Grapevine Archive for Lemelson
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.
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.
The following is part of a lovely letter I received from Dave Noonan, who until quite recently worked at The Wine Society handling members’ telephone enquiries and orders. He managed to persuade Eric Lemelson, when Eric visited London for The Society’s Wine Fair Tasting in May, to give him a harvest job at his excellent Oregon winery in the Willamette Valley. It occurred to me that members would enjoy reading his musings.
I arrived at Lemelson three weeks ago, one of four harvest interns – pretty nervous having little idea of what to expect. My welcome could not have been warmer: the hospitality and kindness has been incredible.
The winery could quite easily be on a picture postcard. It’s beautiful. Surrounded by oaks, maples and huge Douglas-firs, it’s an impressive building of wood, slate, glass and local stone that fits perfectly in its surroundings.
The scenery is breathtaking. On one side we have the imposing mountains of the coastal range, the other sides a mixture of rolling hills covered by trees and vines. On a clear day you can see the highest mountain in the state – Mount Hood, a standalone peak that is always covered in snow.
Pinot noir is king in the Willamette Valley and this is true with Lemelson. Their range consists of around eight different pinots – these are single vineyard wines and a couple of blends. The single vineyard wines are $42 a bottle while the blends are between $20 and $30. The winery has been purpose designed and built to produce wine without using pumps (pinot must be treated gently!).
Each single vineyard wine has its own distinct character with varying levels of raspberry, blackberry, chocolate, coffee, oak and spices. My favourite is the single vineyard Stermer wine – I may be biased though as my house is on the Stermer vineyard and I’ve been tasting the berries everyday. They also make three whites: a superb riesling, aromatic and full of honey and citrus, a pinot gris and also a chardonnay.
The work so far has been focused on getting ready for the harvest. The work is never dull – one day last week I drove out to the Johnson vineyard, found the required area of vines and picked 24 of the sweetest clusters I could find, put them in a bucket and squashed them. I then filtered the juice off so it could be frozen in to pinot noir ice pops for a wine club event being held this weekend!
I’m having the time of my life.