Whenever a vintage gives us beautiful fruit to vinify, discussion often revolves around “why?”. Some growers will tell you that it was the meticulous manner in which they cared for the vineyard. Some winemakers will strut around attempting to take credit. But the truth always lies in the vagaries of weather. And generally the vagaries are most important in the spring (around bloom) and in the Fall (just prior to harvest). Even the previous vintage (with its effect on primordial bud development) can be equally credited.
So this brings us to 2012 which is getting lots of positive press. The crop ended up tiny overall in 2012 and for the most part this was due to necrosis of the grape flowers. With necrosis, the promising little flowers simply dry up and, for a while at least, sit there tormenting the grower with what could have been! In 2012 a warm early Spring initiated substantial growth and the roots responded with ample ammonia to fuel the early growth. But then, just prior to bloom, the average temperatures dropped precipitously, growth stalled and the ammonia levels started to rise (apparently nobody thought to tell the roots to cool it). When ammonia levels start to become toxic, the floral parts of the plant are particularly sensitive and necrosis results.
What this meant overall for the developing 2012 vintage was that the crop would be small. In our vineyards, it would average less than 1 ton per acre (or around 13-14 hl/hectare). These are tiny yields of considerably less than half of normal. As we proceeded through a warm, pleasant summer the crop slowly ripened. And then we hit almost perfect Fall weather: cooler than average night temperatures (which preserves acidity) and warmer than average daytime temperatures (which aids ripening). And to top it off, we experienced absolutely clear weather from the 22nd of September to the 12th of October which covered the bulk of harvest.
The result is wines of high intensity (due to the small crop), perfect ripeness (due to the Fall weather) and high acidity (due to cool nights). And while the intensity on these young wines makes them seem a bit “un-Pinot noir-like”, they will show their mettle as they age.
If you gaze across many a famous Barolo or Barbaresco vineyard in the Piedmont, the chances are quite good that tucked along it’s edge at some point you will find Pinot noir vines. And if you gaze across the vineyard of Cameron Clos Electrique in Oregon, chances are good that you will also see Nebbiolo vines tucked along it’s edge!
These observations are not random events: Nebbiolo and Pinot noir share many traits in common, both from an esthetic and geographic point of view. While anyone who has experienced both red Burgundy (Pinot noir) and Piemontese Nebbiolo can easily find the similarities in complex aromatics, it might be less obvious that the 2 regions share a common latitude and similar rainfall. And while parts of the Piedmont are generally considered somewhat warmer than Burgundy many of the famous Nebbiolo viticultural areas are in fact cooler (for example Val d’Aosta and Valtellina).
Many growers in the Piedmont understand this fact and, coupled with a natural curiosity, endeavor to try their hand at Pinot noir. I think that most (but not all) of these attempts have failed, though I fault the techniques more than the fruit. You cannot use the traditional techniques developed for making Nebbiolo to make Pinot noir. Nor can you use techniques developed for making Pinot noir in the production of Nebbiolo!
So I go to northern Italy to learn how to make Nebbiolo just like I went to Burgundy many years ago to learn how to make Pinot noir. The differences in approach are both cultural and related to differences in the respective grapes. As a window on the Burgundian and Piemontese cultures, the 2 techniques are fascinating. Stay tuned!
The roosters in the vineyard start to crow. It is 5 a.m. The eastern sky is showing that a new day will soon be upon us. Teri and I have spent the night in the yurt after an evening of revelry in front of it! I roll out of bed; my old dog thumps her tail but makes no other movement; Teri buries her head under her pillow as I tiptoe out of the yurt, carrying a bundle of clothes.
The tractor is in place, sprayer attached, ready to roll. I quickly consult my notes: 4# sulfur per acre X 2 acres per tank; but my scale weighs in grams so 8# becomes 3.64 kg (I am happy to note that my college days of using a metric balance to weigh out 1 oz portions is still useful!). The sulfur is weighed out and carefully stirred into a 5 gallon bucket.
My tractor, which has been idling for a several minutes, is now revved up to 2700 rpm, the PTO engaged and sprayer rumbles to life. Slowly the sulfur mix is poured into the tank and a man looking somewhat like a space alien with respirator, goggles and ear protection climbs on board. Even though sulfur is an organic spray, it stings the eyes and insults my nose!
The clutch is depressed as the stick is slammed into high 1st and suddenly we are ambling toward the first row. The air is dead still, the sun still not showing itself as I swing the lever forward to activate the sprayer. A mist of sulfur hurdles into and over the vines behind me, settling on leaves and young fruit clusters. Everything is working perfectly and I hope that bit of good fortune stays with me over the next 4 hours as I finish one vineyard
block, reload, finish another and so on. I am continuously glancing behind me, taking a quick inventory of how the nozzles are functioning, then eying the pressure gauge, checking the rpm and the tank level.
The sun starts to peak above the horizon. I flip on the music to my head set…the Brandenburg Concerti this morning. The fruit set looks really good, wow, we’re going to have to drop some crop out here. Leaves have been pulled where necessary and the vineyard is in near perfect shape. Life is good.
The collapse of honey bee colonies is by now fairly well known by the public at large. And of course we all know that a large swath of our agricultural fruits are brought to us courtesy of our pollinating symbionts. What has not been well understood is the reason for this rash of colony collapses.
Well, I’m here to tell you that the answer turns out to be fairly straight-forward! As with Global Climate Change, there are certain corporate entities who have a vested financial interest in confusing the public. In this case, rather than the players being oil and coal companies, it turns out to be the closely related chemical companies led by Bayer and Syngenta as well as Dow and Sumitomo.
And here is the answer: Neonicotinoids (“neonics”). Neonics are a class of insecticides, chemically similar to nicotine, which were developed in the 1990’s by Bayer and introduced shortly thereafter. The best known of these, Imidacloprid, was launched in 1994 and now earns Bayer over a billion dollars per year. The demise of the honey bee correlates exactly with the introduction of these pesticides which in numerous studies have been shown to be extremely toxic to bees. As with Global Climate Change, the perpetrators of this disaster have sown the usual “we need more research on this issue”, “the causes are so complex” etc. Actually it is not very complex: neonics are extremely toxic to bees; they are water soluble and therefore systemic in the plant and do not break down quickly in the environment; millions and millions of pounds are being pumped into our environment each year.
The European Union has partially banned the 3 most prevalent such neonicotinoids for 2 years in an attempt to get a handle on the problem. Meanwhile in the United States, both the EPA and Department of Agriculture are resisting any efforts to restrict their use (what a surprise!). Since bees can travel up to several miles in search of food, they are easily exposed to profligate use of these pesticides. So here is what you can do to help:
✿Write to your congressman and Senators asking them to write a bill banning these pesticides. But since this is a quixotic request (given that the chemical and oil companies now own a majority of congress people) you can take personal action since many of these insecticides are common household products.
✿ Check any insecticides that you own, if they contain the word “SYSTEMIC” and/or have lovely Madison names such as “Gaucho” “Admire” “Merit” “Advantage” or “Winner” (you get the point!) you need to dispose of them. On the back check to see if the insecticides contain Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, acetimiprid or other lesser known nicotinoids.
✿ Look for organic options such as nematodes, or products containing pyrethrins, neem oil or other natural oils such as rosemary & peppermint
✿ Buy only organic seeds. It turns out that 90% of seeds are now soaked in neonics, which means those so-called healthy garden plants that you are growing from seed my be full of these toxins!
✿ Check out the Xerxes Society website
✿ Alert and educate your neighbors to this unfolding disaster. When the public becomes involved, things will change!
I don’t know about you, but to me a world that exists solely on gruel, which is where we are heading, doesn’t sound very fun!
When you grow grapes the way we do, depending on Mother-Nature to provide us with ample moisture through the year, the advent of the winter rains is a welcome indicant of the year to come. Without sufficient moisture in the soil, it is of course more of a struggle for the vines to progress through the summer. With excessive moisture, vine vigor can become excessive. In either case, the state of the vine imprints itself on the resulting fruit.
In the Fall, rain prior to harvest can have both magical and disastrous consequences. At the end of a long, dry summer timely rains will rejuvenate vines, slow down maturation of the fruit and prevent desiccation of the fruit. During the middle of harvest, rain can delay the process as well as contribute to the onset of fungal diseases.
Thus precipitation, how much we receive and when we receive it, is a crucial player in the definition of each vintage. As a result it is also an important contributing part of what we call “terroir”.
As we become more urbanized as a society, wine, especially local wine, provides a picture of this relationship between man and the weather around him. 2011 was a cool summer with a wet autumn and very late harvest and the wines reflect that. 2012, remember that heat in August? That was followed by a little rain in early September to recover the vines and picture-perfect harvest and the wines reflect that. The wines are in essence a picture of the year that was, and how fun is that?!
Turn on the irrigation and you’ve thrown it all away. Turn on the reverse osmosis machine in the Fall and you’ve thrown it all away again. We have a choice here: we can go for consistency from year to year (think “Coca Cola”) or we can go for reflections of the year that was. Obviously we choose option B!
Click here to link to our “drop kick” campaign, enjoy!
2013 will undoubtedly go down as one of the more bizarre harvest seasons in Oregon wine history. September was mostly reminiscent of late Fall weather (in a decidedly rainy year!) then October crept in with perfect Springtime weather.In England, these warm golden days of October are referred to as St. Luke’s Little summer in honor of the Saint’s Feast day.
A good farmer tries to remain undaunted by whatever is thrown at him (her). In that vein, when the miserable harvest weather turned into golden October, we decided to do what we normally do in the Spring: cultivate and plant! In our possession were nearly 1000 young vines which we had grafted and rooted in March/April of this year and then nursed through the summer growing season.
On the east side of our property is plot of land which had previously been a hazelnut orchard. The orchard had been cleared 2 years ago and planted with various cover crops to re-nourish the soil: first was clover to provide nitrogen and then buckwheat to assimilate phosphorus and make it readily available to other plants.
Though our winemaker friend,John Thomas, tried to convince us that we should plant a spaghetti orchard, we looked at the young vines consigned to their grow tubes and decided against his suggestion, tempting as it was. Normally young vines are carefully protected in a greenhouse through the winter months since we are busy making wine in October and it is too wet to plant after that. This year, the soil dried out enough to cultivate in mid-October. We staked out the vineyard on a 6 X 6 ft grid, Tom drilled holes, and Teri made up a concoction of fertilizer and mycorrhiza which she and Dan dispensed into each hole along with a gallon of water. Meanwhile Johnselected the clones to be set in each row and “voila” a new section of Clos Electrique was born!
No matter what your political persuasion, I want you to be aware that the radical right of the Republican Party is adversely affecting our business in major ways. From their anti-immigrant diatribes meant to chase Hispanics back across the border, to their inability to grasp climate change and now their tantrum regarding “Obamacare”, these so-called Tea Partiers are hurting American wine producers in major ways.
Let us begin with the vehement anti-Hispanic hysteria of the last decade aimed at workers who have come across our southern borders illegally (because they have never been presented with any legal means to do so). These people need work and we in the agricultural industry need workers. But because of the absolute nastiness and I would argue racist behavior of our self-proclaimed American patriots, there is now a net exodus south of Hispanics. As a result, vineyards up and down the West Coast are experiencing a shortage of workers. This means that when epic storms arrive, as we have seen recently here in Oregon, we cannot get our grapes picked in time. Admittedly House Republicans are trying to rectify the situation by adding 800,000 federal employees to the work force but I doubt that they have much prowess in picking grapes!
And speaking of epic storms, we are experiencing ever increasing quantities of such events due to climate change. Now I know that these right-wing ideologues “do not believe” in climate change, evolution or gravity but that, unfortunately, does not mean that these phenomenon don’t exist. What it does mean is that we doing nothing to deal with a problem of our making and it is having increasing impact on agriculture everywhere.
Add to these impediments the current fit being displayed by House Republicans and we are forced to deal with yet another bump in the road to running our business. In order to even bottle a wine, we need to have labels approved by the Commodity Classification Branch of the Treasury Department (which is currently shut down). Assuming that the government is reinstated soon, there will be a backlog of label requests meaning that it could be months before approvals come through. Add to that the price of my new French oak barrels which are going up daily as the dollar slides in value against other world currencies, and you get John Paul’s latest rave!
Given the present enthusiasm over pink wines, it is hard to believe that there was a time in the very recent past when my best bet at selling pink wine was to put a picture of Ché Guevera on the front label and call the wine “Vino Pinko”. Now, thankfully, that has all changed. Rosés, ramatos, rosattos, pink wines or whatever you want to call them now have an ardent following and so they should.
These wines bridge the gap between white and red wines and may be more versatile than either of the other two. If made properly they can possess the acidity more common to white wines with some of the texture commonly found in reds.
And to make them properly requires some skills above the norm for making most wine. That is because “balance” is more difficult to achieve in these wines given the contact with the skins which will extract sometimes bitter phenolics (tannins) without the more forceful flavors inherent in red wines to offset them. It becomes a game of restraint versus extravagance; pulling out sufficient color and texture while leaving the wine buoyant and fresh at the same time.
Too often producers of pink wines overburden them with sulfur dioxide and kill the freshness. Or they extract too much color and tannin and leave them in no man’s land between rosés and reds. In the other direction they shy from extracting sufficient color and texture and leave them in a place where they are in actuality more blanc de noirs than rosés.
The perfect pink wine, and there are many good ones out there, possess beautiful tones of color from orange to salmon pink to light strawberry. They should have a hint of texture reminiscent of the grape from which they emanate. There should be of firm acidity but not at the expense of the delicate flavors inherent in these wines. In short, one should be drawn in to the wine by its color, captivated by its elegant aromas and finally conquered by its texture and lingering flavors.
To this end, we at Cameron have released (Summer 2013) an array of 3 pink wines from 3 different vintages, all fermented and aged in older neutral barrique for appropriate periods of time: 2010 Nebbiolo Pink (a late, cool vintage in which this variety was better suited to the realm of rosatto), 2011 Saignee of Pinot noir (feremented juice bled from fermenters of Abbey Ridge and Arley’s Leap Pinot noir) and 2012 Ramato of Pinot grigio (traditional Friulian Pinot grigio macerated on the skins for less than a day, pressed and fermented).
It is no secret that Cameron Winery does not use irrigation in our vineyards. It is also no secret that we are part of a like-minded group of wineries/grape growers who feel the same way (The Deep Roots Coalition). The reasons for eschewing irrigation are multifarious but are rooted in a common notion that it makes sense and is truly sustainable. One need only look south to the Russian River in Sonoma County to see the crisis that is developing around this topic. We recommend that you watch A Return to Dry Farming – an excellent film that shows how dry farming can be one solution to the current water shortages in Sonoma County.
Given that grapes have been farmed for literally thousands of years without irrigation, why is it that large segments of the viticultural community now think that it is impossible to farm without it? The answer likely comes down to money: it is generally quicker to get grapes on line and to start turning a profit with irrigation and one can achieve larger crops with it.
But what is the cost in the quality of the wine? I would argue that the cost is significant. The grapevine leaf canopies are essentially sugar factories turning out sucrose that is exported to the grape clusters. Irrigated vines are turning out so much sugar in the course of a growing season that the resulting fruit from these vineyards routinely comes in at 25-26% sugar by weight resulting in alcohols that are 14-15%. This is not wine of finesse. This is not wine of complexity.
The wines from our dry-farmed grapes typically come in at 12.5-13.0% alcohol. The yields are typically low (1.5-2.5 tons per acre) and the intensity and complexity of the wines are astonishing. These are wines that go with food.
And perhaps most important, at the end of the day we know that our vineyards and way of life will endure for the next generation. A vineyard that exists on the notion of being sustained by a disappearing aquifer or stream cannot say the same.
I am a bit perplexed by the popularity of a relatively new genre of wine: “Natural Wines”. In my opinion, this is a narrow and arbitrary classification meant to suit the marketing needs of whoever is using it. When I see a cloudy wine and am told “Oh this is a natural wine”, I am compelled to retort “I can’t think of anything more natural than gravity…maybe the winemaker should have waited to rack his wine for bottling!” And when one encounters a wine which is either oxidized or smells of fingernail polish remover or has been brutalized by a lactic acid bacteria infection, sure these are “natural processes” but they also emanate from poor winemaking practices.There’s More... >
2016 was an extremely dry and warm vintage. Because of water stress, the berries were smaller and crop smaller than usual. However, a beneficient rain in early September re-hydrated the fruit and the result is a cellar of very concentrated and wonderfully balanced wines. Get ready for a brilliant 2016 vintage of small production down the road!There’s More... >
Guido, our 18 year old Tuxedoed cat, quietly passed away on August 18. For 17 vintages, Guido was our constant companion in the cellar, in the vineyard, in the yurt.There’s More... >