Archive for the ‘Growing Wine Grapes’ Category

Why Fall is the “On Season” for Oregon Wine Country

October 14th, 2014 by Rachel

Fall Oregon Wine Country - at Youngberg Hill Inn and Winery The end of the summer season is often when many vacation destinations close their doors. Not here in the Willamette Valley.  This is actually one of our busiest times of year.  Why is that?  Two words: Harvest Season.

Many wineries all around the Yamhill and Willamette Valleys are still filled with golden or purple grapes, getting a little more hang time or being enthusiastically harvested.

The grapes aren’t the only thing changing color. The leaves on the vines are turning too.  You haven’t seen Oregon wine country until you have seen row after row of gorgeous, fall color lighting up the vines. Our valley is a photographer’s dream. This is one of the reasons the Willamette Valley was listed in the top ten places to go leaf peeping in America.

The amazing fall foliage, the activity and excitement of harvesting grapes, and all that delicious wine make autumn the right time to visit wine country.  It’s truly gorgeous.Wildlife at Youngberg Hill

Additionally, because Youngberg Hill is a holistic vineyard which works with nature, this is a great time of year to see anything from elk to any number of birds.  Many animals can be seen on our grounds as well as at nearby locations like Cascadia State Park, Dexter State Recreation Site, and Jasper State Park.

Finally, for the those who want a break from the outdoors, Youngberg Hill is located by several cities with great shopping (local art, handmade chocolates, or artisan soaps, anyone?), delicious food, and – of course – plenty of wine.  There are also several microbrews available for those who want to add some variety to their palate.

Harvest season is the most exciting time of year to be on a vineyard in Oregon Wine Country. When’s your favorite time to visit?

All About the Crush

August 19th, 2014 by Rachel

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The harvest season is often referred to as “The Crush,” taking its name from a very important step in the winemaking process. Though foot-stomping instantly comes to mind, there is a lot more to the crush than that.

Harvesting begins once the grapes reach peak ripeness. Knowing when to harvest is not an exact science, but it usually occurs with summer turns to fall. Each grape cluster is then carefully sorted to ensure only the best fruit goes into the wine.

 

 

That’s when the crushing begins. The purpose of this stage is to break open the skins, exposing the juice and pulp. The grapes’ seeds and stems aren’t crushed because they contain the very important tannins. Not only do tannins contribute to the texture of the wine, but they are invaluable to the color and bitterness of it as well. The sooner the stems are removed in the crushing process, the less tannic a wine will be. Sometimes the stems aren’t removed until right before fermentation and pressing, which is why red wines tend to be more bitter than their white counterparts.

The crush is a very symbolic portion of the harvest season, and of winemaking in general. In fact, there are many festivals celebrating it, including the local Carlton Crush next month. These festivals are family-friendly and delight in one of our area’s greatest traditions. And, of course, there’s a lot of foot-stomping!

 

The Basic Steps of Winemaking

July 15th, 2014 by Rachel

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The basic steps of winemaking are a mix of chemistry and alchemy.  The process turns grapes into something which has sparked the imagination of many for generations.

 

As poet Robert Louis Stevenson said “Wine is bottled poetry.”

 

While winemaking is both an art and a skill, there are specific steps one must take in order to make something they can call wine.  Here are the very basic steps of winemaking:

1. Harvest perfectly ripe grapes.  Remember, you need about 600-800 grapes to get one bottle of wine.

2.  The grapes, once picked, must be inspected for quality.  You don’t want any rotten grapes or raisins sneaking in to your wine.  Additionally, the grapes must be destemmed.

3.  The wine grapes are crushed and either fermented in their own skins (if it’s a red wine you’re going for) or the skins are removed (for white wine).

4. Fermentation requires that yeasts grow and begin to eat the sugar contained in the grapes and make alcohol.  Many wineries help this process along by adding yeast cultures.

5. Any sediment is removed and the wine matures in barrels of whichever type the winemaker chooses. Some wines have very little sediment removed while others are as filtered out as possible.

6. The wine is bottled, corked, and labeled for your purchase!

This is a very, very stripped down version of winemaking.  Some of the biggest factors in winemaking are time, tasting, and testing.  All of these help a winemaker decide when to bottle, how much to filter, and more.

Here’s to the magic of winemaking!

 

How Does Grafting Wine Grapes Work?

July 1st, 2014 by Rachel

July Blog 1 - Pic 1Many wine grapes in the US are grafted on – meaning the root of the grape plant isn’t the exact same strain as the top of the plant.  This is often a way of strengthening delicate grape types by giving it a hardier or more pest resistant root system.

Grafting wine grapes can also be used by winemakers to replace existing grapes with a new type.  So, if a winery wanted to grow Chardonnay where they were growing Pinot Noir, they would only have to graft Chardonnay grapes onto the existing roots.  This means a winery can begin producing the new grapes much more swiftly than if they had dug up their previous grapes and planted a whole new grape plant.

Why do Many Wineries Graft?

The majority of wine grapes you hear about are grafted onto rootstock due to an American pest. Back before we had officials to check whether certain plants carried disease or bugs that the ecosystem of other countries can’t handle, American vines were important to England and Europe.

Unfortunately, these vines came with a little pest that attack grapes.  The wine grapes in these areas had no natural resistance to the pest – so wine production was almost halted in Europe for a time. After the pest was discovered, winemakers developed a work-around.  They grafted their grapes to American rootstock, which has a resistance to the pests.

The practice of grafting in order to improve a grape varieties’ chance of survival continues to this day.

How to Graft

The process of grafting is pretty simple, but requires a lot of skill and expertise. Basically:

1. The root onto which the plant will be grafted is planted and allowed to establish itself.

2. Any trunks growing from the root are cut down to the ground at a spot which is approximately the same size as the trunk of the plant to be grafted.

3. A cut is made both in the trunk and the plant which is to be grafted on.  The plant and trunk are notched together.

4. They are then tied together with a material to keep the graft in place.

5. Soil is used as an additional support and as a moist surface which will help the plant heal more swiftly.

In the end, you have the varietal you want to grow attached to a root which will give it the protection and nutrients it needs to produce fantastic wine.  We can all raise a glass to that!

 

The Elements of a Great Harvest

June 3rd, 2014 by Rachel

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The elements of a great harvest are both unique and vital to a successful vintage.  Harvest times depends upon many factors, including the year’s weather conditions, crop size, and ripeness.  The decision of when to pick the grapes has a huge impact on the wine’s complexity, flavor, and richness.  Grapes picked too young can fall short in these factors – while overripe grapes can add too much sugar and alcohol to the wine.  The perfectly ripe grape harvest is something every winemaker seeks.

Additionally, great harvest times for every type of wine varies – depending on where the grape is grown and the type of grape.  The grape of choice in many Pacific Northwest vineyards is Pinot, which is usually harvested anytime in fall – depending on the year’s weather.  This is true here in Youngberg Hill and is true for many wineries in the Willamette Valley.

Determining harvest time includes working out how sweet the grapes are.  Sweetness/sugar levels will affect the amount of alcohol in the wines.  Think back for a second…what are the sweetest grapes you have eaten?  If you thought raisins, you were on to something.  Dried fruit has more sugar in it than fresh, perfectly ripe fruit.  The last thing you want in your Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris is a oversweet, raisiny taste and an alcohol level that overwhelms the complexity and depth the wine could show if the grapes were ripe during harvest.

As sugar levels in wine grapes rise, acid levels fall. You want the perfect balance of these two factors to create a well-balanced wine.  With our wine, we want to showcase the land and the grapes – this means the wine itself must be balanced perfectly to allow these amazing factors to shine through.

Another important aspect in determining harvest time is the physiological ripeness of the grapes. This isn’t just tasting the grapes and deciding they taste good enough to eat – we have to take a look at the whole grape including the seeds, skin, and stems.  If those aren’t ripe, they will affect the wine flavor.

Deciding upon the perfect harvest time is a heart stopping procedure that causes plenty of excitement and anxiety each and every year.  But, I think you’ll agree that we hit the nail on the head with our 2013 harvest.  Our newest Pinot Gris is out and we think you’ll find it’s smooth and stunning.