Harvest 2016: A Day in the Life
5:00 am: The alarm goes off, marking the beginning of the 25th day of harvest at Nicolas-Jay in the Willamette Valley. My intrepid city-turned-vineyard dog, Lily, who kept me company during the drive from Los Angeles, is already awake and eager to get out the door. Tea in hand, I set out in the morning darkness to Bishop Creek, the vineyard we farm and own in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Today is an important pick for the team: we’re harvesting the old Pommard vines planted in the early 1980’s, and what will likely become our Bishop Creek single vineyard for 2016.
7:00 am: The vineyard workers have been filling cherry bins for 30 minutes as the sun rises and the sky goes from pink to orange. Small bins are a Jean-Nicolas requisite, ensuring the grapes arrive in perfect condition to the winery. The cherry bins are the perfect size, they’re easy for the pickers to use but also allow us to make sure not more than two layers of grapes are on top of each other.
9:30 am: The fruit from Bishop Creek is gently being unloaded on the sorting line, where a small crew of friends, family and shareholders are hard at work. It’s a slow process and we test everyone’s patience: every cluster must be absolutely perfect. The grapes from Bishop Creek are beautiful, dark purple, small concentrated berries, bursting with flavor. Tasting a few off the sorting line builds anticipation--I think about the wine these grapes will become over the next 15 months. Traveling up the sorting table, the clusters then go through the de-stemmer and fall into a stainless steel vat in the cellar below. A gentle pumpover (bringing juice that has moved to the bottom of the vat to the top) homogenizes the newly crushed fruit and allows us to test for sugar levels. The vat then moves to the cool room where we’ll let the fruit soak for 4-5 days.
12:00 pm: Some final grape samples are needed from one of our last remaining vineyards to pick, the Momtazi Vineyard. When I first got to Oregon in late August, I spent the first weeks gathering samples from the 11 vineyards we work with. From these samples we gauge when we should pick—it’s part science but more importantly, instinct and taste. When we arrive at Momtazi, Lily bounds out of the car and runs after the ground squirrels, the birds and even sometimes the deer and elk. I trudge from one corner of the vineyard to the other, picking as I go to get a good representation of the fruit ripeness across the site. I put the clusters in Ziplock bags and walk back to my car with a reluctant Lily before we head back to the lab.
3:00 pm: After we measure the fruit from Momtazi for acid and pH levels, we do pumpovers. This full-body workout happens twice a day, every day during harvest, both to our cold soaking vats and also to our fermenting vats. After the juice has been allowed to sit in a cold room for several days, it is then moved to a warmer room where the wild yeasts really go to town on all the natural sugar. When the wine is almost dry, we break the cap (the skins and seeds on top of the juice) with a steel rod. We do this gently, tasting each day to watch the evolution of the wine.
5:00 pm: We taste through all the wines at various stages of the fermentation process. Tracy sends our tasting notes to Jean-Nicolas, who has just left Oregon to start harvest in Burgundy. We can hear the press working in the background. Soon we’ll be pressing off our wines, one of the most exciting parts of harvest, when you can really begin to taste the wine these grapes will become. After pressing, we’ll let the wine settle before finally putting it in barrel, where it will sleep for 12-15 months.
7:00 pm: We’re fortunate to make wine at Adelsheim Vineyards, an established winery with a full kitchen and a harvest chef. Dinners are a highlight of these long days, when the Adelsheim and Nicolas-Jay teams sit together and reflect on the day and the tasks that remain for the evening. I look around the table and think about the winemaking life everyone here has chosen: the pay is nothing special, but the food is great and the wine is even better. Being part of making something special–a wine to be shared around the world by friends…with friends.