10/25/2014

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Southern Oregon vintners see early grape harvest

Southern Oregon vintners see early grape harvest
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ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) - Winemakers in Southern Oregon are celebrating one of their earliest harvests in years with harvest parties and grape stomps.

The early harvest has vintners working for weeks straight, from the amateur hobbyist with a couple acres to the owner of the full-blown, staffed industrial operation, the Roseburg News-Review reported.

"It's one of the earliest harvests we've seen in a while," said Steve Renquist, horticulture agent with the Oregon State University Extension Service of Douglas County. "And the quality of the wine grapes is really outstanding."

Knowing when to pick, said Peggy Becker of Becker Vineyard in Roseburg, comes down to recognizing a proper balance of acidity and sweetness. Wineries have equipment that measures pH and sweetness, to the decimal point. But often, Becker said, when a berry's done, a vintner just knows.

"These are wonderful. The pH is there. The sweetness is there. The quality is fantastic,"

Late September and early October are when most strains of wine grapes are at their ripest. Some years, reds are harvested as late as Halloween.

The season in the Umpqua Valley's 70-plus vineyards means they'll hire extra hands, fill their bins and make hopeful trips to their buyers. The season is also a chance for Oregon's 463 wineries and 849 vineyards to host their own gatherings to bring people through the door.

"Marketing events are becoming a real important way people sell wine in Oregon," said Charles Humble, spokesman for the Portland-based Oregon Wine Board.

Birds, bugs and other wildlife present a major threat. A mature starling can eat a pound of fruit in a day.

But the biggest danger to grapes could be molds and mildews like noble rot, which can wipe out an entire vintage, or even a vineyard.

The early harvest means lighter, drier clothing and long days and nights.

At the TeSoAria vineyard, cannon blasts sounded intermittently from neighboring plots. Owner John Olson uses nets to deter birds, but he's not against using fear as a motivating tactic: He's used other recordings to do the job, including a sound clip of a hawk killing a starling.
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