Today’s guest blog is by Steve Styring of Styring Vineyards and Winery in the Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Every year come September, to others I may seem more like an expectant father than a winemaker. I’m constantly on alert – watching, waiting, checking and double-checking to be sure all is ready. Waiting for just the right time.
But then again, that’s not surprising. For me, winemaking is a very personal process. After all, I planted these vines myself nearly 14 years ago, and what happens right now, at this harvest, I have to live with for the next three years from grape to bottle… and, many years after that. So, I’ll focus all of my attention this time of year to nurture the grapes so they can produce the lush, complex Pinot Noir. That is our passion.
I find myself walking the vineyard constantly, watching closely as the fruit ripens slowly, transforming from bright green of youth through veraison to the deep black of harvest time. Then, I continue to taste the grapes, waiting until I can taste the moment. The moment they are beyond just ripe but resplendent with flavor. Only then we can begin their journey from grape on our vine to wine on your table.
At Styring, we’re always one of the last vineyards to harvest. It’s risky to wait. We end up sacrificing 10-20% of the crop to birds, animals and, at times, bunch rot. We spend many sleepless nights listening to rain on the roof, hoping it’s not enough to split the grapes. Hoping for a few last sunny days to impart a deeper, more satisfying level of flavor. It’s nerve-racking but, in the end, it’s well worth it when we can taste the potential, the beauty, the future. Then, it’s time.
Each cluster is hand-clipped and gently laid in a harvest bin. It requires a professional hand to do this quickly. The process starts early in the morning, when the temperature hovers between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The yeast is wild, you see, so keeping the grapes’ temperature low helps prevent early fermentation from taking place and retain the most color naturally. Gentle handling and quick harvest is one key to beautiful Pinot Noir.
One of our goals is to have the cleanest possible harvest, so we have help both at the bins and along the sorting table to remove MOG, or “Material Other than Grape.” This includes things like leaves, grass and sticks. At Styring, we’re a sustainable farm, so we pull a lot of living matter out of the grapes. We also remove the imperfect, unripe clusters.
As you can imagine, every harvest is different. In 2011 the weather was cool, slowing the ripening and pushing the harvest back. That year, we lost a percentage of our crop to damaging October rains and flocks of grape-eating migratory birds. This year’s crop holds great promise. We harvested about 11.3 tons of grapes, or just one and a quarter tons per acre. It was a beautiful harvest in terms of low yield, rich, luscious flavors, so we anticipate an outstanding release in 2019. It will be worth the wait.
As soon as we remove the grape clusters, the vine leaves turn from green to gold and another autumn takes hold in the vineyard. The grapes that weren’t quite ready for harvest ripen, feeding the birds and providing a snack for my wife and our trusty dog, Molly, on their daily walk through the fields. The vines know that their work is over… for now. Soon it will start again and we’ll be ready to begin again — the journey that all of us at Styring will take each year. The road to harvest is long and difficult. But, when we taste the wine, it’s worth every step. I hope you’ll come along with us for the journey.
Founded in 2003 by Steve and Florida-native Kelley Styring, Styring is a small, family owned/operated vineyard and winery that employs sustainable farming practices. We grow grapes that love Oregon’s Willamette Valley as much as we do and hand-craft small lots of award-winning wines. Everything we do in the vineyard is just as important as what we do in the winery, intimately tying the land, the fruit and the wine in the bottle. You can follow the journey from grape-to-table at www.styringvineyards.com. Try Styring Signature Pinot Noir at your local ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.