Today’s guest post is from our man Bill Hooper, former salesman at The Wine Company, German trained winemaker, and now a key figure in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
Last year’s inaugural release proved Paetra’s place among the pantheon of American Riesling -not least for their affinity to food. Marrying phenolic ripeness with nervy acidity the 2015 vintage is sure to offer great promise.
From Bill Hooper:
BEAUTIFUL, DELICIOUS RIESLING
I have no reservations about saying that this is an outstanding vintage. I feel like I finally settled in this year. I was able to achieve all of the vineyard work when it needed to be done and was often ahead of schedule. Harvest was a pleasure. I got the children involved in picking and they were actually helpful! The weather was fantastic. I have very high expectations of the wines –here is why:
My top goals for this year were to continue to improve upon the farming practices in the vineyard that I carried over from last year and to initiate some of those practices on the two new (to me) vineyards for 2015. I think that I made huge strides in these areas and I’m extremely pleased with the results.
One of my biggest concerns was improving the natural nutrients found in the grapes themselves, the Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen (YAN) in particular. One step in doing this was to decrease the bud-count at pruning by tying down only one fruiting cane, thus decreasing the yield and also increasing air-flow within the fruiting zone. After this, there was also shoot-thinning followed by lateral-shoot thinning and like last year, several harvest passes in each vineyard.
From the onset of the vintage, it was clear that there would be water-deficit issues in 2015. That was certainly the case throughout the summer months, when hardly any rain fell and we endured a string of days with 90+ degree temperatures. Because all of my vineyards are dry-farmed, it was important to monitor the vegetative growth of the canopy and to act accordingly by hedging (albeit very late) on all but one vineyard so as to conserve the available water.
One of the disadvantages of hedging is increased lateral-shoot growth which required all the more diligence on my part to remove these from the fruiting-zone –again, in an attempt to maximize air-flow and to help keep botrytis and mildew at bay. It was also important in a warm year to limit the fruit’s exposure to the sun, thus keeping the phenolic compounds responsible for diesel-like aromas in Riesling to a minimum. To this end, I was careful not to completely de-leaf the fruiting zone and the bunches developed under the protection of shade for the majority of the year. This also had the benefit of warding off sunburn, which was a major problem for many vineyards in the Willamette Valley this year. As I’ve said before, it is a delicate dance to satisfy these seemingly divergent needs, but it is completely possible to accomplish both goals with enough hours and effort.
Initially the hot summer had everyone thinking that we had the twin of 2014 on our hands. But toward the end of August and throughout September, the temperatures became very cool coupled with plenty of rain. I recorded a week stretch where there was zero Oechsle/Brix accumulation and the pH stayed constant –all the while though the vines were advancing physiologically and flavors were developing. Through complete coincidence two of my picks fell on the exact same dates as in 2014, and while the must weights were similar, the acidity was significantly higher in 2015. Riesling came in at 85, 87, 93, and 94 degrees Oechsle for the four picks and Pinot Blanc at 85 and 90. pH ranged from 2.95 to 3.18 for Riesling with TAs from 7.1-9.2.
Botrytis was more of an issue in 2015 due to the September rain and required much more labor at harvest to eliminate through hand-sorting in the vineyard. I had one block where we dropped around 25% of the fruit, while on the other hand the highest elevation (Pinot Blanc) vineyard had virtually no rot even though it was the final pick of the year.
I’m also very pleased to say that I recorded 33% more YAN than the adjacent Riesling block in EAH, which is a significant leap in just one year of farming. YAN is directly responsible for improving fermentation kinetics and helping to ensure that the wines ferment to completion.
I streamlined some of the cellar-work this year by using more neutral oak and having more tanks on hand for individual lots. Again there was no sugar or acid addition, no fining, no chemical nutrient additions, and 100% wild yeast (Sponti) fermentations.
This year there will be six wines in total: Five Rieslings (a dryish Willamette Valley Kabinett, dry Eola-Amity Hills, dry Yamhill-Carlton, dry Orange, and a sweet Spätlese) and one super cool Coast Range Pinot Blanc.
The Willamette Valley Riesling is a blend of 4 different harvests from 2 different vineyard sites. This is the Riesling that I wanted to make last year, but didn’t really have the wine to spare. This year it will be the bulk of the production. It is just barely off-dry, under 12% alc. with plenty of acidity. The Eola-Amity Hills is 100% neutral barrel fermented this year (as is the Yamhill-Carlton –my barrel inventory is increasing!) and will be significantly drier than in 2014. It is also the product of just one harvest pass (the first pass going into the Willamette Valley Riesling), and as such I feel that it is a little more focused than the 2014. It will be interesting to me to see both age together. The Yamhill-Carlton site is a little cooler, is made up of a more sandy soil and is of a different clone. So far the flavors show this difference as there is much more of a citrus element to the YC than the EAH which is showing of spiced peach at the moment. The Orange wine is also a bit drier than in ‘14 and at this stage more tannically structured. I intend to barrel age it into August to help those tannins integrate and polymerize. There will also be a little bit of no-doubt-about-it sweet ‘Spätlese’ Riesling that is completely delicious. I’m very proud of the collection as a whole and am happy to be able to offer so many different wines. Expect to see notifications as the wines are released (first two up will be the Willamette Valley Riesling and Spätlese).
Please let me know if you have any questions. You are welcome to stop by for a barrel-tasting before the wines are bottled should you find yourself in the Willamette Valley.