Tourist season might be coming to an end in the Rogue Valley but for all the local wineries the busy season is just beginning. Harvest is here, and that means picking, sorting, crushing, and fermenting grapes.
Harvest typically begins in the middle of September, when the wine grapes have reached an ideal sugar content on the vine. The majority of the winemaking process will last through the end of October and is followed by barrel and bottle aging, which can last anywhere from a couple months to a couple of years.
For the 2013 harvest I’ve been invited by EdenVale’s winemaker Ashley Campanella to help pick and sort grapes at the Medford vineyard and winery on Voorhies Rd. just north of Pheonix, OR. This is EdenVale Winery’s 13th harvest and it begins with a blessing and champagne toast to another successful and bountiful year. We’re toasting to the grapes, the winemaker, the equipment, the wine and the team that brings it all together.
Over 14 varietals grow on the EdenVale estate vineyard and we are kicking off harvest by picking Pinot Noir. The winemaker tells me, “it’s only 400 pounds,” and should not take very long to pick. It is just me and one other person tackling the two rows of Pinot, while the rest of the winery crew begins sorting Merlot grapes as they are delivered by the ton from a neighboring vineyard.
The sorting process is a little more involved than picking. Grapes arrive on the winery crush pad in plastic bins that hold 1000 pounds of grapes. The bins are hoisted up by a forklift and tipped into a large metal shoot that feeds the grape clusters onto a slanted conveyor belt that leads towards the destemmer. The winery crew stands on both sides of the conveyer sorting through the grapes and picking out leaves, stems, under-ripe or over-ripe fruit, and bugs.
We are sorting through almost 9 tons of Merlot grapes today, a process that will take a few hours. Once sorted, the grape clusters drop into a de-stemmer, which removes the stems leaving the grapes intact. The sorted and de-stemmed grapes go into a holding tank with a mixture of dry ice, enzymes and oak dust for a cold soak. Cold soaks allow for maximum color extraction from the grape skins without a leaving a bitter flavor from too many tannins.
With many busy days ahead, the EdenVale winemaker anticipates a great harvest and a wonderful 2013 vintage. In the next few weeks, more grapes will be picked, sorted, stored, crushed and fermented. EdenVale’s 2013 white wines will be available by the following summer while their 2013 red wines will age for a few years before being released.