Harvest 2016 began at King Estate on Sept. 1, with workers fanning out into the vineyard to pick just-ripening Pinot Noir grapes destined to become King Estate’s first sparkling wine in eight years. It resumed on Sept. 8 under brilliant blue skies with a light breeze making for perfect picking conditions. That day we harvested about six tons of Pinot Noir. After two years of record tonnage at both the estate and throughout Oregon, the vines set less fruit this year but are exhibiting incredible intensity and very high quality. We anticipate that this will be our third largest harvest ever at King Estate, producing more than 1,200 tons of fabulous fruit. Much more fruit will be arriving from our 56 vineyard partners from Oregon and Washington who are carefully selected for their quality and their excellent partnership with us.
This is the earliest start to a harvest I can recall. The timing is due to a couple of factors. First is the early warm weather we had that hastened the growing season, although cooler weather later in the summer allowed the ripening to slow. Second is that grapes for sparkling wine need to be picked before the height of their ripeness when they are slightly less sweet.
King Estate’s location serves us well for summers like the one we just had. At our higher elevation, the effect of the hot spell was less severe for us than for other lower lying vineyards. The vineyards are being closely monitored on a daily basis to determine the ideal picking time for all 465 acres of grapes. When the grapes are ready we have a window of just two to three days to pick the fruit and get it processed and into tanks. Typically Pinot Noir ripens first, followed by Pinot Gris, but because Pinot Gris tends to be picked at lower sugar levels, the harvest happens at about the same time.
A crew of 30 to 50 workers is picking fruit daily in the vineyard, while up on the crush pad, some 200 to 300 tons of grapes a day are being processed. As of Monday, Sept. 19, we are about 37.6% through harvest, and have processed 1,756 tons of grape. Crush will continue through the end of October and into the first week or so of November.
Recently I’ve been asked how the rain over the weekend will affect things. In reality this is a welcome event, along with the cooler temperatures forecast for the upcoming week. The warm weather in the first half of September created a situation where all the fruit was beginning to converge into a narrow picking window, one that would be hard to keep up with. The precipitation was not enough, or of long enough duration, to cause problems with rot or split berries and will allow the grapes extended hang time to develop flavors without turning to raisins.
Grapes are a precious and perishable commodity, and time is of the essence. The frenetic pace you feel around the winery for the next few weeks is the surge of energy that harvest and crush always brings. It is make or break time for the 2016 vintage, and people work long, hard hours to make sure we are successful. Our staff more than doubles in size during harvest. Watching all the interns, cellar hands, permanent staff and others jump in is like watching a carefully orchestrated ballet only with bigger shoes. Their labor of love and dedication will be evident when we savor the wines this harvest is producing.
When you work in the wine industry you know that harvest is as intense as it is exhilarating. Every year it is a thrill to see the fruit roll in, even knowing that many long weekends, early mornings and late nights are ahead. It’s hard but rewarding work, and worth every second. We are grateful to everyone who comes together to make Harvest 2016 a success.