There was a lot of talk about the weather in 2015! Record breaking snowfalls in January gave way to an early spring here in the Okanagan, with bud break occurring around April 7, which is roughly two weeks ahead of a normal year according to our winemaker Matt Mavety.
Flowering of the vines continued the two week advance trend, followed by a warmer than average growing season that pushed the start of harvest up the calendar by about 3 weeks. This year we started the harvest on August 13, 2015, picking Pinot Noir for sparkling wine. To give this some context, we would normally start harvesting the same grape around September 5-7.
Cooler weather at the end of August and early September was actually a blessing, and allowed for good maturity and preservation of acidity, and hence the minerality of the wines. The generally hot weather through spring and early summer did create some challenges for our cool climate varietals; however, we were able to select the best harvest dates to preserve the freshness of the fruit and manage the alcohol level in the wines.
With the 2015 vintage in the barrel, so to speak, the pace at the vineyard has slowed back to normal as we maintain and prepare the vineyard for winter...and maybe find some time to start waxing our skis!
Cheers from the Okanagan!
The Mavety Family
Gamay Noir cluster about to be harvested.
Our favourite crew from Mexico back with us for another harvest. These guys are like family now!
Chardonnay ready for the press.
Vineyard Manager Ernst working the tractor.
As the evenings come, there are always plenty of grapes to be processed.
It's like grape bin Tetris sometimes as we shuffle everything around the vineyard during harvest.
End of a day in the vineyard and the tractor is put to rest.
Chef Chris VanHooydonk joined us for our 2015 Harvest Celebration Dinner.
Our wonderful guests for this year's Harvest Celebration Dinner.
Pinot Noir grapes waiting to be destemmed and pressed while the 2014 vintage looks on from the barrels.
Winemaker Matt working the destemmer.
Jean-Marie putting the Pinot Noir into the tank.
Elodie joins us from France for this harvest.
There is no job too small during harvest! Ian Mavety helps with the bins while Matt "supervises."
Photos by Chris Stenberg
Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wines goes through a primary fermentation in the tank and a second fermentation in the bottle. Once the wine goes through its second fermentation in bottle it is left to age on its lees, the dead yeast cells. At this time, the sparkling wine continues to age for several more years resulting in a toasty, yeasty characteristic.
Next we need to disgorge, remove the yeast cells from the wine and then it will be ready to drink. This is when we will date the disgorgement date on the label and it is titled R.D.
This special aging on the lees allows the wine to maintain a unique combination of freshness and liveliness, while developing delicate and complex aromas. Sparkling wines benefit from a prolonged maturation on its lees reinforcing the aromatic subtlety and complexity of the final wine.
Below is our disgorging line. The first image shows all of the sparkling bottles with their necks down in a glycol bath. Whereas the next image is the bottling line where the dosage is added.
Next time you pick up a bottle of sparkling wine please go ahead and take a look at the label and look for the disgorgment date!
In 2013, Blue Mountain re-packaged their Estate wines. Wanting to focus more on being 100% Estate grown the new labels reflect the importance of place celebrating the extraordinary view from Blue Mountain facing south down the Okanagan Valley towards McIntyre Bluff. These wines were formerly called cream label and are now called Estate wines. In 2014, the first of the Reserve wine re-packaging will be introduced. These are the former Stripe Label wines.
The Reserve wines are made from the following process. There are 10 to 13 lots of Reserve Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown on site, each with its own unique make up of clones and clone combinations. Each lot is harvested separately and then aged in either barrel or tank seperately. The wine produced from these individual lots are then tasted blind and 2 or 3 lots are chosen that become the Reserve Wine. The blend of those 2 or 3 lots is then tasted against back vintages of Blue Mountain wines to maintain consistency. The wines are then aged for an additional year and a half in French Oak Barrels before they are released giving them greater complexity, structure and ageablility.
Here are the labels you may be familiar with alongside their new replacements.
Cream Label is now known as Estate Wines:
Stripe Label is now known as Reserve Wines:
The majority of the post harvest work has been completed. Fermentation has taken place in either barrel or tank and now the wines are aging, waiting to be bottled and later consumed. Many of the wines particularly the reds go through malolactic fermentation during this time. The barrels containing the wine that is fermenting need to be monitored on an ongoing basis to make sure the malolactic fermentation is taking place.
Another task of the cellar staff is barrel topping and stirring. Throughout the winter over time evaporation will take place in the barrels. These barrels need to be topped up every week or two with the same wine to keep oxidation from occurring. Sometimes this can be as much as 6 litres per 228 litre barrel over a 1 to 1 1/2 month time frame. At the end of fermentation, on a weekly or bi weekly basis the white wines are stirred which is called batonnage. This stirring of the wine makes yeast particles in the wine called lees fall through the wine preventing oxidation. Another benefit of stirring the lees in a wine is the creation of a creaminess in the mouth feel of the wine. Photo below of our assistant winemaker Felix Korb.
In addition to barrel topping and stirring, SO2 or potassium metabisulfite is added in appropriate amounts in late fall or early winter. This starts when the whites finish fermentation and happens later with the reds as they have to go through malolactic fermentation prior to the addition of SO2. SO2 is added to the wine for antioxidant and antimicrobial purposes.
Finally we have quite a bit of work to do every winter with our sparkling wine production. The sparkling wine that has finished its primary fermentation from the current vintage are blended in tank to create our NV Brut, and our three vintage cuvees Brut Rose, Reserve Brut and Blanc de Blancs. The wine is then cold stabilized, gently filtered, inoculated with yeast and bottled to start the secondary fermentation process in the bottle. For more information on sparkling wine see our video
The choice to use cork as a closure for wine is something of a contentious debate. While there are many arguments in favour of a manufactured screw cap closure, or Stelvin Cap as it is known by popular trade name, there also exist many arguments against.
Blue Mountain continues to use all natural corks. This is partly due to the availability of top quality corks, and the increased quality of the cork available to us. It is also a style of winemaking that we feel has worked for us. Oxygen transfer, or lack thereof, into the bottle over time is a significant factor in how a wine ages over time, and we have reached a point where we know how our wines age in the bottle given the methods we have been using. A changeover to a metal screw cap would dictate a new approach to making our wines, and would also take time to understand whether or not we had made the correct choices in type of enclosure, type of glass, cap liner porosity, etc.
While there is certainly a place for the screw cap, we are sticking with the natural cork for our wines based on experience and testing over time. While we would never say never, at the moment there's just something satisfying about popping a cork. Call us old fashioned, but we like it that way.
What do you think? Do you prefer cork or screw cap?
Every year for the past 22 plus years there has been a familiar face at Blue Mountain Vineyard during harvest. This person is a very special member of our harvest team and although not paid for his many hours of labour, he is appreciated for his genuine heart and the great personality that he brings to Blue Mountain. Hank Stefaniak although technically a member of the family has been coming to Blue Mountain Vineyard faithfully every year for as long as there have been vintages.
Living on the Island those early sojourns were sometimes short as for a while he was still working in Education as an administrator and educator. In the beginning 4 day long weekends were all he could get away for but eventually he voluntarily chose to book vacation and spend his week or two of holidays in Okanagan Falls. Since he retired in 1997 he manages a full month or more whenever possible.
This year I had the opportunity to meet Hank and to chat with him about his experiences during various harvests at Blue Mountain Vineyard.
What are some of the jobs you have done while you were helping out with the harvesting? In the early days I photographed many of the days during production and much of the construction and planting that was happening. These pictures were used for promotional pieces and marketing mainly. (Hank was the very first person to photograph the iconic image of McIntyre Bluff that graces the labels of all Blue Mountain Wines.)
More recently I did spend a little time in the vineyard pruning. I have been mainly in the cellar since, hosing down bins, driving the forklift, barrel curing, topping up barrels, cleaning and rinsing tanks, what I call grunt work! In terms of the wine making and testing....not so much.
Do you have a favorite job in the cellar? Not really, I just do whatever needs to be done although pump overs, climbing ladders and hauling skins were more fun when I was younger.
Anything you dislike about working harvest? Wasps
Most memorable harvest and why? 1996 ...it was super cold and Ian and Jane had the crush pad set up behind the building. There was a makeshift bin dump and I was scraping berries in with my arm and rain was pouring down off the gutters everywhere. It wasn’t bad just freezing cold.
Thankfully this year was the complete opposite and Hank got some lovely long warm days on the crush pad. On behalf of everyone at Blue Mountain Vineyard thanks for all you do Hank and all you have done in the many years that you have been coming to help out with harvest. Your smile, great work ethic and sense of humour are greatly appreciated. See you next year!
The booming of propane run air cannons in the vineyard are a sure sign harvest is close to being in full swing. The cannons are used in many vineyards to scare away the birds when the grapes ripen. Some vineyards put nets over their vines to keep the birds out and often that occurs when the wineries are making ice wine as these grapes need to stay on the vines well into the winter. But birds are not the only creatures that love the taste of ripe grapes. Deer can also be very good consumers of grapes if they get loose in a vineyard and our resident black bears can eat up a whole row in very short order. At Blue Mountain we have put an 8ft fence around our vineyards to keep the deer out and as the bears dig under the fencing we have had to electrify the fencing to keep bear damage to a minimum.
All this to protect the 80 acres of grapes we are using to make our wines. In the cellar, Matt and the crew have harvested 68 tonnes of fruit to date. These Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris grapes have been pressed, pumped into tank and then left to sit for 24 hours. This lets any particles settle out. The juice is then racked and inoculated with commercial yeast selected from the Champagne region of France. The majority of this juice will be fermented in tank with only about 10% being barrel fermented in older French oak barrels for approximately 3 months. The portion in barrel is to add complexity to the sparkling wine.
So that completes our sparkling grape harvest. The crew gets a much deserved rest for the next three days and will be ready to go again on Monday when we start harvesting the Sauvignon Blanc for the table wine off of our Horse Thief high density vineyard for our cream label Sauvignon Blanc.
A big Blue Mountain welcome and thank you to Lisa Andrews from Rogers & Co in Toronto, Ontario who is helping us this week with the harvest.
Ian and Matt pay careful attention to the type and quality of barrels used at Blue Mountain. In the video above, Ian explains some of the technical aspects of coopering, and the reasons behind the choice in French Oak barrels for the Pinot Noir.
While the oak for the barrels may come from several different oak forests in France (mainly Vosges, Tronçais, and Allier) the cooperage for the barrels used here maintains consistent density throughout the barrel. The barrels are also divided into different toast characteristics whether they be light, medium, or heavy toast.
The selection of the wine barrel has a significant impact on the flavour profile of the wine, so we hope you'll enjoy this video if you're interested in learning about some of the behind the scenes decisions here at the winery.
Our Brut Sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, or Méthode Traditionnelle as it is in Champagne.
The blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris is fermented with yeast in the bottle to create the bubbles. Over the aging process the bottle is riddled (rotated) through a series of positions until it eventually ends up top down, or sur pointe, as they say in France.
The yeast ends up settling in the neck of the bottle where it is then disgorged; the removal of the yeast plug. The wine is topped up with a dosage, which can be anything from wine, to sugar water, and is then corked and ready to sell.
The entire process typically takes 3+ years from start to market. If you're keen on understanding more about the process Ian gives a detailed explanation in the video above produced by our friend Chris Stenberg at Vine & Beach.
The first Pinot Noir grapes for our Sparkling Wine have been handpicked on this cool September morning by our amazing Mexican crew. And they look beautiful -- clean, evenly ripe, and with the needed acidity for Sparkling Brut.
In the early morning hours on Thursday we started unloading approximately 49 bins of fruit, or 7.8 metric tonnes from our Horse Thief Vineyard planted in 2007. Before we started up the press all the staff gathered for a traditional toast to the new vintage, with sparkling wine of course!
With Charles transporting the fruit from the field, Christoph and Felix running the forklifts, the fruit was fed into our membrane press and whole cluster pressed. The first run juice or Cuvee makes up 75% - 85% of our crush. The berry remains or pomace were returned to our compost pile and the free run juice was put into stainless steel fermenters.
We whole cluster press to get minimal skin contact as these Pinot Noir grapes are destined for our Brut Sparkling Wine. We keep all the fruit separated in these tanks, not only by vineyard, but by different sections within each vineyard, while the grapes ferment. This is to try and best preserve the unique terroir of each site. Matt oversees it all; keeping everything organized by labeling the unique lots of fruit.
After pressing, the juice is pumped into tank to let the solids settle. This clears the juice and prepares it to be racked tomorrow. If you come and visit us, you’ll see our bins of Pinot Noir grapes lined up where our visitors usually park, where they’ll stay nice and cool in the evenings, and be close enough to continue pressing in the early hours of the morning.
Looking ahead this week we will harvest Chardonnay and a small quantity of Pinot Gris all from our Horse Thief Vineyard. These will be used to make up the blend for our NV Brut.
Although it hasn’t been as long of a day as many we will face in the coming weeks, it has been a very exciting first week of vintage! Welcome back to Blue Mountain vintage veterans Charles and Felix, and for first-timer Christoph, who was very much appreciated in the cellar. The Chocolate Chip Cake was delicious and appreciated during the busy day. Thanks Jane! All in all it has been an excellent start to the 2012 Harvest.
To be continued....