Winter is new wine's most fragile time

Of the News-Register

Winery owner and winemaker Rob Stuart emphasizes that December is one of the most critical months in the process of striving to make great pinot noir.

"The new wines are at a particularly fragile point just after primary fermentation is complete," Stuart said. "You have to constantly stay on top of the situation to detect any potential problems and nip them in the bud."

The next crucial step – secondary fermentation or malo-lactic conversion – can take several months. And it requires careful monitoring all along the way.

"Detecting flaws is about putting your nose to work,” Stuart emphasizes. "Only then can chemical formulas and lab analysis be employed to correct them."

December, said Stuart, brings not only winemaking challenges, but also budgeting projections for the new year. “We finally know how much we produced,” he said. “We have a lot of money coming in, but also a lot of money going out."

That adds up to a full plate for Stuart as owner, winemaker and chief financial officer all rolled into one. And with the new year will come additional outlays – for new barrels, new equipment and the inevitable repairs.

Even more costly are new tanks whenever a winery looks to expand production. Under his two labels – R. Stuart & Co. and Big Fire – the winery is fast approaching an annual production of 25,000 cases.

Relationships developed over the years have led to long-term contracts with the owners of a number of highly regarded vineyards in the Yamhill Valley – Temperance Hill, Weber, Bishop Creek and Daffodil Hill. All of them carry the R. Stuart & Co. label as individual vineyard wines. A reserve blend called "Autograph" completes the pinot noir repertoire.

"I do all I can to capture the taste of the fruit and the reflection of the vineyard," Stuart said. "We're very fortunate to have these vineyards. We work closely with their owners throughout the year. The big difference between us is that once the harvest is in, our work has just begun."

Stuart is in good company in McMinnville's Pinot Quarter. In addition to R. Stuart & Co., Anthony Dell, Lumos and Dominio IV are all in the Granary compound. Panther Creek is right across the street. Eyrie and Westry are just a few blocks away.

It's a place where they nurture their newborns through the winter while conversing with their neighbors, exchanging ideas and experiences, borrowing equipment and helping one another when needed.

That, as much as anything, is integral to Oregon's success in growing and making pinot noir, which is acknowledged to be the most temperamental yet potentially rewarding of red wines.

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