Fire and Wine Part 3

From John, January 25th, 2021

At our last posting regarding the post-traumatic events of September fires in the Willamette Valley, it appeared that we were somehow spared from incendiary aromas that some other wineries have been experiencing.  At this point in late January 2021, we are thrilled to  report that not a single lot of wine, either red or white, has been affected with smoke taint.

The most interesting effect of the smoke and fires seems to be related to the fact that our vines completely shut down their metabolism for approximately 2 weeks during that smoky period. We know this because we had measured both Brix (sugar levels) and pH (acidity) in some of our fruit just prior to the fires. After the first rain rolled through and cleared the air and put out the fires, we ran some new measurements and Brix and pH were identical to those of 2 weeks prior!  Since we hold the Burgundian formula of 100 days from bloom as sacred for determining when the Pinot noir is likely to be ready to pick, we decided to tack on another 14 days and picked at 114 days.

Another side effect of the metabolic shutdown seems to be that less sugar moved through the vine after their apparent hibernation. The grapes, when we finally decided to harvest, had lower Brix’s than we have seen in many years in ripe fruit (as measured by acidity, flavors and color). Even fruit that we allowed to hang for what seemed like an excessive period of time, came in at lower than expected Brix.

The Pinot blanc (which makes up the majority of our Giovanni blend) is a case in point, as are the various Italian white varieties that make up the Giuliano. As we prepare to bottle both of those wines, we see alcohol levels at 12.8% and 12.4%, respectively.

The 2020 Pinot noirs, which will continue to sit in barrel for over a year from now, are similarly all under 13% alcohol. And as predicted in our last missive, the intensity of fruit esters seem to be quite high due to the smallness of the clusters that we processed.

So all in all, we are looking at some decent wines coming out of the 2020 vintage though in smaller quantities than is typical.

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Introducing our Fall Releases

From John, November 16th, 2020

We have just released one of the best vintages in our Oregon experience!

2018 was a vintage of extraordinary acidity and perfect Autumn weather, which allowed the fruit to hang out there longer than normal.  All of the wines from 2018 are exquisite and this year there is also a minute quantity of the 2017 Massale from Clos Electrique Vineyard.  Our fall releases are distributed to retail accounts in Oregon, Chicago, New York City, Washington DC, Virginia, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, Anchorage,  Birmingham and London.

Since all of our single vineyard wines are pretty limited, we recommend you make haste & contact one of the fine establishments that carries our wine in Portland and other Oregon cities to arrange shipping or curbside pickup.  You can also contact cameronwinery@gmail.com for information on where to find our wines outside of Oregon.

Each of us at Cameron Winery would like to wish you the best during the holiday season!

FALL RELEASES:

2018 Abbey Ridge Chardonnay

2018 Clos Electrique Blanc

2018 Reserve Dundee Pinot noir

2018 Abbey Ridge Pinot noir 

2018 Clos Electrique Rouge

2016 Willamette Nebbiolo 

2017 Massale

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Fire and Wine: Part 2

From John, November 5th, 2020

On November 5th, we pressed off our last red wine fermenter (the Nebbiolo). So it is now time to report on what we see in the cellar from the 2020 vintage.

To briefly recap, after the smoke subsided, we delayed picking until 2 significant rain events were behind us. At that point we had no idea what to expect, but the drenching rain seemed to have removed all soot and ash from the surface of the grapes.

In order to minimize possible smoke contamination from the skins, fermentations of the red fruit were conducted with very gentle techniques to allow the whole berries that come out of our de-stemmer to remain mostly intact. The white fruit was pressed as whole clusters on a more gentle press cycle than previous years. While fermentations smelled rather normal, only in our imaginations did we smell smoke taint. That is because, rather insidiously, volatile phenols from smoke form chemical linkages with grape sugars in the juice (non-volatile glycosides) which are odorless. Therefore, assuming the fruit is not covered with soot,  aromas of smoke taint will not typically show themselves until the end of the fermentations when the sugars have been consumed by the yeast and the volatile smoke phenols are released.

It is only now that we can truly assess the situation at Cameron. At this point, it appears that we have dodged the bullet. Most of our finished wines smell normal (which for Pinot noir means some merde, salumi, mushrooms and dark cherries and for the whites a bit of grapefruit rind, pears and yeast). Even barrels that may perhaps show a trace of smoke should recover because these smoky aromas will likely integrate into the wine rather seamlessly,  much like the smoke from barrel toast (which, incidentally, is composed of the same phenols).  The other factor in our favor is that the 2020 vintage produced extremely small berried clusters (our yield was less than one ton per acre).  Small clusters will typically produce very aromatically intense wines  which will mask other subtleties in the wine.

Clearly smoke taint is real and only the luck of the gods (1) put us in a location further from the fires and the intensity of their smoke and (2) brought us significant rain to wash the fruit clean of soot. Our hearts go out to all of those growers and wineries who were more significantly affected.

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Fire and Wine

From John, September 19th, 2020

With the advent of global warming starting to manifest itself in significant ways, it should have been expected that at some point Oregon’s magnificent forests would be stricken by fire. The conditions that prevailed prior to the ignition step have become increasingly common over the last 10 years. Those conditions include longer, hotter and drier summers which dry out the forests and set them up for what happened. In this case the ignition step was the development of fierce dry winds from eastern Oregon followed by lightening strikes.

We realize that one internet theory involves Antifa Gods actually hurling the lightening bolts, but there is, frankly, scant evidence of that! At any rate, once the fires started to burn, the skies filled with unbelievable quantities of smoke which was pushed by the continuing east winds across the Willamette Valley and out to sea. Early on, the smoke was high above us raining down ash.  Only later did it turn into a sort of ground smog that lasted for several days and made working outside dangerous.

Our vineyards were edging relatively close to ripeness as the fires hit and some wineries chose to pick their fruit in the early part of the scenario to try and avoid what they thought might be accumulating smoke taint. We decided that even if they were correct in that assessment (and there is scant evidence that we can find to support them), the health of our workers in the field was far more important than the wine grapes. So we waited as the sun disappeared and the air cooled and the grape vines went into a kind of dormancy. The fruit that was hanging on them did not move with respect to sugar and acid throughout this seeming apocalypse.

So while our “100 days from bloom” calculations put the beginning of harvest around the 25th of September, it was clear that such a date was not going to be accurate any more. Thankfully, on the night of September 17th an epic storm out of the North Pacific finally came rolling in with thunder and lightening and what turned out to be a massive amount of rain. At one point more than 1 inch fell on our vineyard in the course of a single hour (I was of course awake at 2am when this happened dancing on our deck likely babbling primitive incantations!). The cleansing rain continued for around 24 hours, helping extinguish the fires and renewing our hopes for the coming vintage.

Going into the vintage all of the fruit appears clean and vibrant on the vines. A second rain event that is to occur for 2 days prior to commencement of our harvest should bring even cleaner fruit. And since leaves were carefully pulled from the vines during the late summer (to allow air circulation and sun), at this point the chance of fungal diseases seems remote.

All in all, I think we could have a stellar vintage given the very small crop and small berry sizes. But only time will tell whether volatile phenols from the smokey conditions show themselves in the wines. Stay tuned!

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FIELD GRAFTING AT CLOS ELECTRIQUE

From John, June 3rd, 2020


Nothing in life is set in granite; and sometimes it is necessary to change things in an attempt to improve the picture. Obviously on a national scale, that is exactly what the body of citizens is now engaged in. In our little humble vineyard, paling in comparison to the national discourse, I was unhappy with some of the choices that we made 20 years ago. So we set about to rectify the situation.

When we planted new blocks of Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes at Clos Electrique in 1999-2000, Dijon clones were the latest rage and we bought into it. But once we started harvesting crop off of these blocks it was painfully evident that these “new clones” were significantly inferior to the old Burgundy clones that we had planted previously.

So in 2010 we hired an incredible crew from St. Helena to graft scion wood from our stellar old White Burgundy clones onto the 10 year old Dijon Chardonnay vines.  By 2012 we had 12 year-old vines contributing beautiful fruit to our Clos Electrique Blanc blend. As I ruminated over the remaining Dijon Pinot noir clones the next few years, a plan was hatched in 2018 to do it ourselves.

Armed with a You Tube video and 2 grafting knives plus advice from an old hand at grafting, Alan Foster (White Oak Vineyard), we embarked on the project of learning graft via a process called t-budding. The commitment to t-bud is rather significant since one of the first things you do is cut off the head of the old vine!  This must be done late enough in the spring that the  bark is “slipping”.   Slipping occurs when the bark separates from the cambial layer (the very important layer of dividing cells) and this is necessary in order to slip a new bud in between the bark and the xylem (the water conducting tissue).  At this perfect time, the decapitated vines are ready to accept  tiny buds that we chip off of dormant canes (saved from winter prunings from our old Burgundy clones and stored in a refrigerator).

A small T is cut into the trunk of the vine, the bark peeled back and a chip with a bud on it is inserted into the wound. The entire operation is then tightly wrapped with plastic tape to keep the bud in place and protect it from drying out. And then you wait…and wait…and wait. And if you are lucky (and we are very lucky) in around 2-3 weeks those tiny buds start to swell and soon turn into tiny enthusiastic shoots reaching for the sky. At the end of the summer, those shoots become the basis for an entire new vineyard of kick-ass old red Burgundy clones that are ready to harvest in 2 years.

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Life in the Vineyard During the Time of Covid

From John, April 6th, 2020

April in Clos Electrique Vineyard

Walking out in the vineyard these days reminds me that life carries on in spite of what is going on for the “two leggeds”.

Buds are starting to show their leaves, bees are busy collecting pollen from the cover crop beneath the vines, sheep have been excluded from the vineyard given their propensity to eat said buds, the swallows have returned from Central America and are filling the bird boxes in the vineyard with nesting material, gophers and moles are starting to ramp up their activities.

The human intervention is a bit quiet this year. In order to keep our crew safe we have mandated that they work separate days in the vineyard. This of course means that less gets accomplished in a week but I am amazed at how much is getting done: the vine rows underneath the vines throughout the vineyard have been cleared with weed eaters, the prunings from winter have been chipped up and are being spread as mulch over the area recently cleared under the vines. A spray of lime sulfur was hand-applied to the buds to help prevent the onset of mildew, the trellis has been repaired throughout the vineyard and young vines have been hand-hoed to clear weeds from choking them out. And the old folks, Teri and John Paul, are working harder than ever to assist in all of these activities, taking Advil at night to ease sore backs and doing yoga in the morning to get them going on another day!

In the cellar, Tom carries on getting barrels ready for racking to create the blend of 2018 Dundee Hills Pinot noir. Julian quarantined himself for 3 weeks and has shown up to help put the new wine in the bottle. Matthew, donning a mask and gloves,  is keeping the enterprise going by delivering wine to the retail shops and grocery stores who deserve a huge amount of credit for making this essential libation available.  Because there is one thing that can be said for life in the time of Corona: people need a good glass of wine now more than ever!

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The Path to Cameron Wines

From John, February 14th, 2020

Part 1:  Clos Electrique Blanc

White Burgundy is arguably one of the greatest genres of wine on the planet. And with over 300 years of viticultural selections and winemaking techniques, it seemed silly to me to try and invent or emulate anything else in the world of Chardonnay. A visit to the cave of the Comte de Lafon and the young winemaker Dominique Lafon in 1981 inspired and cemented my relationship to the Burgundian approach. Later visits to the caves of François Jobard and Jean-Claude Ramonet further refined my techniques. All of these fabulous winemakers were generous with their knowledge to those willing to listen. And so it began.

I was also very lucky to have friends in the California wine industry who helped me find amazing old Burgundy clones, many of which had been originally introduced by legendary early California winemakers such as Carl Wente and Paul Masson. Among the people who helped me were Mary Edwards (who at that point was with Matanzas Creek), Larry Hyde (already making a name for himself in the Napa Valley) and Jeffrey Patterson (Mt. Eden Vineyards). What I brought north to Oregon in the mid-80’s constituted a treasure trove of old Burgundian viticulture which had been disseminated across California mostly during the early part of the 20th century.

And while great wine is truly made in the vineyard, it is also made (or at least augmented) in the cellar. And it was at this point that I was able to introduce some of the techniques of the Burgundian winemakers to bring out the inherent greatness in the Burgundian clones. Obviously Oregon weather, which so closely resembles that of Burgundy, helps make all of this possible. So I would be remiss in not giving a nod to the shitty winter weather, schizophrenic springs and surprises of summer that characterize Oregon!

And finally there is the element of patience. It takes time to establish a dry farmed vineyard and even more so with many of the low vigor clones here-in that make such fabulous wine (it takes usually 7-8 years before a moderate crop can be achieved). Nor can the wine be rushed through the fermentation and aging phase in the cellar (it is necessary to leave the wine in barrique on the yeast sediment for 2 years before it is ready to be bottled). And at this point, the patience must be transferred to you the consumer: yes you can drink this wine now but oh how much better if you are able to cellar it for an additional 10!!

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a 100% tariff will devastate the wine industry

From John, January 19th, 2020

The use of tariffs has become a defining reality in American economic life. Many things have become more expensive due to the wide range of items being taxed.  For example wine bottle glass is more expensive, even American-made glass, because manufacturers can now raise their prices in response to the rise in price of foreign glass. Specialty items manufactured overseas such as French cheese and Scotch and Irish whiskey are arbitrarily hit with tariffs even if there is no comparable product made here.

But all of this pales compared to the latest threat of 100% tariffs on French and European wine.   The 25% tariff implemented on French still wine in October has already unsettled the wine market in the US.  It has succeeded in reducing overall sales of wine in the 4th quarter compared to previous years.  A 100% tariff will literally kill it.

Sales of Oregon wine are miniscule compared to that of European wine. Wine retail shops and distributors and restaurants around the country depend on sales of the latter to run their businesses. We therefore “ride on the coattails” of European wines in order to move our product. With a doubling of import prices, I expect that many importers and distributors will fail within a year. Already there is very little wine in transit from Europe due to the uncertainty of the situation.  All of this is elegantly explained in a recent article by Oregonian/OregonLive author Michael Alberty.

While I pride myself on making Pinot noir and Chardonnay in a strictly Burgundian tradition that often tastes like “the real thing”, Abbey Ridge is not Volnay and Clos Electrique is not Chambolle. Nothing can replace the legendary wines of Burgundy.

We are all the losers if Trumps’s 100% import tariff comes to pass.

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Navigating a Rainy Vintage

From John, October 27th, 2019

The last 5 vintages in Oregon have been pretty easy affairs as far as weather during the harvest goes. However, 2019 was another matter entirely. After successfully fighting the perfect conditions for powdery mildew* all summer we entered September with our fruit in pretty good shape.

A bit of rain in early September is not unusual and usually not a problem. Unless the berries are within approximately 2 weeks of being ripe, moisture on them is not a big problem. But once one gets inside that 2 week window, the issue of rain can be a serious issue. At that point the skins soften up and the berries are more prone to absorbing moisture, therefore becoming more susceptible to fungal infections. If a single berry splits at this point it is food for the lurking fungal spores and the game is on.

In 2019 significant rain fell early in the third week of September. Fruit in the lower elevation vineyards was not quite ripe, but it was close. And this where the winemaker’s decision comes into play: picking early will avoid botrytis** infections but the fruit will be under ripe. Waiting through the rain will allow the fruit to ripen more fully but now risks inclusion of fungal infection. Because the rains were emanating in the North Pacific gyre, and would therefore be cold, we chose to wait. The results were of course mixed: by the time we picked the following week, the fruit was ripe though the sugar was reduced by the absorption of rainwater and some botrytis had started to grow.

By contrast fruit in the higher elevation vineyards was not quite ripe enough to be heavily affected by that rain event. As a result, when we picked those vineyard blocks another week later only negligable botrytis had developed and the sugars were perfect.

As the season wore on, however, with more rain events interspersed with sun, botrytis became a bigger factor. Fortunately at that point we are mostly harvesting white grapes and they are not so negatively affected by botrytis as are the red grapes. Botrytis kills color (so bad for making red wines) but can add interesting aromas/flavors, such as honey and apricot notes (so good for increasing complexity of white wines).

Any time that one gets a generally rainy harvest scenario, the wines are likely to be mixed in terms of interest and quality. And it puts the easy vintages into perspective!

 

*Powdery mildew (Erysiphe necator) is a fungal infection that appears as a whitish-grey powder on leaves and berries. Disease development is strongly favored by high humidity and cloudy weather, in addition to relatively warm temperatures. Practices such as proper pruning and leaf pulling  promote an open canopy with good air circulation and light penetration, which can reduce conditions that favor powdery mildew development.

**Botrytis cinerea, a grey-brown fungal infection, is the most common form of wine grape rot in Oregon.  Though beneficial in the production of dessert wines, botyritis infection in Pinot noir is not desirable!

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Irrigation: the oxycontin of viticulture

From John, March 30th, 2019
old non-irrigated vine

old non-irrigated vine

It makes everything feel good but it is terribly addictive and the health of the patient is always compromised. I am talking of course about irrigating vineyards in North America.

Certainly Europe would have to be considered the progenitor of American viticulture and their vineyards are largely dry farmed. And in the beginning, and until quite recently, vineyards in America were also dry farmed.

So what happened? After the famous Steven Spurrier Tasting in 1976 (won by Stags Leap Winery and Chateau Montelena), investment in vineyards started pouring into the Napa Valley and California viticultural areas in general. With that money came bankers and accountants demanding return on their investments. And to ease the pain of those hefty financial transactions, vineyards began irrigating.  With irrigation, vines could be in production in 2 years instead of 5-7, yields could be increased and the quantity of sugar in the grapes could be pushed to previously unknown levels.

Note that nothing has been said about “quality” here. As yields went up, quality went down and as sugars went up, California wines became known as high alcohol fruit bombs. By comparison the beautifully crafted wines that won the Paris Tasting in 1976 were all around 12.5% alcohol. You would be hard pressed to find a Napa Valley wine today that is less than 14-15% alcohol (unless it comes from one of the remaining dry farmed vineyards such as Frog’s Leap).

In Europe, if one introduces irrigation to one’s vineyard, one immediately loses rights to an appellation because rainfall (timing and quantity) is a basic component of terroir. Irrigated vineyards have no more terroir than a hydroponically grown green house tomato.

The Oregon wine industry basically copied the California model approximately 10 years later.  In our case, a tasting of Burgundies vs Oregon Pinot noirs took place with wines from our 1983 vintage. And again, with the fame garnered by the results, money poured into the Willamette Valley tethered to grandiose schemes for irrigating the new vineyards. The results have been largely the same with a plethora of high alcohol, fruit-forward wines.

The good news is that there are still plenty of dry farmed vineyards in both Oregon and California. Though they constitute a minority of the plantings, they are certainly producing the best wines. Many of these vineyards are represented by the Deep Roots Coalition.

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Fire and Wine Part 3

At this point in late January 2021, we are thrilled to  report that not a single lot of wine, either red or white, has been affected with smoke taint from the fires last fall. We are looking at low alcohol, intensely fruity, delicious wines coming out of the 2020 vintage, though in smaller quantities than is typical.

There’s More... >
Introducing our Fall Releases

We have just released one of the best vintages in our Oregon experience! 2018 was a vintage of extraordinary acidity and perfect Autumn weather and we think the wines are exquisite.

There’s More... >
Fire and Wine: Part 2

Now that fermentations have finished, we can truly assess whether smoke exposure has affected our wines. Due to a well-timed drenching rainstorm, careful winemaking techniques and a crop consisting of small clusters, we are happy to report that our finished wines are free of smoke taint!

There’s More... >

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