One Week into Harvest

We started picking on Bennett Vineyard on September 11th. That’s not a typo…I said SEPTEMBER 11th. Wow! What a beautifully hot and dry summer we’ve been blessed with for the 2014 wine grape harvest. This is the first of a string of a few reports I’m putting together for all of our harvest watchers out there. Please be sure to comment on the blog below and let me know what you think!

So, as I mentioned on Monday we received our first grapes of the year from Bennett Vineyard & Wine Company just outside of Cheshire, OR on Highway 36 @ Territorial Highway junction. The Bennett’s opened their tasting room this summer so be sure you head out to see them some time. They have some awesome wines!

Anyway, we received 5 tons of Piont Noir grapes off of their E block, which is positioned directly behind their home. The clone of Pinot is a Dijon clone named 115. Very heavily planted in Oregon, my experience on Bennett’s site so far with this clone has been a good one. 115 here tends to produce a wine less powerful and more restrained color and tanin, while exhibiting fantastic aromas and layers of flavors. All of this makes the 115 a superb candidate for our new White Pinot Noir program.

Grape Processing

The process is a little different at every winery. The main goal is the same. As a Winemaker, we all look to extract the greatest quantity of high quality grape juice from the fruit in the most gentle way possible. Keeping these goals in mind most wineries are set up with a two or three tiered crush pad. At LaVelle we use a three tiered system which includes a forklift for our third physical tier.

A worker picks up a bin of grapes, which holds anywhere from a few hundred to 1000 pounds of fruit, and we use a bin dumper to turn the bins upside down where a stainless steel hopper and conveyor belts catches it. We then use one to three workers to sort things we don’t want out of the fruit which includes:

  • leaves
  • under ripe clusters
  • debris (I’ve found plastic clips, bird netting, clippers, a glove, etc.)
  • mildew infected clusters

Once the grapes drop off the second tier conveyor belt they drop into the third tier which in this case is the wine press. At LaVelle we use an Italian press brand Della Toffola, affectionately known as Della, which can hold 2.5 to 7 tons of fruit per press load. Since we received 5 tons of fruit we decided to press it whole cluster in two 2.5 ton press cycles. The wine press runs on a computer program which controls the air compressor and the rotation of the drum. Della is a membrane or bladder style press. She has a long horizontal drum with a loading door and tiny slot holes throughout it. Once filled with fruit, the drum rotates and membrane on the inside expands slowly with air. The design allows for a firm, but gentle pressing of the fruit, and allows the juice to slowly roll out into a catch basin.

After pressing, we pump the juice into a tank and let the solids settle out overnight. We run lab tests on the juice mainly to see where the sugar and acid levels are at. Everything looked fine this time around so we racked (moved) the juice from a settling tank to a stainless steel fermentation tank. We leave the solids behind and compost them back onto the vineyard.

Once in the fermentation tank, we pitch our yeast and let the winemaking process begin. After a day or two we turn on our refrigeration system to keep the fermentation cool. This traps the aromatics and keeps them in the wine. After a long, slow, cool ferment we finish our White Pinot Noir with a heat stabilization procedure, and then a sterile filtration and bottling in January.

Our next processing days will be this Saturday and Sunday the 20th and 21st of September. We will be doing the same process but working with Pinot Gris. If you’d like to come out and see the process I’d highly recommend it! We will be picking grapes in the morning, and then processing them from about 10a until we finish! We may even have you help us pick some grapes! I’ll end this post with a quick reminder to please comment on this posting or you can email me directly with any questions matthew[at]

Posted in 2014 Harvest, Pinot Gris, Vineyard, White Pinot Noir, Wine | Leave a comment

LaVelle Tap Room to Open October 10th!

Thursday, October 10, 2013! Mark the date on your calendar! That’s the day we open the LaVelle Tap Room in the Riverbend District, right on the border of Eugene and Springfield just off of I-5 near Beltline Road. We are excited to announce our grand opening and hope you will make plans to join us at our new location.

I’m writing this article to update you about what’s been going on and what our customers can look forward to at the new LaVelle Tap Room. First of all, why the LaVelle Tap Room? Well…our new location will, of course, have elements of a traditional wine tasting room but it will also have some of the features normally associated with a tap house – so it’s a tap room. I will explain exactly what that means later in this article.

Build out of the space, i.e. plumbing, electrical, HVAC, lighting, and painting is complete. Building the bar and back bar areas should be finished in the next 10 days or so. The only thing actually holding us back from an earlier opening date is delivery of our bar equipment, which includes a six tap cooler/dispenser for draft beer that will ship on September 27th and should arrive around October 4th. Allowing for a few days to get everything installed, our Grand Opening weekend is set for October 4th. And just so you know, even if all those pieces do not fall into place we are opening anyway!

Many things about our new location will feel the same as the old location. It will serve as an in-town location for wine club members to pick up their club shipments. Club members and their friends will still be able enjoy free tastings of all LaVelle wines and make purchases at LaVelle wines at club member discounted prices. However, a lot will seem different too. Here is a brief list of some of the exciting new things we have planned:

1) We will serve a large selection of beer, including six draft beers. While we will certainly offer popular beers from the large domestic producers, but we will feature the hand-crafted local area beers that have become so popular in recent years.

2) We will be serving up to 30 different wines at any given time, using an argon gas system that allows us to keep bottled wine fresh for up to four weeks. In addition to our own wines we plan to serve a selection of Oregon Pinot Noirs, Washington Cabernets, and wines from other parts of the U.S. and the world.

3) Wine and beer selections will rotate on a regular basis, allowing us to ensure that your tasting experience at the LaVelle Tap Room is always different.

4) A food menu will be provided by Willie’s Restaurant. We are working with Willie to develop a uniquely American, slightly upscale bar menu that will include salads, appetizers, pizzas, hamburgers, cheese plates, meat plates, hummus plates, and even a few entree items. We think this will be a great addition to what we can offer our customers at this new location and we are very excited to be working with Willie and his staff.

5) Since we are no longer in a shopping center environment, our hours of operation can be defined by our business specific needs. While we want to be available pretty much every day for wine club pick ups, we anticipate that our traffic at the Tap Room will be heavily driven by the folks who are employed in the Riverbend District and want a place to stop after work. We also need to coordinate our hours with Willie’s Restaurant to ensure a good selection of food is available during the hours we are open. That said, we plan to be open from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays. We may also be open on Saturday afternoons for a weekly wine tasting event, but that idea is still under discussion.

I will try to provide more information about the new location as our opening date approaches. For now, it’s exciting that we are less than three weeks away from being operational. I would again like to thanks our wine club members for their support and patience during the last two months. We look forward to many good times at the LaVelle Tap Room!

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What’s Happening with the Move?

Our new location!As you know, we will be leaving the 5th St. Market when our lease expires on Sunday, June 30th, and relocating our in town tasting room to the International Marketplace near the intersection of I-5 and Beltline Road. In my last blog posting I said we would be in our new space by July 1st. As is often the case with this kind of project, things have gone a bit slower than I expected and we now anticipate a move in date of August 1st. The purpose of this update is to share with you the club member reaction to our announcement (and some of my thoughts and observations), how the move is progressing, how we will operate in the new location, and our plans for the 30 day period when we will go without a location in town.

First let me address club member reaction. We had a certain amount of trepidation about how you all would respond to a location that is admittedly on the edge of town, but so far, response has been overwhelmingly positive. Although club members who live in North Eugene and Springfield are more enthusiastic than club members who live in South or West Eugene, we have had many positive comments on some issues related to our current location that are of concern to everyone – regardless of where they live. People have told us that 1) it will be nice to not have to fight through the downtown traffic to get to our tasting room 2) it will be nice to not have to search for a parking place once we get there and 3) those curious individuals who have already ventured out to our new location agree that the International Marketplace is in a really pretty, quiet, park-like setting. It is also apparent from your feedback that having Willie’s Restaurant as our closest neighbor is an added bonus.

Just for those who may be a little skeptical about the drive time, I would like to make a couple of observations. I have made the drive from 5th St. Market to 400 International Way many times. If I take Coburg Road to 105 to I-5 North to Beltline Rd, then turn left on Gateway St. to International Way, it’s an 8 or 9 minute drive. I also did some checking on Google Maps. From the intersection of Willamette and 28th St. in South Eugene, Google Maps routes one down Willamette to Oak St. to 7th, then 7th to Coburg Rd. then on the same route mentioned above and gives the driving time as 16 minutes. From Beltline Road and 126 in West Eugene, Google Maps says the drive time down Beltline Road to this destination is 14 minutes. My point is that since this destination is easily accessible from 105, Beltline Road, or I-5, the drive times are not bad and most routes to our new location avoid a lot of driving on surface streets where traffic is the heaviest.

As relates to the schedule for our move, we should complete lease negotiations with our new landlord by the end of next week. There is some build out left to do but the contractor is quite certain we can be in the space by August 1st. Yesterday, we formally applied with the OLCC for our license to operate in the new space, a process that should also be concluded in about 30 days. As you can imagine, I’m working on a whole range of related issues, from the lighting plan to the detailed design of our bar and back bar, but everything is moving along nicely.

We plan to operate a little differently in our new location, since we will no longer be constrained by the restrictions placed on us at the 5th St. Market. First, we want to serve tastings and glasses of more wines than just our own. We will feature other Willamette Valley Pinots, other Columbia Valley reds, and even some international wines. We will rotate these offerings frequently so there will always be something new to try. Secondly, we want to serve draught beer, particularly from our local Eugene breweries, so we will need to design our bar area to accommodate a good selection of beer and even some draught wines. Most of these tasks can be completed concurrently with the other build out projects, so we plan to have everything in place by August 1st.

This schedule means we will go for a period of about one month without an in town location for wine club pickups. Of course, we will be open at the winery every day, but that means there will be a little extra drive associated with wine club pickups during the month of July and we thought we should do something extra to make that trip worthwhile. So starting Sunday, July 7th and continuing all throughout the month of July we will be hosting “Sunday Wine Club Pickup Parties” at the winery. These events will feature a full band and a food cart (or you can bring your own picnic) from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM every Sunday afternoon. We hope this will make it fun to plan your wine club pickup around a trip to the winery on a sunny, Sunday summer afternoon until we can once again can offer an in town location for pickups. Watch for our e-mail updates and Facebook postings for details.

Well, that’s about it for now. We are very excited about our move and anxious to get into our new space. I will be sharing additional updates on our move over the next few weeks, so watch for those e-mails directing you to my blog postings!

Thanks, again, to all our club members for your understanding and support through this challenging transition. We truly appreciate it.

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LaVelle Vineyards to Relocate Tasting Room

Our new location!

Starting on July 1st you can pick up your club shipments here

After 14 years at the same downtown location, Matthew and I have decided it is time for a change of venue. Consequently, we will be leaving the 5th St. Market when our lease expires on the July 1st. We will be relocating our in town tasting room to the International Marketplace at 400 International Way just off of I-5 at Beltline Road. We felt it was important to tell our club members and regular customers exactly why we’ve made this decision, and to explain our plans going forward. Let me begin by sharing with you what prompted the decision to leave the 5th St. Market.

For a long time now we have known that our customers at the Market tend to be just that – our customers. We have never benefited much from the general foot traffic at the Market. Three years ago, when we last renewed our lease, the Inn at the 5th seemed like it might be game changer for us. So we hunkered down and weathered the hotel construction hoping for a boon in sales after the hotel opened. The Inn is a beautiful addition to downtown Eugene and we love the look and feel it has created at the 5th St. Market. That said, after 15 months of operation neither the Inn nor its guests have become a significant part of our sales at the 5th St. Market, so we find ourselves right back where we started three years ago.

Over the years, the physical limitations of our space at 5th St. and the restrictions placed on us by the Market imposed constraints on how we conducted business at that location. We have no real kitchen facility and the Market preferred that we not build one out. Consequently, we have always struggled with food service. Merchants in a shopping center environment are expected to be open when the shopping center is open. Since most of our customers, especially during the week, don’t come in until after 4:00 PM, we are forced be open many hours each week when we simply don’t have any business. The 5th St. Market makes for a great venue in the summer and the music on the patio has been a big part of our identity at the 5th St. location. However, that is at most three months out of the year – not enough to justify the high cost of being a Market tenant year round.

When we began discussions about our lease renewal two things became crystal clear, i.e. the rent was going up and our role in the 5th St. Market merchant base was going to be even more tightly dictated by what was good for the Market and the Inn at the 5th. Let me be clear about one thing. I don’t blame 5th St. Market management for their position. Considering the investment in the Inn at the 5th, it’s quite appropriate that the hotel and its guest should be a high priority. I don’t think it is appropriate or necessary to detail all the contractual obligations proposed in the new lease, but I will say that when Matthew and I read them we knew intuitively that it was time for a change. So, as I said, we will be leaving the Market when our lease expires on July 1st.

As we searched for a new space, we had several priorities in mind. We wanted a convenient place for our club members to pick up their wine club shipments and a great spot for them to have a glass of wine after work. We wanted to find a situation where we would have ample parking, more space for events and private parties, no restrictions on our hours of operation and – just for good measure – an adjacent restaurant that could offer a more extensive food menu than the one currently provided for us by Marche. We think we found all that and more at the International Marketplace.

For a number of reasons, we are absolutely thrilled about our new digs! The International Marketplace is set in a quiet, campus-like environment secluded from the hustle and bustle that is all around it. Once you arrive at this destination, it feels like an oasis from the surrounding noise and traffic of the city. Secondly, our new space is much larger – about 1,800 square feet at the International Marketplace compared to 975 square feet at the 5th St. Market. It is new, nicely finished, and well-appointed in a contemporary style. Thirdly, there is plenty of parking, a source of numerous customer complaints at our present location. And finally, we are adjacent to Willie’s Restaurant (formerly Mookie’s Northwest Grill), one of finest dining spots in the Eugene/Springfield area.

Walid “Willie” Saleeby is undoubtedly known to many of you as he has been in the restaurant business in Eugene for over 30 years. Over the years he has owned and operated a number of popular restaurants, including Willie’s on 7th St., The Oakway Wine and Deli, The Waterfront, and Willie’s at the Campbell House. He will be serving the same extensive menu in our wine bar that he serves in his restaurant, including salads, pizza, appetizers, entrees, and desserts. We are delighted that – finally – we can offer our customers a full menu of great food to pair with our selection of fine wine served in a beautiful wine bar/tasting room setting.

We will open our doors at the International Marketplace on Monday, July 1st, 2013. Matthew and I will share additional updates as our plans progress, so I hope you will watch for e-mails that guide you back to our blog for more information about our new location. We would ask for your patience and support as we work through this transition and restructure our business to better serve our most important customers. There is a lot more to come, so stay tuned!

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Historic Harvest in the Making!

As I type this we will begin pressing out our first Pinot Noir from earlier this month. Every year I try to get these interesting blog posts up about our winemaking practices. Some years are better than others, and this one for me is the best I’ve ever seen! Before I describe the process, I have to give a big thanks to my team. Heather, Nick, AJ, Christine, Josh, Otoniel, and Marcelo have been a huge part of this year’s harvest. Also a huge thanks goes to my family. Ashley, Maggie, Adam, my parents, and in-laws, have all played a very supportive role the last two and a half weeks. Had it not been for them, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on winemaking. I wouldn’t have been able to get interviewed by Chris McKee from KMTR’s NewsSource 16 (Here’s that interview online). I would have had time to talk with Sherri at the Register Guard and get photographed by Brian Davies (Here’s that story online). I’m sure I wouldn’t have made the front page of the paper yesterday without all of your support. So, a big thanks to you all!

Pinot Noir is a historically delicate grape. Processing it is as difficult as growing it in the vineyard. Maceration of the fruit during primary alcoholic fermentation must be done at precise times and in a gentle punch down. We pitched our dry active yeast for our first Pinot Noir from Bennett Vineyard last week. Primary alcoholic fermentation changes the natural sugar in the fruit into wine. Byproducts of fermentation include heat and carbon dioxide (CO2). These byproducts push the berry skins and seeds together towards the top of the tank to form a cap. We then punch down that cap twice a day to gain extra extraction of color and tannins. We do this through the entire ferment, as we monitor the sugar depletion and temperature. Our first tank of Bennett Vineyard Pinot Noir (clone 115) finished the other day.

The next step is to drain the juice, which we call free run, out of the tank and press the remaining grapes to create, you guessed it, press wine. We keep free run and press wine separated because press wine tends to be lower quality. There’s several different directions you can go in now, and we choose to go right into a secondary fermentation called Malolactic Fermentation. Fermentation is just a fancy way of saying that we’re changing one thing into another. In primary fermentation we’re changing sugar into alcohol. In secondary fermentation we change Malic acid into Lactic acid. Why do we do this?

  1. Malic acid has a particular tart taste to it. Like a Granny Smith apple.
  2. Lactic acid is smoother tasting and promotes a fuller bodied wine and mouthfeel.

Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) is quite a bit more difficult to achieve than alcoholic fermentation. MLF is achieved by introducing Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) into the wine. LAB prefers an environment of 68-72 degree temperature for proper completion. Although MLF can be obtained during alcoholic fermentation, we prefer to let the wine get up to a higher temperature (90 degrees) during primary fermentation. So, we wait until just after primary to start our secondary MLF. MLF is also difficult to monitor. We look for small bubbles and listen for pin pricking noises. You can also sometimes smell a little Carbon Dioxide during the fermentation, but MLF is a much less vigorous ferment than alcoholic fermentation.

We’ll be finishing up primary fermentations and starting up and monitoring MLF’s through the weekend and into the middle of next week.

Our in house whites include Pinot Gris and Riesling. We take the opposite approach with a white wine fermentation. First, we’re not looking for color or tannin extraction with white wines, so we drop the whole cluster fruit into our press and get the juice out of the grapes immediately. We allow one night for solids to settle out of the wine and then move the clean juice into a stainless steel tank for inoculation. Now, a big difference between white and red wine making is in the temperature kept during the ferment. Red wines need maceration and additional heat to fully extract color and tannins into the wine. Therefore red wine fermentations usually go pretty quick. White wines require a slow, cool fermentation that can last a month or more. We ferment our whites between 42 and 49 degrees, to keep the aromatics produced in the wine. Another big difference is that we don’t put our whites through malolactic fermentation. A tart, green apple, note in white wine is pleasing and expected in a crisp finish. Another difference between red and white ferments is residual sugar (RS). We don’t want RS in red wine, but in Riesling it can make a huge difference in the overall varietal character expression. I usually leave a little residual sugar (depending on the acid) to balance the wine and create a wine that is a little sweet up front with a nice, crisp finish. This year I have two distinctly different Rieslings that might end up becoming two different wines. We’ll see…

So, we’re starting to get into the monitoring stage of harvest, which means that I’ll start getting a little more balance with my family and work. But, it also means that we have to take extra care to provide additional nutrients during the ferment. We’ll also be tasting, smelling, and looking for a healthy fermentation all along the way. We’re getting ready to release a new tasting and touring package to our customers that will allow them to take a facility tour, have a wine tasting, and an interactive educational component that shows them the entire process that takes our product from grape to glass.

From a weather standpoint we haven’t seen a growing season like this one…well, ever. Based on weather data available we had 2,100 Growing Degree Days (GDD) this year. We had 1,850 GDD’s last year and in 2010. GDD’s are a measure of heat accumulation, and having too much or too little can be hard on Pinot Noir and other Willamette Valley varietals. The other important factor is precipitation. We had a total of 5.5 inches of rain during the growing season, and never did we have an inch or more of accumulation at one time. These conditions are fantastic for the vitus vinifera. A quick history search on shows us that the year most associated with 2012′s vintage in these two factors is 1998. For those of you that remember that time, 1998 was a vintage that put Oregon on the map as a premier Pinot Noir producing state.

All signs point towards a vintage that we’ll be telling our kids and their kids about for years to come. I’m so happy to be a part of it.

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Harvest begins!

So, it’s now 9p and the LaVelle Harvest Crew has been at  it since 8:30a. I have a lotof new crew members this year, and some photos to share. For those of you wanting to plan and come out to visit with us though, here’s a (very) tentative schedule for the next several days:

The Gameplan

  • Thursday, 10/4 – receive and process 1.4 tons Pinot Noir
  • Friday, 10/5
    • inoculate Pinot Noir
    • Receive and process 2 tons Pinot Gris
    • Send crew out to receive in last round of cluster samples
  • Saturday, 10/6 – CREW OFF
  • Sunday, 10/7 – CREW OFF
  • Monday, 10/8 – receive and process all LaVelle Pinot Gris
  • Tuesday, 10/9 – inoculate LaVelle Pinot Gris
  • Wednesday, 10/10 – receive 5 tons Pinot Noir
  • Thursday, 10/11 – receive 5 tons Pinot Noir
  • Friday, 10/12
    • receive 5 tons Pinot Gris
    • receive LaVelle Riesling? (7 yr old vines)
  • Saturday, 10/13 – receive 10 tons Vineyard Pinot Noir

If you’d like to make sure that there’s something interesting going on please just call ahead at 541-935-9406.

The new crew for 2012 consists of Heather, AJ, Nick, Josh, and Christine. They’re all having fun and learning a lot about the winemaking process. Nick, pictured here, is power washing our crush pad to ready us for the incoming harvest.

We have a few other new growers that we’re working with this year, as we’re trying to rebuild out inventory for current and future wine club members. We had a fantastic start to harvest today with 1.4 tons of Pinot Noir from a new grower relationship started by Matthew with Gene Bennett of Bennett Vineyards. He’s just starting out in the business, and we’re excited to be making wine for him this year.

Heather and Christine, our new lab techs, have been working hard to ensure that our grape samples are being analyzed correctly. When we decide to pick Pinot Noir we’d like to achieve a sugar level of 23.5 brix, and an acid level (pH) of 3.3.

We’ll be testing in our 1.4 tons of fruit tomorrow, but I can already tell you that my favorite thing about this year’s harvest will be…little to no adjustments to any of our fruit.

So, come on out if your schedule allows and watch us bring in another fantastic LaVelle Vineyards vintage!

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Della Toffola Wine Press – Membrane Replacement Procedure

You cannot make wine without a wine press. Everyone deals with stress in different ways. I have a hurniated disc in my lower back. No matter what I do there are stressful moments that bring pain to that area of my back. This is one of the things that does it.

The type of wine press we own here is an Italian Della Toffola Membrane Press. Most of the press is stainless steel. The membrane (i.e. bladder, bag) inside the rotating barrel will tear from time to time and need to be replaced. This is the story of replacing the membrane. Jeff and Diego with Della Toffola are here to facilitate this procedure, and I am documenting it with the help of Sunset, my Cellar Master.

Our current membrane has lasted seven years. According to Diego we should be getting three to ten years use from a membrane. Five years is average, so that makes me feel good about changing the bag out. The cost is close to $4,000 USD for a new membrane so I want to make sure that we get good life from it. The installation process is the key to getting a long life.

I think the first thing that makes this a difficult project is that you really need two small people to work on it. Myself and my Cellar Master are of the larger variety of humans, so we may have a harder time doing this ourselves. Although installation cost is around $2,000 so next time we may just power through it!

We start by moving the press to an area where we have several yards of space available on the air compressor end. Then we took off the shielding that covers the end of the barrel up above the control panel. Then we remove the control panel and swing it to the side to prop it up on this blue ladder.

Then, we remove the O rings on each end that hold the membrane down to the inner membrane shaft. After we scrunch the membrane to one side we can remove the center section of the inner membrane shaft. After we remove the center section we remove the old membrane.

Then we install the new membrane with new O ring gaskets in reverse order with what we did to get the old membrane off. Putting the new membrane on was by far the hardest part of the process. This is a two person job for sure! Now, I’m just crossing my fingers as we go through a checklist and look at anything else that might need maintenance.

Then, we hit our first snag. The spacers that hold the membrane in place are too wide for the new membrane. So, with a little ingenuity Jeff and Diego decide to cut the spacers in half with a grinder. Watching this at $100/hour is starting to make my back hurt (even more). So, we’re a few hours into our project and the end is near.

Then, we hit our second snag. The first O ring went on without a hitch. The second O ring, to my surprise, had a nut on it that was not quite threaded correctly. Sunset (or, well her husband Rivers) to the rescue! She ran home and got her husbands die tap kit and we had to rethread the inside of the nut that’s welded onto the O ring. So, another undisclosed amount of time is spent discussing and fixing this problem and then Diego and Jeff are back inside the barrel of the press strapping down the final O ring.

To sum things up for this project if there’s anyone out there that wants to come and do this with us next time please don’t hesitate to call me. These little pre-harvest projects are not much fun, but the ROI is in the glass of wine I’m drinking right now!

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THE Island Party – Things Keep Getting Better

When I started planning for the 2012 year back in September of 2011 it was time for a change. In 2010 and 2011, as a business we sustained huge losses in sales and production due to several factors:

  • Inn at the 5th Hotel Construction
  • The recent economic conditions in the wake of the recession
  • Two cold and wet growing seasons in 2010 & 2011

With 2012 on the mind as our first year back in the swing of things I set out to make some changes:

  • More Wine Club Parties
    • Better Entertainment
    • Better Food
    • More Prizes, Contests, and Give-a-ways
    • Better Decorations
    • Online Registration System for all events
  • A return to Music on the Garden Plaza at the 5th Street Market
    • Better trained, more wine oriented staff
    • Better Entertainment
    • Better Food
  • Printed Calendar of Events (The Entire Year)
  • A stronger overall brand here in the Eugene Area

If the Mayans are right about 2012 then I will be happy to go out with a bang. This has to be the best year in recent memory for our business on so many levels. I’m proud to say that I’m really starting to feel a sense of accomplishment with our most recent Wine Club Island Party last weekend. We had a jam packed lawn with 240 confirmed guests last Saturday. Following up our first two sold out indoor Wine Club Parties seemed like it might be difficult, but our club members did not disappoint.

Chris Erben, from 5th Street Market’s El Pato Cafe, came out for his second wine club party and prepared all of his Big Kahuna Macho Steak Skewers on site and fed everyone at the party. He also served grilled veggies and coconut rice for a little bit of the Island theme. I had very little negative feedback, and I’m looking forward to having him back again for our three course Winemaker Dinner on Saturday, August 18th.

The Cheeseburgers kept the crowd swirling, sipping, relaxing, and dancing for four hours straight as they played all sorts of island rock music throughout the evening. We had two large groups of 25 people each celebrating a birthday and a retirement. We had so many people on site that we had to open up the cellar and seat people inside and outside. We finished off the evening with a bunch of raffle prizes and a hula hoop contest that turned into a two part contest with a final hoop-off! We couldn’t pick a winner so we gave both contestants a one night stay at the Inn at the 5th Hotel.

I want to finish this blog with a big thumbs up to our staff. I have watched a fairly new staff blossom into a fine bunch of people. Led by Eric, Evan, and our Wine Club Manager Gisela this 2012 year is really our best year yet at LaVelle Vineyards! We’ll hope to see another packed house at the Harvest Party in September.

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2012 Vintage Update – Fruit Set

I was up in the vineyard yesterday morning starting to collect data on our plants fruit set for the year and I’m getting excited! Fruit set is the third yearly milestone we reach in our 2012 vintage and it’s one of the most important. We started with bud break back on April 21st, and then moved into and out of bloom last week. Almost immediately after the flowers open up and pollenate a grape starts to enclose the seeds. As you can see in this photo, there’s still a little necrotic tissue leftover from bloom, but our fruit set is evident in the formation of little green grapes. Sometimes we can get and uneven fruit set, which means that the grapes form in varying sizes. This is not good if it happens on a large scale because it tends to create vegetal (off) flavors in the wine. I’m seeing a little of this in the Pinot Gris, but nothing anywhere else so far. Take a look at this photo to the left to see what an uneven fruit set looks like. As we come out of bloom fruit set happens right away, and we rush to pull leaves on the Eastern facing side of our rows so we can get a good look at what we have. But there’s more to it then that.

Subjective Viewpoints

There are different ways to do everything in this business, but what we do in our vineyard goes back to the orientation of our plantings. We plant our rows North to South for a reason; well, for several reasons actually. We like to pull the leaves in the fruit zone on the Eastern facing side of the row at Fruit Set. This allows the grape skins to toughen up, or build up a resistance to hotter temperatures in July and August. This leads to less berries splitting and more photosynthesis. Although a lot of photosynthesis takes place in  the leaves of a grapevine, there’s a lot of positive data out there that shows photosynthesis takes place in the grape skins as well. So, why don’t we pull leaves on the Western facing side of the rows? The answer is because the sun gets too hot in the afternoon. The afternoon sun will literally bake the grape skins and cause off flavors in the wine (think burnt jam; we’ve all tasted this before in Pinot Noir from warmer sites). Afternoon sun can also cause berries to split which can cause other problems in the vineyard and a loss of fruit.

Pinot Noir Fruit Set

Our Fruit Set looks about the same as it did last year in our Pinot Noir. This is average, which is good for Pinot Noir. Pinot is the most susceptible varietal to overcropping that we grow in the Willamette Valley. Probably even in the world! Let me explain. Varietal Character is the term that describes anything that a wine taster can see, smell, or taste in a wine. That can be as simple as acid or sugar, and then get more complex as we talk about fruity or earthy character. There are lots of other varietal characters out there like horse tail, sweet pickle, leather, chocolate, etc. This is another really subjective area of wine as we all have different palettes. After all, we are all our own little snowflakes as Mom used to say! Pinot Noir, if overcropped, loses some or all of it’s varietal character. This is a disappointing characteristic of Pinot Noir, but nonetheless true so we have to respect that as a grower. We believe that Pinot Noir cannot be cropped at more than 3 tons per acre. Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, can be cropped at levels of 3-8 tons per acre and depending on the site still maintain it’s varietal character. So, where are we at now at LaVelle Vineyard? My estimation is 2.4 tons per acre. This is in a good space for our site. I can take this number along with petiole sample results at bloom and some weather data on Growing Degree Days and precipitation and make an educated guess at:

  1. How much fruit we will grow by the end of the year
  2. What (if anything) we need to do in the vineyard to make changes
  3. Get some physical and mental exercise that’s much needed!

We’re still in the middle of counting data plants to come up with numbers for our Riesling and Pinot Gris. So, why am I so excited about all of this?

Another 2008?

The 2008 vintage on our collective of vineyard sites was fantastic! We had a nice, long, warm summer with little rain and good hang time in the fall that helped us produce an outstanding Pinot Noir. I’ve collected data on Growing Degree Days (GDD) from April 15th through July 22nd in each of the last ten years along with precipitation. Two things that seem to positively affect our crop are relatively warm summers with little rain. I also went back and checked our yearly milestone data (bud break, bloom, veraison, and harvest) for the last ten years and so far this years data correlates with the 2008 and 2006 vintages most closely. That means that this year (so far) has the makings of a really good year for our Pinot Noir program. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, say your prayers, whatever it is we’re doing it right this year which has me very excited about the 2012 growing season!

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Red Mountain AVA: Tri-Cities Washington

We had a great trip, and I learned a lot about this fairly new AVA. I’ve done some extensive research since returning, and along with my face-to-face meetings, photographs, and wine tastings I’ve compiled a pretty lengthy posting here about Red Mountain AVA. Let’s get started…

Red Mountain started in 2001 as a sub-AVA of Yakima Valley, which is in turn a sub-AVA of Columbia Valley, the largest AVA in Washington state. This AVA was named for it’s cheat grass, which changes to a red color in the Spring. Known for many varietals, but I am specifically looking for new relationships with our Cab, Merlot, and Syrah program.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Charlie Hoppes, owner and Winemaker at Hamilton Cellars, for a business meeting and a winery tour. He’s leasing a fairly new, but renovated beer distribution building. He’s producing 7,500 cases of wine per year under his labels, and then works with several other individuals to do custom crush work. They buy the grapes and he takes them through to the bottle for them to have and sell. One of the really unique things about Charlie’s business is his winery. as I mentioned before, Hamilton Cellars used to be a distribution center for beer. He has several large rooms with temperature control that he uses to barrel age all of his wines. His main label is Fidelitas, and I went to visit the tasting room later in my trip where I decided to join his wine club. Charlie’s really doing something special with his Red Mountain wines. As most conversations go with Winemakers, Charlie told me that his grape sources are the real reason behind his high quality wines. He gave me a full facility tour and showed me several stainless steel fermentors, a couple of different wine presses, and a brand new cross flow filtration system.

Most larger wineries have moved to a cross flow filtration system, and away from dead-end filtration systems. To see a cross flow system in a winery producing 7,500 cases annually was strange. They are very expensive systems. The difference is that a conventional dead-end filter press (like our Della Toffola), pushes wine through a set of paper filter pads with varying sized holes. The filter cake builds up (from solids being filtered out) and then you have to stop filtering to change the blinded pads out. With a cross flow filtration system the wine is moved across the filter membrane tangentially, or along the side of gently and the filter cake gets actively diverted from the inline wine stream. This causes many beneficial side effects including:

  • Filter pads last a much longer period of time
  • wine volume loss is greatly minimized
  • Makes filtering a continuous process, rather than a batch process

I’ll have to put one of these things on my “pie in the sky” list, which seems to be ever growing! We went on and visited several different wineries within the region.

Along the way we stopped at several different vineyards and took some photos. the differences between the Red Mountain AVA and my hometown Willamette Valley AVA are many. Take soil type for instance. Willamette Valley soil types are relatively high acidity (low pH), with sand and clay content, providing a well drained soil that makes irrigation optional. In Red Mountain AVA, soils are gravelly, with high alkalinity (high pH) and high calcium carbonate (chalk) concentrations. Grapevines in Red Mountain must be irrigated. This allows growers to dial in their growth cycle for a given vintage.

Another big difference between Oregon and Washington vineyards is harvesting, pruning, and trellis systems. Red Mountain AVA vineyards are most machine pruned, which means that they use a spur pruning system as opposed to our cane pruning style here in Oregon. As pictured here on the left, a spur pruned grapevine has arms off of the trunk that are just as thick as the trunk itself. That’s because in the winter a machine comes along and prunes off all of the growth from the previous year. In a cane pruned system like the one’s we have here in Oregon, all of the shoot are pruned by hand and we select two canes from the previous year to lay down and use for all the growth for that year. Spur pruning is less expensive and generally produces more shoots for a growing season. Unfortunately, due to the Willamette Valley’s cooler climate and powdery mildew issues, we cannot use a spur pruned vine system. Another surprise was how difficult it was to find really old vines. Most of the vines in the area I viewed were three years old. After asking around at the local wineries I found out that a few years ago Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate) rated a Red Mountain Cabernet Blend at 100 points. This perfect wine rating has only been given to fifteen other wines by Parker, and they’re all in California. Ever since people with resources have been setting up shop in Red Mountain.

I thought I’d add in a photo of my beautiful wife and children here. We took this in front of some lavender and sage brush (there’s a lot of sage brush here!) outside of Hightower Winery.

While in town we made stops at Kiona Vineyards and Winery, Hightower Cellars, Tapteil Estate, Gooseridge Winery, and Fidelitas Winery. I would highly recommend a trip to this area if you’re into Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s about 30 minutes drive West of Walla Walla, tucked inside the Yakima Valley AVA and Columbia Valley AVA.

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