Mon 07 Nov 2011

More From Oregon

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A second update from Dave Noonan, who until recently worked at The Wine Society, and who is now working as a harvest intern at Lemelson in Oregon.

Pierre Mansour

The days start with a briefing from Anthony (King, winemaker) where amongst other things he explains how the grapes are doing in terms of sugar levels and, most importantly, what the latest weather forecast is.

The day ends when the work is done and we gather round the beer keg (which has been rigged up to keep cold using the fermentation tank’s cooling system).

There’s been a lot of cleaning and sterilising of the many stainless steel tanks which vary in size, from 20 to 3000 gallons. A lot of time has also been spent in the vineyards, each of which is split in to specific blocks depending on which pinot clone or grape had been planted.

Each block must be sampled randomly to give an idea of expected yields and, once the samples have been crushed, analysed for colour, pH, acidity, smell and taste. The six Lemelson vineyards (organically certified) are spread over around 600 acres of the Willamette valley – which in turn stretches from just below Portland in the north to Eugene in the south of the state. The nearest vineyard to us is about 10 metres from my front door. The furthest (and highest) is a half hour drive.

I’m sharing the house with a great guy (Tress) also in his mid 30s. It’s his first harvest at Lemelson too. Having spent years working as a manager for Yahoo!, he decided to follow his passion and did a masters degree in oenology – his aim to become an assistant winemaker in the next year or so. We took a trip down to Oregon State University in Corvalis and had a look round the Food Science and Technology Department. The sophistication, facilities and size of the department is a clear indication of how important winemaking and brewing has become to the state.

Later we drove high in to the hills of ‘Mary’s Peak’ to hunt for Chantrelle mushrooms. After an hour of hiking through dense woodland we were soaked as were in the cloud layer – but had a bag of orange mushrooms each. The effort was worthwhile once they’d been cooked in butter, cream and chardonnay donated by the tasting room.

I’m enjoying the American way of life. Jim Esper (assistant winemaker). David Martinez (crew chief and son of vineyard manager) and myself went to a large gun show in Salem – the state capital. Here you can buy anything from a bright pink pistol that would fit in a handbag to a military sniper rifle. The people were very friendly and visibly shocked when I told them the UK had banned carrying pen knives. After a traditional Mexican lunch we drank beer and shot things.

Driving hasn’t been as difficult as I’d feared although the Oregonians’ ‘over politeness’ does cause confusion at crossroads! A pleasant surprise is the range and quality of the beer. I’d been under the impression that I’d be limited to Budweiser and Coors – very wrong. Oregon has a large number of micro or craft breweries, producing fantastic ales in a huge range of styles (note of caution: whilst it is possible to find beers at around 5%, most seem to be around 7% and I’ve seen one at 15%!).

We have some very long days ahead of us but are all looking forward to getting started. Other than The Wine Society, I can’t think of a better bunch of people to work with. It’s great to think in a couple of years I can buy some wine that I can say I helped make.

Dave Noonan

Categories : Rest of the World

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