Dundee, Ore.: To Every Grape There is a Season (Turn, Turn, Turn)

Grapes on the vine | Lucy Burningham

Road Journals Blog—I live in a city, and while I grow a small vegetable garden and a few hop vines in my yard, it’s easy to become disconnected from the changing seasons. That’s why I look at visits to vineyards as a chance to see how things like the weather and hours of daylight really matter.

While it’s easy to get caught up with things like eco-friendly corks, proper glassware, and Robert Parker ratings, at its essence, wine is an agricultural product. It’s made from grapes. And if those grapes encounter hailstorms, early freezes, or drought, what winds up in the bottle changes drastically.

I happened to be in Oregon’s wine country as the first grape leaves unfurled last spring, leaving a lacing of tender green across rows of plants. Vineyard owners were ecstatic. They’d been watching and waiting for the leaves to appear—the first sign that the cycle was beginning again and that in about six months they’d be harvesting the fruit from these budding vines.

When I was in the same region in the fall the atmosphere felt a bit tenser. Thanks to a record-breaking cool summer, the grapes were still green and hard when they should have been starting to sweeten and turn golden or purple. Wine makers were holding their breath, hoping for an Indian summer that would ripen the grapes before the first frost.

Without that sunshine, the 2010 vintage could be a total loss. All they could do was wait. (Thankfully, the weather cooperated and even though harvest was late for most growers, the vintage seemed promising.)

This winter, when I make my next foray to wine country, I plan to spend some time walking between the vines—if only to remind myself that even though the plants look bare and dead, they’re merely waiting to receive enough rays of light to begin the cycle again. First the tiny fresh leaves, and eventually the sweet heavy fruit.

Lucy Burningham wrote about a Dundee wine weekend for the September/October 2011 issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in October 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.