This week, we begin a series authored by Founding Winemaker Scotty Shull sharing his basic insights on winemaking, winegrowing, and what inspires him to continue perfecting his craft as an Oregon Pinot Noir producer. The first installment takes us into the vineyards where it all starts… enjoy, and let us know what you think! -Annie
With pride, I call our work "winegrowing" because to make good wine entails a holistic approach. Tending the wine from the roots, through the vines, to the harvest and into the cellar and beyond is like modern day alchemy—Earth,Wind, Fire, and Water.
With all our vineyards, but especially our Raptor Ridge Estate Vineyard, we are monitoring and managing the soil, the vines, and their fruit throughout the growing season. We view ourselves as part of nature's process; we are part of the creation of these wines. We monitor soil nutrition levels through annual soil sampling and analysis of nutrient levels, pH levels, water holding capacity, and general "tilth.” This even includes watching our friendly earth worm population. If something is deficient, we address it with cover cropping or feeding with our bi-weekly canopy spraying. We plant legumes and rye grass and till them back into the soil to provide "green manure.”
Wind & Fire & Water
In our Estate Vineyard, which is our bellwether for what we do across the Willamette valley, we monitor temperature, wind, soil moisture, and light radiation. We then use the data to tell us how much water the plants are using on a daily basis (evapotranspiration). Certainly we want plants to struggle and produce fruit with character, but we don't want them to stress out to the extent that they produce off-notes with vegetal characteristics. Balance is the key, so we must watch the plants and measure the environment and make decisions.
Pruning, Tracking, Irrigating, Tuning, and Tasting
We prune the vines in February and then make a prediction, vineyard by vineyard, as to the crop load and canopy 'style' we want that coming year.
Throughout the growing season, we're tracking heat unit accumulation (Growing Degree Days) to estimate how much fruit the vines want to ripen this vintage. A cooler vintage may ripen less than two tons per acre. A warmer vintage would ripen too fast with such little fruit and may want to hang more than three tons per acre. We use our best judgement to manage crop levels based on the long range seasonal weather forecast. By mid-growing season we make our final call and may come through our vines and drop more than half the crop on the ground.
We have the ability in our Estate Vineyard-- and a few of our leased sites like Gran Moraine, Goodrich, and Meredith Mitchell Vineyard, to efficiently drip small amounts of water onto the root zone of the vine. This provides each vine with the right amount of water to avoid stress, yet continue the struggle, which is called deficit irrigation.
As a final means of “tuning” the vines for optimal ripening, we may go through the vineyard and actually hand pull a few leaves off the vine right at the fruit zone. This allows each wine grape cluster to bathe in sunlight and air which develops more skin color and tannins, while at the same time naturally fights plant diseases such as mildew and botrytis.
As the end of the growing season nears, we're regularly tasting and sampling each block of the vineyards from which we source our wines. Tasting is the most important step, but it is also key to monitor the chemistry, including sugar levels (potential alcohol) as well as pH (mouth feel) and total acid (TA to maintain length and freshness).
Annually, we invest in aerial spectral photography of our vineyards, which helps us visualize vine vigor and crop load. Visually, it can guide us in our block-by-block harvest decisions as well as give us feedback about our cover cropping and feeding regimen throughout the year. This closes the loop on each season’s farming activity, and tells us where to go, vine-by-vine, in the coming years.Annually, we invest in aerial spectral photography of our vineyards, which helps us visualize vine vigor and crop load.
(aerial spectral photograph of Estate vineyard)
In Flight for 20 Years
As we launch this new website and ready ourselves for our 5th summer of visitors to our Chehalem Mountain Estate, we plan to keep in closer touch with you through this Blog space. Scotty and I will take turns updating you with stories. From the windshield of his Tuscowallame Estate Tractor to my travels across the country and the connections I make through Raptor Ridge Oregon Pinot Noir, we have found that community can happen just as easily in a car working with a sales rep as it can at the tasting room bar, around a Summer Lunch table, or on a yoga mat at one of our Yoga In… the Vines retreats at Raptor Ridge. All of your stories and observations on and about Pinot and enjoyment of the Pacific Northwest are important to us. We value the time we take to get to know each and every one.
Scotty will undoubtedly add his quirky (and always educational) roving video footage as he checks vineyards and tends Tuscowallame Estate throughout the V.2015 growing season. I will regale you with stories and insights from the yoga and meditation mat to the road.
Top of mind right now is the fact that we are celebrating our 20th anniversary the same year that the Willamette Valley is celebrating its 50th. Relative to the rest of the winegrowing regions, Raptor Ridge is still a gangly teenager, while the Willamette Valley is perhaps more through graduate school and starting a family of its own. We’ve gone through quite an evolution in these two decades. Some of you Flight Club members may have met us when we were still holding private tastings in the kitchen at Wildhaven Lane, making the wine out of a converted sheep barn 50 yards up a forest path from that kitchen table. We’ve traversed the Willamette Valley since those days, making wine from Gaston, to McMinnville to Carlton, collaborating with other small brands along the way to get their vineyards and tasting rooms established while they were still growing.
When we commercialized in 1995, we were winery #172. The North Willamette Valley alone now boasts over 400 wine brands. We’ve gone from being distributed in 3 states in 1996 to nearly 30 in 2015. We now ship to 46 states, and have a 3-tier wine club. Growing can be a blessing and a challenge. The most important thing to us, however, is to keep a high quality product and customer service that continues to earn us a sustained connection to you: our Guests, Flight Club Members, Distributors, Retailers, Restaurateurs, Sommelier, and Server community. We are truly grateful for your support, enthusiasm and sustained interest in Raptor Ridge wines.
Today we launched our new website for Raptor Ridge Winery. This is the begining of a new adventure in our winery business. We invite you to come in and take a look around our virtual winery online and then come visit us in Newberg, Oregon when you are in the area, we would love to meet you!Annie & Scott Shull Owenrs/Winemaker