New Gamay Est Arrivé
New Gamay is here at last! The new release blends a single reserve puncheon barrel of 2019 Gamay with a single puncheon of 2020.
While a warm east wind at harvest has long been considered a boon to the final phase of grape-ripening, in September of 2020 it roared in from eastern Oregon with a vengeance, igniting a multitude of wildfires. For ten days, the Pacific Northwest was a smoke-filled snow globe, shrouded in a haze so thick that UV rays could not reach the ground.
It was humbling to feel a force so powerful, terrifying and devastating to see forests and homes disappear overnight. Decisions felt urgent, but what could be done? The wine community in Oregon came together. Available treatments included things like carbon fining and reverse osmosis. I listened - grateful for the research - and began to plan my response.
My first step was to make "micro-ferments" to assess any potential impact.. I gathered grapes from each of my unique vineyard sites and put them into 1 L Ball jars which I submerged in a warm water bath - to encourage a quick native-yeast fermentation. The little ferments bubbled away, and each day I smelled and tasted them to determine if smoke was perceptible.
I gathered as much information as possible, but I knew from the beginning that I would harvest the grapes and do my best to make the wines. My growers began the work of tending these vines in the deep days of winter, pruning with frozen hands. Through spring and summer, they cared for the plants in every kind of weather. I know this work well from my time at Burn Cottage in New Zealand and my own small wine-patch in White Salmon, and I would not back out on my commitment to these farmers. Nor did I feel comfortable with aggressive chemical treatments. The smoke, like days of sun, rain, wind, and hail was part of the growing environment in 2020, so to try and strip it from the wines - along with everything else - simply did not align.
So, I would make these wines, but I could do my best to adjust to the season. Rather than including 50-60% whole cluster, I destemmed as much of the fruit as possible. I set aside my plans to co-ferment Gamay and Pinot for a Passetoutgrain, like I made in 2016, and instead kept all of my lots separate. As always, I handled the grapes as gently as possible - moving the wine strictly with gravity rather than a pump, and pressing lightly in a basket press - minimizing yield but avoiding harsh extraction.
I would love to tell you that all of this worked - that with my care and effort, the wines of 2020 ended up pristine despite the events of the season. But as challenges often go, my first response was not enough. While barely perceptible, I could feel the impact of the smoke in the final wines. More creativity would be required.
Recruiting friends and colleagues, I launched into a series of blind tasting trials. Was it possible to make a bright, juicy Gamay from any combination of these barrels - a wine that would be consistent in style yet true to the vintage? I remember protesting - after tasting just that wine during the blending trials - that it was good but not realistic. It used only one fifth of the wine I made in 2020 and would people accept a non-vintage blend?
But flavor must always be the champion of the day! The 50/50 blend of 2019 and 2020 Gamay which I am releasing today may be one of my favorite wines to date. It was hard-won, and worth it. A wine so unique in origin, it could never be replicated, even if I tried.
As with every vintage of Color Collector Gamay, the label art has a theme drawn from the year in which it was made. The labels for 2020 feature "ephemerals" - morels, fireweed, and a fire poppy. These plants are some of the first to repopulate a forest after a wildfire. They are a visible sign of new life after disaster, and they remind me that change is constant, life is precious, and renewal is continuous.
There's more I'd love to say on this and other exciting news to share, but for now, I better dash back to the wine cellar and keep hand-labeling and beeswaxing bottles so that - if you order by Monday, November 15 - I can ship new Gamay to you before the Thanksgiving festivities!
As always, thanks for being part of the journey. BK