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Grapes Galore

DALLAS -- Think that being a winemaker would be a charmed life?"We always enjoy the customers that are like `Oh, yeah, I want to be in the wine business. Drinking wine ... what a great deal,'" said Chateau Bianca winemaker Andreas Wetzel. "Well, it's not really like that."Particularly now, as Polk County vineyards are either in the frenzy that is harvest or playing the waiting game as the grapes continue to develop on the vine.Either way, it's a far cry from spending days sipping wine and gazing out over a stunning vineyard landscape.At Chateau Bianca along Highway 22 in Dallas, harvest began last week -- the earliest on record for the site.The presses were due to run from early morning until 7 or 8 p.m. Thursday. And that was just the beginning -- until the unusual fall storm that blew in late last week stalled picking across the region.Weather issues are yet another hallmark of the Oregon wine industry. In 2011, a cool growing season made for one of the latest harvests in memory. The next year was better, but still stretched into late October. This was the year that weather looked to be an asset rather than a foe. Photo by Jolene Guzman Chateau Bianca winemaker Andreas Wetzel inspects a bin of freshly picked hybrid marechal foch grapes. "We had such a great summer and such a nice growing season," Wetzel said. "Then all of a sudden we have a reversal of weather, which, unfortunately, I'm afraid may continue with all the rain."Birds have begun to stalk vineyards as well, something Wetzel believes is triggered by the sudden cool down.OK wine lovers, don't panic.Winemakers say that given that too much rain doesn't fall and hungry birds are kept at bay, the 2013 vintage could be one of the special ones."I'm thinking it's going to be one of the best vintages in a while," said Dave Masciorini, the owner of Namaste Vineyards in Dallas. "I wish we could have years like this every year."Masciorini said the deluge over the weekend may help rather hurt. A warm growing season developed sugars and acids quickly, so the moisture will bring all components into balance."The flavors, the yield, everything else was fantastic," Masciorini said. "Balancing the acid is all I need to do to pull them off the vine."Wetzel agrees 2013 could be a fine vintage, though he said unlike early expectations, winemakers may have to dip into their bag of tricks."When the fruit is perfect and all we have to do is make it into wine, that's easy," he said. "What you get paid for as a winemaker is when things are tough, when the grapes are not optimum and you have to do what you can with what you've been given."What that will be still remains to be seen. Photo by Jolene Guzman Harvest crew members fill buckets as grape picking begins Thursday at Chateau Bianca Winery near Dallas. Leigh Bartholomew, the Oregon Wine Board chairwoman and vineyard manager at Archery Summit Vineyards near Dayton, said in the Willamette Valley the harvest is about 50 percent complete.She said at this point, her biggest concern is logistics. The vineyards are slippery, which will make picking difficult. Also, with a slim window of sunshine coming, everyone will want to pick at the same time, leaving harvest crews stretched thin."Usually we have a bigger window to share, but this is going to be pretty compressed," she said.Bartholomew noted too much rain is worrisome, but the state's industry has matured enough that this early storm isn't going to be the downfall of the vintage."I'm very optimistic this season will produce delicious wines in the bottle 12 months from now," she said.Wetzel said given the fruit is picked in time, this vintage should please the palates of both those accustomed to California reds and Oregon pinot.He likens elegant Oregon pinot to a ballerina, while big California cabernet are like football players.This year's hot growing season produced concentrated flavors and aromas, so the ballerina may be wearing a helmet and cleats -- satisfying those with a taste for powerful reds. But he said the state's winemakers still will find a way to make wines that are distinctively Oregon. He looks forward to the challenge."It's always interesting, always different, and that's what makes it so much fun," Wetzel said.

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