Once September rolls around and harvest begins, the jam-packed weeks of picking, sorting, crushing and fermenting fly by. With so much happening in such a short amount of time, it can be hard to follow all the steps in the winemaking process that occur after the fruit is harvested. Each step on the journey from vine to barrel (detailed below) is crucial to making our award-winning classic Oregon wines.
Grapes are transported to the production pad at the Estate from our different blocks on property and single-vineyard sites and are then sorted for quality. Wine grapes used to make our Pinot Noirs (excluding our Whole Cluster Pinot Noir) and other red wines are put through the crusher destemmer, then the juice (called must at this point) is placed with the skins into small bin fermentation containers. Wine grapes for our white wines are immediately sent to the press, with the skins separated from the juice right after pressing.
Sorting grapes as they arrive at the production pad.
Fermentation tanks in wine cellar.
After pressing, the juice for white wine and rosé is left to cold settle for a day, then racked off it’s solids into stainless steel tanks or barrels for fermentation. Reds will be placed in small fermentation bins or tanks, with the grapes separated from the stems or as whole cluster for our Whole Cluster Pinot Noir.
Once in tanks, yeast is added. Yeast consumes the sugar from the grapes and produces ethanol, carbon dioxide and other compounds, such as the esters (a chemical compound derived from acid) that create each wine's unique bouquet. We use a few of different yeast strains, trying to work with yeast that are neutral in order to let the fruit express its uniqueness if it's growing site.
Adding yeast to grapes in fermentation bin.
Tracking fermentation progress in wine lab.
Once the yeast is added, fermentation can begin. Red wines ferment at warmer temperatures than white wine, usually between 80-90 degrees, while white wine ferments at about 50 degrees. Red wines are purposefully kept warm to maximize the amount of color and phenolic compounds extracted from the skins, while whites and rosé are kept cold to preserve their fruit-forward notes. While the red wine ferments, carbon dioxide is released and remaining grape seeds and skins rise to the surface.
Once fermentation is underway, punch downs for red wines can begin. Our cellar workers use long metal poles with round disks at the bottom to submerging the grape seeds and skins back into the juice to extract color and aroma. Punchdowns are done twice a day and last anywhere from 12-15 days.
Punching down grape skins and seeds to extract color and aroma.
Barrels ready for wine to be transferred from fermentation bins and tanks.
White wines are left on their lees, which consists of no longer actively fermenting yeast, to keep the wines fresh and develop complex flavors and aromas. Reds are moved from their small fermentation bins to the press to separate grape skins from the wine before being moving into barrel.
Barrels add flavors and aromas such as vanilla, hazelnut or toast. The oak from newer barrels can also heavily impact tannins and allow for slow ingress of oxygen, making the wine smoother and adding complexity. Some barrels are inoculated (the addition of active malolactic acid bacteria cultures) to allow for Malolactic Fermentation, converting the naturally occurring Malic Acid (think green apple) into Lactic Acid (think cream), softening a wine and adding additional levels of complexity. We do Malolactic Fermentation for almost all of our red wines, as well as most of our Chardonnay.
Wines are left to age, being continually monitored, stirred and tasted to track their progress. As they age, some wine evaporates and/or soaks into the wood of the barrel, so barrels are topped off throughout the process. As maturation concludes, winemakers taste test each barrel, working on creating blends that perfectly balance the varietal character, oak, and best express the varietal terroir of the vineyard site.
Sparkling wine bottles.
Wine is then racked and/or filtered before being sent to the bottling line. After bottling, wines are left in the cellar to mature in bottle until they are ready for release.
Harvest started on September 5th with a pick for our sparkling wines. Following a short break to allow further flavor and brix (sugar) development for our still wines, in mid-September, we battled early fall rains finding pockets of sunshine whenever we could to bring in the crop. In the cellar, fermentations are active and our Pinot Noirs are being punched down by hand twice daily to extract color and aromas before being put to rest in barrel. An early look shows that despite the rains, the color is concentrated and there is depth in flavors.
The past few vintages, we experienced warmer than average summers; however, 2019 has been a throwback to traditional Oregon summers and falls, with mild steady temperatures and no extreme heat spikes. The accumulated heat units of this vintage are most comparable to the 2018 vintage. The early onset fall rains created a challenging harvest, including condensing the pick times, but our incredible harvest crews timed their picks during the sun breaks giving the grapes just the right amount of time to develop complexity, rich color and concentration of flavors. Our winemakers expect the 2019 vintage to be an excellent representation of a classic Willamette Valley vintage.
But don’t just take our word for it. We popped into our Winemakers’ office and got their feedback on this year’s harvest!
Joe Ibrahim - Winemaker
What is your favorite part of harvest?
I love all of harvest! Leading into harvest, I love the anticipation of new wines and what will come of the new vintage. When I'm in the middle of it, I love the focus, challenges, problem solving and adrenaline. In the end, it's a great feeling to look back on all the hard work and I feel most proud of what we have accomplished working together alongside an amazing, passionate and dedicated team.
What is the most challenging part of harvest and why?
Every harvest has its own challenges; there are a lot of moving pieces to coordinate while keeping your eye on making world-class wines. We produce several small-lot wines and we make wine from many different varieties from nearly every growing region in the state!
Was there anything different or notable about this harvest that made it stand out from others you have worked on?
This fall had amazing weather leading up to harvest. The weather then turned rainy and cold just as the grapes were ripening, which caused us to rush and pick as fast as we could. We all felt the pressure of a compressed harvest window. I'm happy to say we managed to get everything in on time and the wines are looking really fantastic!
Everyone involved in harvest has to adjust to a new schedule. I am so grateful to our amazing team and their families for not just their willingness, but also their excitement to place their normal schedules aside for 4-6 weeks each year and join in the fun of making wines together that we are truly proud to share with everyone.
Gabi Prefontaine - Associate Winemaker
What is your favorite part of harvest?
My favorite part of harvest is visiting the different vineyard sites to decide on picking dates.
What is the most challenging part of harvest and why?
The most challenging part of harvest is when we have used all of our available fermentors, but we have additional fruit ready to come in. It is a game of Tetris on the production pad as receiving fruit timely is important to wine quality.
Was there anything different or notable about this harvest that made it stand out from others you have worked on?
The weather made harvest very challenging as we had to pick the same amount of fruit as the previous year, but had to bring that fruit in over the course of 4 weeks instead of 6 weeks. It was very challenging, but the fruit was ready and our team made it happen.
This will come as a surprise to you having seen our Founder in yellow and green all these years ... Jim Bernau (former UO Student Body President and avid Duck) received the Joan Austin Honorary Alumni Award from Oregon State University this past Thursday evening!
Jim's support of OSU started back in the mid-1990s when he made a personal gift to the university to establish the first professorship for fermentation science in the nation. His groundbreaking work on behalf of the Oregon wine industry and ongoing leadership was also cited in the granting of this recognition.
Jim says there is only one day a year he isn’t championing OSU research and academic programs — the Civil War.
As many of us at the winery are OSU grads, we are delighted to finally see our Founder in black and orange!
Pictured above: OSU President Ed Ray presenting Founder Jim Bernau with the Joan Austin Honorary Alumni Award (left). Founder Jim Bernau surrounded by our OSU Alumni Staff and friends Nicole Markel, Betty O'Brien, Jan Green Bernau, Caitlin Craig, Christine Clair, Chris Day and Cara Pepper Day (right). Photos by Hannah O'Leary.
A passion for wine led Bill Fuller, Founder of Tualatin Estate Vineyard, to achieve a successful career in winemaking and by doing so, carved a path in the Oregon wine industry for other aspiring vintners. Continuing to inspire us, Bill is still making wine at age 82.
In 1971, Bill Fuller began exploring sites in the Willamette Valley and eventually moved from California to Oregon with his family to pursue his dreams of starting his own vineyard and producing cool-climate Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. As one of Oregon’s original winemakers, Bill planted the Tualatin Estate Vineyard in 1973 in Forest Grove, Oregon. The name “Tualatin” originates from the local indigenous people and means “gentle and easy flowing” referring to the Tualatin River that flows near Forest Grove.
Many Firsts in the Industry
Bill Fuller’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir both took home the “Best of Show” for the “Red” and “White” categories in the same year at the London International Wine Fair, a first-ever occurrence in the wine fair. His 1989 Chardonnay was the first Oregon wine to be named on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list.
Creating our Vintage 44 Wines
Bill Fuller retired in 1997 after merging Tualatin Estate Vineyard with Willamette Valley Vineyards. Sixteen years later, Winery Director Christine Clair asked if Bill would come out of retirement as a Consulting Winemaker to assist in the making of wines produced from Tualatin Estate fruit. Bill agreed and rejoined the winemaking team to create the Vintage Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that expresses the classic techniques of his winemaking.
This August, we released the Vintage 44 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made by Bill Fuller with a sold-out celebration at Tualatin Estate Vineyard. Bill shared some of his many winemaking stories and signed bottles for guests.
2017 Vintage 44 Pinot Noir
Ruby in color, the wine opens with aromas of ripe red cherries, raspberries, cedar and violets. Medium-bodied, silky textured with bright acidity that carries fresh red fruits, florals, earth and wood spice notes into the palate. The finish is long-lived with integrated tannins.
2017 Vintage 44 Chardonnay
Light gold in color, the wine opens with aromas of lemon, toasted pineapple, pine and spice. Rich and supple in texture, flavors of golden apple, vanilla, brown sugar and brioche lift from the palate and flow into a lingering, round finish.
Summertime in Oregon is the perfect time to get outside, gather with friends and explore our beautiful state. We took a moment to ask some of our Winery employees about their favorite summer activity, and of course, favorite summer wine. We hope you enjoy hearing from our staff and get some inspiration for your next summer activity!
Joe, Head Winemaker
Favorite Summer Activity: Cooking on his smoker
Favorite Summer Wine: Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir
Tayler, Wine Club & Ownership Manager
Favorite Summer Activity: Relaxing outside with her dogs
Favorite Summer Wine: Bernau Block Pinot Noir
Cora, Tasting Room Associate
Favorite Summer Activity: Floating the river
Favorite Summer Wine: Pinot Blanc
Julia, Hospitality Coordinator
Favorite Summer Activity: Hiking at the coast
Favorite Summer Wine: Dijon Clone Chardonnay
Rich, Chief Financial Officer
Favorite Summer Activity: Camping on the Breitenbush River
Favorite Summer Wine: Pinot Gris
Kara, Wine Club Assistant
Favorite Summer Activity: Participating in local runs and 5Ks
Favorite Summer Wine: Pinot Blanc
Jose, Winery Ambassador
Favorite Summer Activity: Playing Sunday soccer
Favorite Summer Wine: Méthode Champenoise Brut
Spence, Estate General Manager
Favorite Summer Activity: Golfing
Favorite Summer Wine: Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir
Betty, Tasting Room Associate
Favorite Summer Activity: Trips to the Oregon Coast
Favorite Summer Wine: Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir
Suzanne, Winery Ambassador
Favorite Summer Activity: Teaching Saturday yoga at the vineyard
Favorite Summer Wine: Pinot Blanc
Spring and summer are exciting times in the vineyard. The vines come back to life from their winter sleep, becoming lush and brilliant green as the temperature warms and the clusters develop into beautiful wine grapes. Each step in the growing process (detailed below) is important to the development of the clusters and hand-crafting quality wines.
As temperatures warm and the ground temperature reaches 50 degrees, stored starch in the vine turns into sugar, making sap. The sap moves through the vine and begins to escape from the open pruning cuts, creating “teardrops” of sap all along the vines. When vines begin to “weep” it is a sign that the growing process has begun (Indiana Uplands Wine Trail).
Buds begin to form along the arms of the vine. These buds are small, fuzzy and brown at first, but as the temperature warms, they break open revealing a bright green shoot. Each shoot grows rapidly, making the vineyard hillsides a brilliant green color. The more leaves present on the vine soaking up the sun allows for more photosynthesis to occur, allowing the shoots to develop faster. Leaf development occurs simultaneously, leaves unfolding one by one as the shoot grows taller.
Once the vines become dense with greenery, our vineyard crew will make their way through the vineyard to trim excess canes. Grooming excess canes helps regulate the amount of vegetation present on the vine. If there is too much vegetation, the nutrients from the vine are more thinly distributed, producing grapes that lack complexity and concentration of flavors. This is where the saying “quality over quantity” rings true.
Along with the large, wide leaves now on the vine, small clusters can be seen. Shortly thereafter, with assistance from the sun, tiny flowers spring to life on the cluster. As these flowers bloom, self-pollinate and lose their caps, small grape clusters will begin to form.
Tiny green berries are now visible on the vines. The grapes are a bright green and about the size of a pencil eraser. They are also very hard and dense as they are mostly comprised of acid and short tannins. At this stage, almost all grape varietals look the same. The grapes clusters will continue to grow and develop for the next month or two.
Veraison is the second and most noticeable stage of grape ripening. During veraison, the grapes experience a big decrease in acid levels and a big increase in sugar levels. As they ripen, the grapes change color and our vineyard crew will once again prune the vine canopy and excess clusters to ensure the remaining clusters continue ripening well. Our winemaking team will then test the sugar level and tannin structure of the grapes to determine if the clusters are ready to be harvested.
Once our Winemaker decides the grapes are ready to be harvested, our expanded vineyard crews get to work. Wine grape varietals are harvested at different times depending on the type of grape, elevation at which they are grown and the style of wine being made. Grapes used for wines with brighter acidity, such as Brut or Pinot Gris, are harvested earlier when acid levels in the grapes are still high. Grapes for softer style wines, like Pinot Noir, are harvested later once acid levels in the grapes have had time to decrease and sugar levels have increased.
When harvest is over, the work in the vineyards is not done. The winter months are an important part of the vineyard lifecycle too. After the vines enter a dormancy phase, our vineyard crew will carefully prune the vines to prepare for the next growing cycle. The clippings are eventually ground into mulch and recycled back to the earth. When the vines awaken in the spring, these thoughtful cuts will inspire growth in all the right places leading to better yields and increased air flow. In early spring, the vineyard team will begin tying the vine canes to our trellises to support new growth for the new vintage year. And thus completes the continual cycle in the vineyard.
What is biodynamics?
Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological and ethical way of farming used in all kinds of agriculture. It involves managing a farm utilizing the principles of a living organism. Applying biodynamics in the day-to-day operation of a farm, or in our case a vineyard, involves creating a farming system that is minimally dependent on outside materials to meet the needs of the land. Outside materials can include chemicals, pesticides and other harmful sprays. The biodiversity of the farm is organized so that the waste of one part becomes the energy for another. This results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and helps it become more sustainable (Demeter Association, Inc.).
The process of becoming biodynamically certified takes approximately 3 years. Biodynamic certification can be done through the Demeter Association, which holds strict farm and processing standards in order to achieve certification.
How are we using biodynamic practices at Bernau Estate?
Each fall, female cow horns are stuffed with the manure from cattle native to the growing area and are buried for at least 6 months. During this time, the manure in the horns transform into a nutrient-rich preparation that is attuned to the land. In the spring, once the horns are unearthed, the preparation is enlivened with water and sprayed over the vineyard. Each horn produces enough preparation to cover 1 acre of land with multiple sprays throughout the growing season. Biodynamic Preparation 500 has shown to accelerate and improve the soil structure, microbiological activity, while enhancing a sense of place.
Viticulturist Clay Wesson, who is currently leading our biodynamic practices, used new plantings at our Bernau Estate as an opportunity to trial several different applications of biochar and biodynamic compost. Biochar is a plant-based charcoal used as a soil amendment and is known to offer a number of benefits for soil health. Many of these benefits are related to the extremely porous nature of biochar, including retention of both water and water-soluble nutrients, while aiding in the creation of habitat for many beneficial soil microorganisms.
We are currently striving to make the vineyard at our new Bernau Estate 100% biodynamic.
This spring our team installed mason bee boxes at four locations including our Tualatin Estate Vineyard, Elton Vineyard, Bernau Estate Vineyard and Estate Vineyard in Turner. Led by our Viticulturist Clay Wesson, this project has turned into an exciting new addition to our sustainability programs.
With collaboration from local bee experts and winery volunteers, our team was able to work together to design and implement this exciting new project!
What are mason bees?
Mason bees are native to the Pacific Northwest and are known best for their productive pollinating and gentle nature. Mason bees flock to various plants including fruit and nut trees, spring berry blooms and flowers. Like many other native bee populations, mason bees are feeling the impact of environmental decline and decreasing habitat, so they are in need of a safe and sustainable environment to thrive.
What is the purpose of the Bee Boxes?
The pre-built bee boxes give the bees a safe space to build their home and nest. Mason bees are categorized as hole-nesting bees, which means they build their nests in pre-made holes found in their environment. Mason bees are also categorized as solitary bees, as they do not live in a hive as honeybees or many other common species do (Honeybee Conservancy).
Though the boxes can be placed in the vineyard at any time, the bees themselves are placed in the boxes in late March to early April, or when the temperature outside has consistently reached 55 degrees. The bees are placed in the box while they are in cocoons and as the temperature warms, will begin to emerge and build their homes.
The bees build their homes in the smaller pre-made nesting boxes placed in each larger box. The nesting boxes contain a grid of channels perfect for the bees to nest and lay their eggs. Once the bees are settled, they begin to pollinate the surrounding area.
As the weather gets cooler and the bees are finished pollinating spring flowers and fruit blooms, they settle back into their cocoons for fall and winter and wait for the process to start all over again in the spring.
What is the benefit of having mason bees at the vineyard?
Placing the mason bee boxes at our vineyards provides the bees with a safe environment to nest and pollinate. With 40% of the insect population down and biodiversity declining due to agriculture and development, providing safe nesting places for these bees will help them thrive and replenish their population.
The bees don’t provide any specific benefits to the vines in our vineyard, as those are self-pollinating plants, but rather benefit the environment as a whole. This project is just beginning and our team hopes to learn more about the bees and provide them with a thriving habitat for years to come.
Our team took a few minutes to check in with our Head Winemaker, Joe Ibrahim, to get his opinion on our recent 2018 harvest and get an idea of what to expect with our 2018 vintage.
How was the 2018 harvest?
The 2018 Harvest was amazing! The growing season was warm and dry and that continued into the harvest season. Winemakers had their choice of pick days without the fear of seasonal rains, which allowed us to achieve the exact level of ripeness we wanted from the grapes.
How do the wines look?
The wines look fantastic! Each time we taste these wines we are so excited. The red wines are rich and dark in color with moderate alcohol levels. The early signs of complexity are starting to show in the completed lots and will continue to become more nuanced through the aging process. The white wine wines are bright and fresh and show a nice balance of fresh fruit with hints of tropical fruit, and good body weight.
What can we expect from this vintage?
Along with us, other Oregon wine producers also experienced an outstanding vintage. I think its safe to say that we will be seeing some great write ups on the 2018 vintage wines. 2018 will likely be known as one of Oregon’s best and will be argued to be the very best vintage. This will benefit not just us, but the industry as a whole as we continue to tell the story of quality wines coming out of Oregon.
Are there any stand-out wines you are excited about?
Its still early, but there are exceptional lots from all our estate properties. It was fun to get to know the new vineyard blocks from the Bernau Estate Vineyard and those wines look to be very strong. Bernau block Pinot Noir from our main estate and the new century blocks from Elton, as well as Peter Micheal, and Meadow View sections from Tualatin Estate are some of our top lots.
The Oregonian article regarding Copper Cane's misrepresentation of Oregon AVAs on its labels and marketing materials generated a lot of interest, as did the Oregon Wine Press article "Joe Wagner Responds: Copper Cane owner explains his side of the story."
In the latter, Wagner made a number of claims about his dispute with the Oregon Winegrowers Association and our founder/CEO Jim Bernau.
Jim Bernau responded in this Q&A on Wine Business Monthly and has since added some additional information:
Why is the Oregon Winegrowers Association challenging Elouan and “The Willametter” marketing?
JB: The marketing is deceptive, violating federal and state law. For example, printed prominently on the Elouan case boxes is “Oregon Coast Pinot Noir,” appearing to play off prominent California Coast AVAs. No Pinot Noir is grown on the Oregon Coast (or successfully can be). Three leading Oregon AVAs, the Willamette Valley, Umpqua Valley and Rogue Valley are listed as if they are nested in this larger, fictitious AVA.
The branding on “The Willametter Journal” and a number of Elouan labels, packaging and marketing materials illegally state or deceptively infer Oregon AVAs. This branding has created market confusion and is devaluing our distinctive AVAs. Consumers are being led to believe these wines are made in Oregon, they are not.
Federally approved American Viticultural Area designations are based upon unique geology, soils and climate taking much research and a lengthy process to obtain from the federal agency, the TTB. They are especially so in Oregon as their use or inference on labels and marketing materials require strict adherence to the highest AVA and variety standards in the nation.
The wine must be made in Oregon with 100% Oregon grapes, only one AVA may be stated or implied with the grapes being a minimum 95% from the named AVA and at least 90% Pinot Noir (and other varieties) when those varieties are named.
Oregon winemakers have worked together for 35 years adhering to these standards and paying the highest tonnage tax in the country to support them.
On Standards of AVA content:
JB: Joe Wagner’s actions threaten the AVA system of unique geographic pedigrees federally adopted in 1978 with now 242 distinct AVAs in the United States.
He is illegally listing AVAs, allowing him to capitalize on the reputation they have achieved. Wagner now is advocating he be allowed to list percentages of grape content from the named AVAs, but this approach would gut the unique, individual distinctiveness of each AVA.
Isn’t this what he did with Meiomi?
JB: No, the Meiomi label relies on a provision in the federal code allowing up to three counties to be listed with percentages. As these California counties are well known, the marketing worked. While the Oregon counties Marion, Josephine and Jackson can be used to market Elouan, they are not well known. Joe Wagner is instead using something to which he is not entitled — Oregon AVA names which are based upon specific viticultural conditions and winemaking standards that are highly regarded by consumers.
Haven’t other wine regions including the Napa Valley seen this kind of behavior?
JB: The Napa Valley Vintners Association has been very active in stopping deceptive advertising of wines capitalizing on the equity winegrowers have built over the years in that AVA. Richard Mendelson wrote “Appellation Napa Valley, Building and Protecting an American Treasure” detailing the many attempts to deceptively exploit the financial premium that has been created in the marketplace for the remarkable wines of the Napa Valley AVA. The Wine Origins Alliance (Origins.wine), dedicated to protecting the integrity of wine region names, recently secured passage of U.S. Senate Resolution 649 recognizing the value of AVAs.
On Wagner’s claim of better winemaking control in California:
JB: Wagner is reported to say he likes “to do everything under one roof,” giving him the winemaking control he wants. That it is cold comfort regarding adherence to Oregon standards and doesn’t square with his federal label (COLA) filings.
Elouan is made at LangeTwins, a contract 4 million case plant near Lodi, the same who makes Meiomi. That’s an hour and half drive from Rutherford where The Willametter is made. Wagner has used three custom crush plants (including Safe Harbor Partners and Laird Family Estate) and two Copper Cane facilities in different locations for his Oregon labeled wines. For example, there are two COLAs for the ‘16 Elouan Pinot Noir at Laird Family Estate in Napa & Copper Cane in Rutherford in the same year.
While we know he isn’t following the law on labeling and advertising, we hope the cellar staffs of these numerous plants know the difference between Oregon and California standards and are following Oregon law — although his wines don’t taste like Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.
For example, it is illegal in Oregon labeled wine to use additives commonly used to make mass produced Pinot Noir in California. Color and mouthfeel concentrates called Mega Purple, Ultra Red, Purple 8000 and Red 8000 are made from the Teinturier grape Rubired which is prohibited in Oregon wine since the grape is not grown here. Illegal use of even a small amount of these powerful additives greatly alters the distinctive, cool climate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir colors, aromas and flavors.
The Oregon Congressional Delegation has requested the TTB conduct field product integrity audits of Copper Cane asking “any offending products should be removed from the marketplace immediately.” The TTB is very thorough, reconciling grape contracts, grape sources and varietal composition, weigh tags, winery computer recorded additives identified in the Varietal Composition or Ingredient fields, cellar work orders, ingredient POs and invoices, tank and barrel transfers and finished packaged volumes compared to the label, packaging and advertising claims.
Aren’t some of the industry’s complaints about federally approved labels?
JB: The TTB label reviewers were misled. Wagner used the term “Vinted” instead of using the legally required term “Produced” on the label. He was actually producing the wine from grapes in California.
A label reference to an AVA is legal if the wine is “Produced” (fully finished) in the state of origin. By using the term “Vinted” on the label, the TTB was misled into believing the wine was made from grapes into wine in Oregon then trucked as bulk wine to California for bottling. If Wagner had used the term “Produced” on the label, as he is required to do, the TTB would have caught it and rejected the label submissions. The term “Vinted” is allowed when the wine is subject to cellar treatment at the bottling address.
The TTB does not see the case box design or the sales materials but requires that those representations be accurate and consistent with their label approval. They depend upon consumer and trade monitoring and act upon complaints which is what they are doing now. What appears to be misdirection on the label application and then the use of Oregon AVAs on packaging and sales material with a retail bottle price under $20 has resulted in a commercially very successful result. Neilsen 12-month scan data shows that Elouan Pinot Noir has grown into the number one selling Oregon branded Pinot Noir above $17 a bottle in just a few years — a wine that is advertised originating from the Oregon Coast and now made near Lodi, California.
As for the reference of multiple AVAs on the approved ‘17 Elouan Pinot Noir, we believe the TTB label reviewer just missed it. Only one reference is allowed under federal law, 85% of the content must be from the referenced AVA with the wine made in the state of origin. The Oregon wine industry has asked the TTB to withdraw approval of this label to preserve the AVA system and truth in labeling — AVAs are not blending grapes, they are distinctive geographic designations representing the wine from that specific AVA.
What’s the financial benefit to using Oregon AVAs?
JB: If Wagner was making and selling his wine legally like other Oregon producers sourcing from various AVAs, he would only be able to list “Oregon” as the origin. But wines using an Oregon AVA, like the Willamette Valley, earn a higher price (costs are higher too). One can make more money by using lower cost grapes, mixing in some higher cost Willamette Valley AVA fruit and deceptively marketing it by referencing the Willamette Valley.
Among the top 25 Oregon Pinot Noir brands reported by volume in annual Nielsen scans, the average retail bottle price is $26.04 for Willamette Valley AVA Pinot Noir, but $14.30 for a Oregon appellated Pinot Noir. Elouan, with its Willamette Valley packaging, has put the AVA on discount at $7 per bottle less at the attractive under $20 retail price — helping explain its sales growth.
For every 100,000 cases of sales, Elouan Pinot Noir marketed with the Willamette Valley AVA can illegally achieve approx. $3 million more at FOB than the average “Oregon” appellated wine.
What’s this claim about Wagner not paying his Oregon taxes?
JB: Wineries licensed to make wine in Oregon must pay $25 per ton tax to support the wine quality and marketing efforts of the state and AVAs. As one must make the wine in Oregon to legally use the state’s AVAs, Wagner is dodging the tax, but still using the AVAs. If he had made the wine in Oregon, an estimated $200,000 in taxes would have been properly paid.
Why are Southern Oregon growers so unhappy with Copper Cane?
JB: Wagner, using a smoke taint clause, cancelled all his Rogue Valley grower 2018 picks (130,000 case equivalent) only days before harvest, leaving growers no time to find alternative buyers.
Nielsen retail annual data ending in June shows Elouan scanned 45,146 cases in national retail sales, an annual growth of 19,730 cases. For grocery store brands, Nielsen scan data can account for more than 70% of total sales. Copper Cane reported to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission purchasing 4,026 tons of Oregon grapes in 2017, equivalent to approx. 261,715 cases. Elouan ‘15 Pinot Noir on the shelves in Oregon is behind a vintage and a major chain is discontinuing the ‘16 Rosè and has been seen at Grocery Outlets for $3.99 per bottle.
Doing the math, it looks like Copper Cane is severely over inventoried and to be fair to the grower families, Wagner should at least pay the uninsured growers for their crop. We do support the insurance claims of those impacted by smoke taint as we learned of pockets of damaged fruit first hand. A blanket cancellation was unfair in those instances where quality was high, casting a pall on the Rogue Valley ‘18 vintage, among the nicest grapes in decades.
A coalition of Oregon winemakers, using independent lab results, saved as much of the stranded, high quality crop as possible, paying the full contracted prices. The wine developing in the cellars is beautiful. We can’t wait to release the Oregon Solidarity wine, first envisioned by Ed King of King Estate Winery, as a fundraiser for the devastated growers.
Why do you think Wagner has filed to cancel your trademarks?
JB: We believe he is trying to bully us. Shortly after I asked Wagner to stop misrepresenting Oregon AVAs and infringing on our trademarks, his lawyers filed to cancel them. A tactic like that might work with someone who doesn’t have the money or the community support to defend themselves.
He has signaled he will drop the trademark challenge and the Willametter brand if we support Elouan with his use of the state’s AVAs listing percentages of content. In his effort to profit from the equity others have built, this proposal would destroy the AVA system. We believe in the value of these geographic pedigrees and the reputational equity winemakers and growers have created in them.
There is some irony in his argument, that our winery brand should lose its trademark due to the AVA having the same name, given his illegal use of it.
We will oppose his trademark cancellation attempts for the same reason we will defend our AVAs, not just for ourselves, but the many other wineries with brands similar to or the same as AVAs. Just because an AVA is established, it doesn’t mean the winery trademark is no longer valid. The “discovery” process in the trademark proceedings may reveal what is actually in the Wagner “Oregon” and “Willametter” wines.
The Oregon wine industry has grown through collaboration and respectful treatment of its colleagues. Oregon winemakers welcome newcomers with kindness, but ask for lawful and respectful conduct in return.
What are you asking the industry leaders of the nation’s AVAs to do?
JB: We are asking they write the Administrator of the TTB and ask that in the TTB label approval process they enforce the law to preserve the integrity of American Viticultural Area destinations by allowing only one AVA to be named, referenced or implied on the label and only on wine that is legally qualified for such a reference.
Second, we are asking industry members to contact their state liquor control agencies asking that upon licensee renewal for Copper Cane to do business in their state, Copper Cane be required to demonstrate, under penalty of perjury, that they are in full compliance with all federal and state laws (including Oregon law when using those designations) regarding wine composition, labeling, packaging and advertising.
By acting in solidarity, the nation’s AVAs can protect our unique geographic designations.
View Jim Bernau's PowerPoint presentation.
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