself a farmer first and then a steward of the wine making process. In the US, they could be two different individuals and often times are. Therefore, when we talk about “organic” we must also identify whether we are talking about grape growing or wine making.

Organic farming simply means not putting any inorganic material on the plants or the soil. There can be much interpretation as to what “organic material” is and what is not. There are many manufactured products that are considered organic and meet the USDA’s certification criteria. There are many that believe that any manufactured material is not “organic”. And while there are many who choose not to get organic certification, they may be using farming practices that meet or exceed what is required for certification. For most, it is not the desire to be certified and to market as such; it is to farm in a responsible manner that is healthier for the soil, the grapes, the wine, and the consumer.

Organic farming should not be confused with organic wine making or organic wines. Wines that are made with organically farmed grapes are just that and would not by most, be considered organic wines. While there is no one certification process for “organic wines”, it is widely accepted that for a wine to be “organic”, there would not be anything added to the wine. But that last statement, however, is fraught with disagreement as to what constitutes “anything added”.

Over the next few weeks, we will continue this series to discuss sustainable and biodynamic farming. In the meantime, we would be interested to know if you look for certain certifications on the back label of a wine and if so, what are you looking for?

Grape Veraison in Oregon Pinot Noir

September 9th, 2011 by Nicolette Bailey

Veraison is the ripening process as wine grapes change color from green to a deep blue purple. This color change typically takes place in late August/early September, but with this year’s late spring, we have not yet seen much change. There are many other changes taking place in the grapes as they are ripening and all are important to the development of the fruit and the resultant wine.

As the color is changing, we are able to identify fruit that is most likely not going to ripen or will not ripen when a majority of the fruit will and best to cut off so it is not picked at harvest time. During this time the sugar content (brix)of the grapes is increasing, ph (acidity) is decreasing, and tartaric acid is going down. These three quantifiable measures help gauge the ripening of the grapes. We are also looking at more subjective measures such as the seeds to see how they are turning from green to brown, the consistency of the pulp to see that it is losing its firmness and adherence to the seed, and, of course, the flavors. Every vintage is different. Some years, the flavors tend to set in earlier during the ripening of the grapes and then there are years when the flavors do not begin to show up until the very end. Even if all other elements are where you want them, if the flavors are not there, they will not be in the wine.

So as the grapes are starting to ripen, everything is dependent on Mother Nature, specifically the weather. It is very important to have dry sunny days that are not too hot. October makes or breaks a vintage in the Willamette Valley, especially for Pinot Noir. We need that time on the vines to ripen the fruit to its full potential. At the same time, the weather is changing.  Rain showers start to come in from the ocean. They may be just a short drizzle or a day long pouring. If it only lasts a day or so, it will be fine as long as we have some sunny dry weather following. We are constantly watching the weather patterns out in the Pacific to determine what to anticipate for weather and whether to hold tight and hope that the weather passes, or decide to harvest fruit while it is dry.

It is an anxious time, waiting. When the decision is made to harvest and the day arrives, it is very exciting to bring the fruit in from the vineyard into the winery. To see and feel the the fruit of your labor since January come safely into the winery, is both a relief and pride. When driving back to the vineyard at the end of the day, however, while it has been filled with anticipation and excitement, there is a little let down when I see the vines naked of fruit that I have nurtured all summer long.