An early grape harvest has made life sweeter for winery owners optimistic for a stellar vintage. To celebrate, many will be throwing harvest parties this weekend.
Delfino Vineyards, Melrose Vineyards and Girardet are among those hosting harvest celebrations and grape stomps. A number of others will host gatherings for members of their wine clubs. The Umpqua Velo Club will hold bicycle winery tours throughout the morning Saturday.
Others are choosing to take it easy.
“A lot of people don’t do anything after the harvest because they want to focus on production,” said Charles Humble, spokesman for the Portland-based Oregon Wine Board.
Either way, he said, more and more of Oregon’s 463 wineries and 849 vineyards are hosting their own gatherings to bring people through the door.
“Marketing events are becoming a real important way people sell wine in Oregon,” Humble said.
Some years, reds are harvested as late as Halloween. But many Douglas County vintners and vineyard owners contacted during the past week said they were nearly finished.
“It’s one of the earliest harvests we’ve seen in a while,” said Steve Renquist, horticulture agent with the Oregon State University Extension Service of Douglas County. “And the quality of the wine grapes is really outstanding.”
Peggy Becker of Becker Vineyard on Klahowya Lane in Roseburg said knowing when to pick comes down to recognizing a proper balance of acidity and sweetness. Brandborg Winery and others have equipment that measures pH and sweetness, to the decimal point. But often, Becker said, when a berry’s done, you just know.
“These are wonderful. The pH is there. The sweetness is there. The quality is fantastic,” she said.
Late September and early October are when most strains of vitus vinifera are at their ripest. It’s when the Umpqua Valley’s 70-plus vineyards hire extra hands, fill their bins and make hopeful trips to their buyers.
In the case of vineyard owners Robin and Lesa Ray, it was a trip down the road to TeSoAria Vineyard and Winery. They were on the crush pad Monday to watch their last bin of Riesling grapes get pressed by TeSoAria owner John Olson, and pumped by hose into 300-gallon tanks.
Lesa Ray was giddy with the juice that rained down from the presser, which bore only hints of the dry, semisweet fluid it was to become.
“It’s amazing how this turns into such a fantastic Riesling,” she said, sipping from a plastic cup.
Olson gives the tanks of white grape juice a two-day “cold soak” in a refrigerated room, followed by a six-week cold fermentation. He ages some of his wines up to three years.
The Rays, owners of Cooper Ridge Vineyards, are retired real estate developers from the Sunriver area. They bought their estate on 25 acres on the North Umpqua River in 2006, hoping to settle down.
“So much for that,” said Robin Ray. The land turned out to be so perfect for grape-growing, the Rays couldn’t avoid starting a vineyard.
“I’m working more now than I ever did before,” Robin Ray said.
When harvest time comes, the Rays occasionally hire part-time labor. But this weekend, weather permitting, Lesa Ray plans to make a big lunch. The couple will welcome friends to help them harvest the Riesling grapes left hanging for several extra weeks. The goal is to achieve a sweeter flavor for a dessert-style, late harvest Riesling.
“This is when you find out who your true friends are,” Lesa Ray said.
Like the Rays, Rod and Nina Pace of Anindor Vineyards in Elkton set aside some of their harvest for their own wines.
Their son, Chris Pace, said that with this year’s early harvest, there’s been little separation in harvesting varietals.
“It’s going to be busy for us for the next few weeks,” he said.
Renquist said Douglas County’s grape growers range from the amateur hobbyist with a couple acres off his home, to the owner of the full-blown, staffed industrial operation.
Birds, bugs and other wildlife present a major threat. A mature starling can eat a pound of fruit in a day. But the biggest danger to a crop could be molds and mildews like noble rot, which can wipe out an entire vintage, or even a vineyard.
At TeSoAria this week, cannon blasts sounded intermittently from neighboring vineyards. Olson uses nets to deter birds, but he’s not against using fear as a motivating tactic. He’s used other recordings to do the job, including a sound clip of a hawk killing a starling.
TeSoAria employee Amy Ashby said Monday this year’s early harvest has meant lighter, drier clothing on the crush pad, and long days and nights.
“We haven’t had a day off in weeks, but, you know, you work all year for this,” she said.
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.