Author: kevin

2014 Update – August Freight Train

When last we left, I had predicted a harvest start date of September 23rd.  We had a warm spring, leading to an early start of bloom, which, given the time driven nature of phenolic development, usually leads to an early harvest.  That’s about, oh, a week early.


And, well, then we got summer.   A lot.


The rumbling of an approaching freight train could be heard in the 2nd half of July…our projected harvest crept from a week ahead to 8 days….9 days…10 days…


Then the August Freight train came in- 100 degree days, average temperatures well above normal, color change in the grapes, hot-sweaty pouring events where the ice chilled Gris tasted like nectar.…and the forecast is now 12 days ahead and – given the 90 degree days forecast for the 2nd half of August – rapidly headed for two+ weeks ahead.

Monster Cluster #2





Oh yeah – did I mention that the crop looks to be huge this year?





I think – probably – that every winemaker has a moment of HARVEST PANIC!!!!  Sometimes it’s only a moment before the end of day beer in an otherwise smooth harvest.  Other times it lasts all harvest.  For me, last week I was enjoying a nice camping trip when, on the last morning of the trip, my brain woke up and started putting the calendar together-given the accelerating schedule – and….ahhhhh!!!!!!!  We’ve got a lot to do before harvest – bottle some of the 2013’s, clean the winery, get new tanks, get new barrels, do lots of cluster samples, pick some grapes for sparkling (wait-forget I told you that) and, oh, work on getting a new building (with a small tasting room!!!!) going.


It’s a great way to ruin an otherwise fun camping trip.


So – for those of you who love bottling (really?- love ya!), we’ll be doing that the last week of August and the first week of September.  Contact us if you can help!  If you’re interested in experiencing the joys of harvest – I’d block out the last two weeks of September and the first week of October.  2014 is coming on fast & hot – I think a vintage similar to 2009 is likely.


Of course…just like last year, we could have an ex-typhoon role through during harvest.  Each vintage is unique and we love them all.   The 2014 version is coming on fast.

Things are coming into focus…

Well, the fun part of making wine predictions is that you get to be, well, wrong.

Bloom well underway - and early.
Bloom well underway – and early.


A few posts back, I explained how it looked like we were running late.  I did point out that things can change quite a bit with a bit of heat.  I *may* have also had a bit of an error in my measurements….yeah, it happens to the best of us.  At any rate, we were late – just not quite as late as I thought – but we needed some help/heat to get ahead.


Well, we sure got it.  Now we’re ahead.  At least a week ahead.  What a difference six weeks and a properly functioning spreadsheet makes…


As you can see, bloom has started – and is well on its way – throughout the vineyard.  The Chardonnay started off the party, followed shortly by our oldest Pinot blocks as well as the 115 (of course).  As I’ve noted before – the date of bloom & set really sets the harvest date.  Like being pregnant – it takes a certain amount of time for grapes to get ready – and that clock started early.


So – having made a somewhat embarrassing prediction the last go around, why don’t I fire up another one.  I predict that our harvest will start on….September 23rd.  Why that day?  Well, it’s very close to what we are projecting off the start of bloom (100-110 days) and it’s a Tuesday.  I figure it’ll take the weekend and Monday to convince ourselves to pick…so, call it Tuesday.


Naturally, Nature wants to keep things tricky – we have some rain forecast for the next several days.  Rain – and the cold weather that accompanies it – can disrupt bloom, leading to a small crop.  The bloom has been going for some time – so it should be substantially complete – and the rain isn’t forecasted to be too much…but still, we’ll cross our fingers that things don’t get too disrupted.


This rain is a good example that just because we have a decent idea of when harvest will start doesn’t mean we’ll know what the vintage will be like.  We could – as noted – get a small crop from a poor set.  We could have a really hot summer – and big wines – or a cool summer with leaner wines.  It could – like last year – rain at harvest, causing delays and problems.  It could not rain at all – a la 2008 – and allow for a delay or harvest for more ripeness.  There are still many variables in play.


But, at least one big one is now know.  Looks like we’re going to be early.

In Memorium

Memorial Day is not Veteran’s Day.  The two often seemed to be co-mingled, one at the beginning of Summer, the other at the beginning of Winter.  A day off from work (hopefully), a flag to put out, a veteran to be thanked.  Good intentions all, but there is one difference.


On Memorial Day, the Veterans you thank cannot say you’re welcome.  Memorial Day is for those who have given all.



I am fortunate enough to be a Graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Class of 1994.  I am also lucky enough to have served and returned.  To date – and to the the best of my count, 17 of my classmates have not.  I fear that number is higher – it’s been a number of years since I last visited Memorial Hall.


They made their ultimate sacrifice in a variety of ways.  Some fell, of course, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  For others, it was an otherwise ordinary day in the Navy.  All Quiet on The Western Front, if you will.  Some were just trying to get home from a football game.  Out of respect for the privacy of their families I won’t list their names here, but they are more than just names on a memorial.  They are my fencing team classmates.  They suffered with me through Aerospace Engineering classes or Division Officer School together.  I spent 4 years together by the Bay with them.


This Memorial Day is more poignant than most, for twenty years ago we were commissioned.  Our time at the Academy was at – for many – a joyous end, and we would soon held out to start our service and our lives.  It was the last time, this side of heaven, that all of us would be gathered together.


We didn’t know what awaited us out there in the Fleet.  We didn’t know we would stand a lonely watch over far away stations while our Country enjoyed one of it’s biggest economic booms in history.  We didn’t know we would miss ten Thanksgivings in a row.  We didn’t know Iraq and Afghanistan were waiting.  We didn’t know about 9/11.


We didn’t know the good things that were coming either.  Qualifying as a SWO, a Naval Aviator, a Submariner.  The immense pride of leading Marines.  The birth of a child.  Starting a family.  Conducting a perfect unrep approach or carrier landing.  The pride and joy of coming home from a deployment.  Graduating from Law School.  Taking command of a warship.  The big things and the little things that changed our world.


If you follow wine, you know something of the concept of terroir.  Like many things wine, it comes, of course, from the French.  It’s the idea that a wine is-or at least, should be – shaped by the land, the environment and, yes, the people that grow it.  In essence, that a wine should reflect where and when it comes from.


Which brings us back to Memorial Day.  The terroir of our wines here at Dion reflect me and my family – and we have been profoundly influenced by my fallen classmates and all servicemen and women.  I do not know-yet- if what you do on Earth echoes in Eternity.  I do know that their sacrifice echoes in my life and our wine.  Our County – this vineyard – my family – myself – would not be here without them.


To all those that have sacrificed all, and especially to my Classmates:  You are not forgotten.  Thank you.










2014 gets started…sorta…

Spring is in the air and it’s time to start the great game of guessing what kind of vintage it will be.  Well, guessing – at first – but, also, following the weather and the vines and tracking their progress.  Spring truly sets the pace for a vintage – although summer heat is much hotter it’s also pretty consistent.  Spring shows no such regularity.  Last year (2013) had some very impressive warm days early – think over 70 in March.  It wasn’t hot every day of 2013 Spring, by any means, but it was enough to get the grapes going very early – and they kept that lead all the way to fruit set.  2013 had a verrry early fruit set that means a very early harvest.  Which it was and everything looked great.


Well, until that typhoon came through.  But that’s another story for another day.


2014…is not anywhere near as precocious.  In fact, it’s late.  Right now we’re running about 7-10 days behind average.  You may have noticed it’s been pretty cool-especially at night.  Those cool temperatures discourage the grapes from pushing on ahead.


I like to compare baseball and grapes and, as with April baseball, April grapes are early in the season.  There is a long way to go and things can change.  We can catch up on heat with just a warm week – much like your favorite team can win 5 in a week in April and all of a sudden lead their division.


Still – early only last so long.  Eventually you realize your favorite team really is having a bad season (just ask any Mariner’s fan of oh…the last decade?).  So it is with grapes – eventually you don’t catch up on heat and yup, you’re going to have a late harvest.


We’re not there just yet – we’ll know a lot more in about 4-6 weeks.  Late seasons also tend to be cool ones and the last two -2010 & 2011 – produced some fantastic wines with bright flavors, bracing acidity and lower alcohols.  Classic reds that are built to age a long, long time and vibrant, delicious white wines with awesome acidity.  Late harvests tend to be more stressful – cold, rain and shorter days tend to put the pressure on to get everything in – but the wines are worth it.  We love cool, late vintages.


Or, ya know, it could get warm and we’ll have a different type of vintage!  We’ll have a much better idea pretty soon…

Curtain falls on Dion Harvest, Act II

Well, that was a short act.  We had hoped for three days of picking – we got one and a half.  The rain (one of the villains of our metaphor) chased us off both today and yesterday.  The birds (yet another villain) have shown up and are starting to take their toll.

The villains close in on our wine heroes as the scene closes...
The villains close in on our wine heroes as the scene closes…


The good news is that the birds will be slowed over the next four days or so.  The bad news is the reason – a lot of rain and wind headed our way.  It appears that mother nature also got the memo that harvest was early and has sent us some weather more appropriate to late October or November our way.


The forecast calls for 2-4″ of rain – and high winds – over the weekend and into next week.  It’s unlikely we’ll get much-if anything – picked until at least Wednesday.  In 41 years, we’re not sure if we’ve ever had that long of a break in a harvest – or received that much rain in that short of a time.  At least 50% of our fruit is still out – either not quite yet ripe or  unable to be picked yet.


The hatches are battened down and our gear stowed away in preparation for big rain and heavy winds.  The fruit still looks to be in great condition and the vine leaves are still green & full.  They’ve got some strength in them.  It’s not even October yet.  So we’ll wait out the storm, cross our fingers and hope for the best.


We expect Act III to start next week!



End of the first intermission

That’s right, the first intermission.

Looming rain....
Looming rain….


This harvest will, undoubtedly, be remembered for the rain.  Just as we started to get our stride picking, we got stopped for about three days by rain.  We’ve managed to get started again – the weather looks good for a few days – and then more rain.  Intermission #2, for yet another few days.


I was asked yesterday why you can’t pick in the rain.  There are at least three reasons:

1)  The pickers get wet.  It’s pretty much impossible not to get wet from the leaves even if you have rain gear.  Not much fun.

2)  The fruit gets wet.  This can dilute the press and we track our picks by weight – and now you’re weighing rain, not so good.

3)  It gets too muddy for tractors & trucks to move around the vineyard.


That’s picking in the rain.  Rain in general can aid the growth of botrytis.  While that can lead to ‘noble rot’, it doesn’t happen very often in Oregon and it’s only good for certain whites, certainly not Pinot.


Right now, our fruit looks clean and healthy.  We’re crossing our fingers and picking while we can.  It certainly is an interesting harvest so far…

Another day, another fermentor

Day #2 of harvest!


I hope-soon- that we’ll ruefully remember when a single fermentor was a big deal.  We’ll have long rows of barrels and many, many cases of wine and-during harvest- many, many fermentors.


We’re not there yet.  Coming soon, but not this year.  Right now, a fermentor is still a big deal to us.  Especially when you process it by hand (& shovel):

Hi-tech grape delivery device
Hi-tech grape delivery device












We got the rest of our 115 today.  As I noted, it’s been out leadoff hitter for a decade now, and it’s nice to see it show up.  The acidities are quite healthy, but the color and flavor are there.  I’m looking forward to tasting this in blending trials – I like acidity in a wine and this could really push some frontiers for us.  Is it possible the fruit is ready to pick earlier than we are used to?  Or will 2013 just be a wacky harvest?  (like every other harvest)


We think we’ll get some Pinot Gris – and maybe the Chardonnay – in by Friday.  Why does Friday matter?  Well, because, sometime Friday afternoon (let’s hope late), all manner of Rain Doom (!) will befall us.  It looks an awful lot like we’ll not be picking again until Tuesday.  I’m hoping to get the whites in – 1) because as much as I love preserving the acidity for Pinot Noir, I really love it in a white wine & 2) once the fruit is picked, we can cycle our little press all weekend long off that pick.  We’ll have the grapes under cover and the cool weather will keep them in good shape.


The grapes are here!!!!
The grapes are here!!!!















2013 Pre Harvest…errrrr….1st day of Harvest thoughts

Ah yes, the pre-harvest thoughts post.  Where I both pontificate and prognosticate on the upcoming harvest – showing our deep understanding of the vineyard and the weather cycles we are sailing through to a supremely successful harvest.

And then this shows up...
And then this shows up…


So….the big story is that this harvest is early.  Really early.  It doesn’t really match any harvest we’ve seen in the last decade – back to the 90’s for something like this.  An early & warm spring gave us an early bloom – and a warm (but not blazing hot) summer pushed it even further ahead.  And so here we are, nearly a month ahead of when we picked in 2011.


But, nothing is easy for an Oregon harvest and an early onset of fall rain is complicating this one.  As can be seen from the picture, we received our first fruit today – some Pinot Noir from the 115 block that has – for the decade or so it’s been bearing fruit – been the leadoff block for our pick.  This year is no different.  I suspect some day, as it ages, it may gracefully yield it’s place to some of the white blocks (probably Pinot Gris).  On the other hand, I’m used to it being first, so that’s okay for me this year.


So far, the fruit is coming along nicely and riding out the rain as needed.  The sugars have shown up, but the acidities are holding up quite well (almost too well…).  The flavors are rounding out….but given our continued rainy forecast, we’ll likely pick the blocks as soon as they are ready.


So, if I have to predict what this vintage may be like….maybe, 2007?  A warm year (yes, 2007 was warm) that got a rainy harvest.  High acidities, bit lower on color.  Some unsure reviews at first…followed by wide recognition of a great, age worthy (and now very hard to find) vintage.  Yeah, I’m okay with having something like that.  History may not repeat itself-but it does seem to rhyme, and 2007 would be just fine as a comparison.


Or, it could be completely different.  I’ll let you know in 6 (Pinot Gris) to 18 (Reserve Pinots) months…


We’ve got quite a few weeks of harvest to go, rainy-early starts not-withstanding and we’re going to do our best to update you throughout.  We can be wine geeky from time to time…..okay, all the time.  We hope you enjoy it – and the wines soon to come!



2013 Update

Around this time of year, I like to take a quick review of the growing season so far.  It’s a good time to reflect on what we know so far (quite a bit), what we’ll learn soon, and what we hope the harvest might be.  I reviewed 2012 here last year.

July 1

2013 Chardonnay – a bit different than the last post



I discussed the two types of ripeness we tend to think about – physical, i.e. acidity & sugar, driven principally by heat.  The other ripeness is phenological – color & flavor development – driven principally by time from flowering/bloom/set (which can mean slightly different things, but are generally used interchangeably).


We know quite a bit about the 2013 vintage already.  The big news – harvest is coming early this year!  After two late years (2010 & 2011), a ‘normal’ year (2012-although it was very dry at harvest…), it looks like we’re headed back to a September harvest start.


2013 started off quickly with some days in the 70’s in March.  Almost immediately, we were ten days ahead of average.  We had a bit of a cool down in the beginning of April, but heading into May, warm weather returned.  Early on such heat is important – the grape has only begun to unfold its leaves – not much photosynthesis yet.  The vine is dependent instead on rising temperature & pressure from the ground to drive growth.


All of this early heat led to an early start to bloom – and set.  In the 2012 post I noted that set locked in the time element of our ripeness – 100 to 110 days to develop the flavor and color we want.   In a year like 2010, we had the opposite – a late bloom gave us a late October harvest, balancing waiting for sugar vs. the threat of rain and cold.


2013 won’t be like that.

July #2











This early start to spring – and fruit set – will, instead, mean that our 100+ days will occur sometime in the 2nd half of September-not October.  It also means getting the full potential heat of summer.  Net result – generally – mean a lot of heating, driving sugar ripeness quickly.  This is the kind of year in which the balancing act is to wait long enough for color development, but not too long – or you’ll end up with very high sugars – leading to high alcohol and overripe wines.  It could be similar to 2006, 2009, 2004…


Or 2007.   Remember that rainy harvest?  Well, it started with an early spring as well, had decent heat (although not as much as 2006 or 2009) and then ran into early rains and some very difficult harvest decisions.


Such is the joy of growing wine in the Willamette Valley!