There is perhaps no better time to explore the famous wineries of the Willamette Valley than when summer transitions to fall. Actors aim for academy awards, athletes reach for the Olympic gold, but for winegrowers, the sign of a successful season comes down to this moment: the harvest. With the recent fires in Oregon, we are only reminded of how precious yet fragile this land can be, and how much we owe to this fertile soil to care for it, so it survives for future generations.
First let us tell you a little bit about a “normal” harvest season, shared with us by none other than the founder and owner of Bethel Heights Vineyard, Pat Dudley. Harvest is often the most beautiful time of the year for Oregon wine country, and it’s definitely the most exciting. The fall winds cool the previously hotter summer months, golden light covers the vineyards, and farmers collect crops of all sorts, from hay and filberts to apples and hops. Wine grapes are actually one of the last crops to be harvested, and every winegrower chooses their own perfect moment for each vine. When harvest arrives, grapes are usually picked at the earliest moments of dawn, and then winemakers work late into the night, racing to get everything safely transported before the inevitable rain curtain descends.
The harvest experience is both exhilarating and exhausting but gives each vineyard a real sense of teamwork and family. At Bethel Heights, a designated chef cooks “harvest lunches” for everyone, and wine (of course) is shared, adding to the already celebratory atmosphere of the season.
This year, however, is not like most other years. Wineries have dealt with the COVID pandemic and the fires that recently spread across Oregon. Dudley shared that safety is their main concern, and many precautions will have to be upheld by all vineyards and winemakers. At Bethel Heights, masks are required and the staff stayed on their toes with the engulfing smoke, projecting a new timeline onto the vines.
With the smoke clearing, winemakers and visitors to the Valley are enjoying blue skies once again,
Despite the challenges this year, Bethel Heights reports the crop remains healthy and bountiful, and they believe this year will deliver a beautiful vintage.
Pat Dudley during Bethel Heights’ first harvest in 1981 – history in the making
Fires in mid-September changed the sky in the Valley
But, the smoke has lifted, giving way to blue skies and crisp, fall air.
Enjoy our playlist to accompany your Willamette Valley adventure…….