August 3, 2011 | REX HILL

Opening the book on closures in wine: turning the screw

He Said...
- Mike Willison

Society is crumbing to pieces. Our collective attention spans are extremely short and shrinking into 140-character sputterings about the daily stuff of life. Things that do not require ceremony (like the halftime show at a Wild Card playoff) are long on celebrity appearances and million dollar pyrotechnic flamboyance with tearful homage to retired off-tackles while we complain of long wedding ceremonies made intolerable by earnest vows and loving testimonials. Romance is dying. If I asked my wife to marry me on Facebook she would have lit me on fire and paraded me through the streets of town. Unwed women would throw first generation iPods at me in disgust.

While I am not one that believes that every moment requires pensive reflection, nor do I believe that the past was a better time that we should strive to recapture, I do feel that there are certain things that demand a moment of repose, and that speak to our notions of what it means to consume and live and be a contributing member of society. Wine is one of them. To the people that toil in the vineyards, to the people that act out a frenzied ballet at each crush, to the lab rats that crunch numbers, titrate and inhale noxious CO2 emissions and worse, to the barrel coopers and their legion of forest shepherds, to the thankless bottling line crew and to the countless generations of Portuguese families harvesting in the oak forests to create corks, we owe this reflection and ritual. Not only to give them thanks, but to recognize their considerable efforts in capturing time, space, and lightning in a bottle so deftly, so beautifully, and so very magically.

So allow yourself the indulgence of doing something with ceremony and purpose. Cut the foil, remove the cork, wipe clean the bottle opening, pour, admire, breathe of the aromas, sip, splash, savor and relish in the delights of a job well done.


She Said...
- Carrie Kalscheuer

So many people these days are asking me what I think about screwcaps. The perception has long been that screwcaps equal bad wine, and although there are certainly some cheap wines under screwtop, there are also most certainly some cheap wines bottled under cork. So why use them? One main reason: quality.

With a cork enclosure, you really never know what you’re going to get when you open the bottle. Cork taint (a pesky, impossible to detect bacteria also known as trichloroanisole – or TCA) is prevalent – up to 15% of the wine industry is lost yearly just to this one potential downfall.

The argument is often made that wines age better with a cork enclosure. Maybe, but let’s face it – most people age their wine only as long as it takes to drive home from the grocery store. Taste the wine, people. Is it good? If so, drink it. Don’t worry about whether or not you need a fancy doohickey to open it.

Time Posted: Aug 3, 2011 at 10:50 AM
Bill Hatcher
July 28, 2011 | Bill Hatcher

Return on Ideas

In the 70’s, Harvard Business School professor, William E. Fruhan, advanced the postulate that the single, overriding obligation of a business is maximization of shareholder wealth.  Under this theory, the corporation is not responsible for social or environmental costs beyond those incurred as a result of unavoidable regulation or those that can somehow be justified as increasing the return on capital.  As the corporation is supposed to be socially agnostic, discretionary investments are choices left to be made by shareholders with their returns.

Return on investment (ROI) has become the underlying measure of shareholder wealth creation.  Over the past three decades, this interpretation of the raison d’être of business has narrowed to where the modern firm is seen as little more than an income statement and balance sheet.  Indeed, very little American wealth creation in 2011 derives from making things but rather from the trading of abstract instruments.  The banking industry, which for hundreds of years was the primary source of capital for business creation, now derives just 8% of its profit from primary lending.

At A to Z and REX HILL, while we maintain financial reporting systems that are state-of-the-art in the wine industry, we have never employed an ROI analysis.  Similarly, while we consider the measures of pH, TA and Brix in winemaking, we do not make wine by the numbers.  For us, ROI is more aptly to be described as Return on Ideas.
Few ideas are bound to alter the course of our business; in a mature industry, we would be fortunate if one paradigm-changing idea emerged every three years.  Most ideas will languish, some will fail—we have endured our share of screw-ups over the years.  However, if we are not willing, as we are, to accept if not encourage failure, we will have no chance at that once a thousand day idea.  And, in the end, our return on investment exceeds the industry.

The horizon of a thousand days correctly implies that we are far more concerned with the strategic success of the business than we are with exploiting short-term opportunities.  Despite the volatility of grape prices, we pursue long-term grower relationships that are stable for all parties.   One of our sales directors recently turned down a million dollar order with a big box retailer because it wasn’t the right decision for the brand.  Importantly, he felt empowered to do so.

But, perhaps most important, we believe that a culture that embraces failure is one that places creativity at the forefront of its values and, correspondingly, is one where people come to work every morning knowing that they don’t simply perform a repetitive function but are encouraged to come up with the thousand day idea and, if it doesn’t work, the worst that can happen is a good-natured roasting at the monthly staff meeting.

Time Posted: Jul 28, 2011 at 2:33 PM
Ryan Collins
July 6, 2011 | Ryan Collins


July first rolled around and so has summer! The temperatures have been consistently in the 80’s for the last 6 days bringing flowering with it!

Things to think about when the vine is blooming.

It’s a great time for assessing the vines nutrient status. We take plant tissue and send it to a A and L laboratory to analyze the concentration of different nutrients. The tissue we use is the petiole ( connects the leaf to the shoot). For standardizing the procedure we take  the petiole located opposite the basal cluster. Tissue analysis at this time (60-70% cap fall) is great for giving you the vines micronutrient status. Whereas sampling at veraison is best for understanding your macro nutrient status.


Iron (Fe), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), Boron (B), Aluminium (Al), Sodium (Na).

Common Micronutrient deficiencies in Oregon are Boron and Zinc. If there is a deficiency in a micronutrient it will be applied to the canopy in what’s called a “foliar application”.


Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K), Phosphorous (P), Sulfur (S), Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg).

Macro-nutrients problems are best fixed through ground applications.

Other things to think about.

Botrytis! When the flower cap falls off it leaves a scar around the base of the ovary.  If this scar isn’t protected there is potential that botrytis will infect the tissue.  It will sit there until conditions are right for growth. This is called a latent infection.

Botrytis will also colonize any dead flowering tissue that is left in the cluster. Again it will sit there waiting for conditions to become right for further colonization/infvection.  What can we do about this? We have to spray the flowers once 85% of the caps have fallen off.

This year in our organic sites we are trying two products Actinovate and Whey as a combination. Actinovate is a bacteria (Streptomyces) antagonist of botrytis and whey acts as a food source for the bacteria (Streptomyces). Trials performed in growers vineyards last year with the USDA showed that this was as effective as some of the synthetic products.

Time to harvest.

In Oregon it usually takes 100-110 days from bloom to harvest. If we call bloom today at the REX HILL home vineyard we will be harvesting some time between the 14th and 24th of October.

Who wants to guess the harvest date?

Time Posted: Jul 6, 2011 at 9:09 AM
Ryan Collins
May 26, 2011 | Ryan Collins

Growth and Cover Crops

  • Bud break finished about 2 weeks ago and we are starting to see some leaves unfold and inflorescence becoming visible. Vineyards vary in phenology from 1 leaf separated through to 4 leaves separated.
  • Development is slower than I would like due to the cool wet temperatures (La Nina pattern)
  • We are seeing some minor mite damage causing Short Shoot Syndrome (SSS).


  1. Over winter the mites live in the bud scales and emerge at the same time as the shoots.
  2. They tend to feed on the growing shoots causing stunted, zig-zagging growth, scaring in the internodes and leaves distortion.
  3. The shoots will out grow the mite’s ability to keep the shoot stunted but to do that we need nice warm weather.
  4. Damage is generally sporadic


Figure 1.


Figure 2. Short shoot syndrome

The two vines above were right next to each other in a young Pinot Noir block (4W) at Jacob Hart Vineyard. One showing strong healthy shoot growth and the other suffering from short shoot syndrome. We have treated this block with a light application of sulfur try and knock down the mite population. We will monitor the progress of effected vines and mite populations using double sided sticky tape wrapped around the trunk.

For those that are interested this website offers more information.

Cover Crops

Fall cover crops

  1. We are now starting to work in our fall cover-crops of Winter Rye Grain and Vetch.
  2. These are planted in the rows that we cultivate to hold the soil in place over winter
  • We also get the benefit of nitrogen fixation from the vetch
  • Both these cover crops produce a great amount of biomass which is worked into the soil to increase organic matter content, soil life and quality.
  • In the less vigorous areas we planted a combination of the two plants to increase soil fertility and possibly vigor (added nitrogen from the vetch)
  • In the more vigorous areas we didn’t use vetch because we didn’t want the added nitrogen further increasing vigor.

Figure 3. Winter Rye grain planted in the Pinot Gris block at Jacob Hart.

Spring Cover crops

  1. We have planted buckwheat and wildflowers at many of our sites: Jacob Hart, REX HILL, Pearl, Sims, Foley and Domain Margelle.
  2. We have planted these for their flowering qualities. These plants will provide nectar for a variety of insects and birds increasing the diversity of life within our vineyards.
  3. Why buckwheat? Once mature it will flower for a long period of time producing large quantities of nectar. Buckwheat has been shown to increase numbers of predatory beneficial insects and reduce pest populations to below economic thresholds.

Figure 4. Recently germinated buckwheat at REX HILL vineyard.


Time Posted: May 26, 2011 at 8:45 AM
May 25, 2011 | REX HILL

AVA’s: How many is too many?

He Said...
- Mike Willison

There are currently 199 American Viticultural Areas approved in the US by the TTB, with many more seemingly on the way. 112 of those AVA's are located in winemaking mega-state, California. This is enough until something significant changes. The US has the world's smallest and the world's largest appellations in the Cole Ranch, California AVA at 189 acres and the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA at 19.1 million acres, respectively. While each state, hamlet and outcropping of rocks aims to distinguish itself by proving to the TTB that it, by virtue of its unique geographic and geological conditions, can make wines of identifiable distinction, three realities exist that preclude  anyone from actually caring.

The first is the totally beat-into-the-ground by bloggers and wine geeks that is a totally true trend that most wine is not particularly different seeming than its neighbor geographically, varietally, or by virtue of shelf positioning at the bottle shop.

The second is that the historical precedent for appellations has been eroding into the ether for some time now. 300 years ago the world was very, very big. It was difficult for wine folk from the far reaches of the empire to communicate about methods, best practices and innovation which meant there was little corroboration between the winemakers of Alsace and Sicily, for example. Technique was passed down through generations and was collectively copied and tweaked within villages creating a sense of place that, in today's terms, was extremely small. The world, being very small now, has changed so that community includes us all, from the biggest wine barons to the smallest producer of closet blaufrankish, and we have the same tools, insights and technology available. Our village has become the world.

The third contributing factor is that many wine drinking people just don't care if their wine comes from San Ysidro or the Niagara Escarpment, just that it costs $X, depending on who they are trying to impress, if anyone.

If good wine tastes like it comes from somewhere and bad wine tastes like it comes from anywhere then we have been living in a pretty mediocre time for wine.


She Said...
- Carrie Kalscheuer

While I do think that there is some snobbery and certainly no shortage of marketing involved in the distinction of AVAs, I also think that the regional (and sub-regional) breakdown of winegrowing areas is a practice that can, and should, continue.

Wine regions are created to distinguish one region from the next, some based on soil type, some based on geography, some based on climate. While these may seem arbitrary to the average consumer, they are anything but to the winemakers and grape growers who exist within their confines.

The concept of terroir is alive and well in these debates. And we can't bring up this concept without allowing for its ambiguity. Given this, it doesn't make sense to argue that they are ill-defined or vague. By nature, of course they are.

When we start to ask smaller regions to distinguish themselves from one another without ANY ambiguity allowed, we may find it difficult to distinguish the large ones for truly solid reasons as well. It's a slippery slope. And with so much personal interest locked into the classifications of the different AVAs, attempting to place hard, factual, solid regulations upon a concept that is anything but is an impossible task. I say why try? Drink, enjoy, and be happy that people are taking enough pride in where they make wine to put their region on a map.

Time Posted: May 25, 2011 at 10:48 AM
Ryan Collins
May 2, 2011 | Ryan Collins

Phenological Stages

Viticulturists like to talk about phenology and phenological stages. Phenology is the study of the sequence of plant growth and investigates a plant’s reaction to the environment and attempts to predict its behavior in the new environment. A widely adopted system for recording grapevine phenology is the modified EL system. Below is a snapshot of the EL system.

Most Northern Willamette Valley vineyards are between stages 3 and 4. Lower altitude sites like REX HILL and Jacob Hart Vineyards are mostly stage 4.  Historical average budbreak dates for the Willamette Valley are mid April. Why are we around two weeks behind? Because spring has been much cooler than normal due to the La Nina ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean.

Below are historical average monthly temperatures for the Portland area and what has been recorded this year, 2011.

As you can see the months of February, March and April have been colder than average. April’s monthly average temperature was a chilly 4.1 degree F less than average and the predictions moving forward look similar. This is NOAA’s statement for May, June and July.


Time Posted: May 2, 2011 at 8:42 AM
Ryan Collins
January 25, 2011 | Ryan Collins

Pruning 101

Pruning: The act of trimming or removing what is superfluous. The main purpose of pruning grape vines is to regulate crop load and vine balance. Vines can self regulate shoot numbers based on their capacity however humans like to control and manipulate the growth of vines for qualitative reasons. Pruning is performed during the winter months when the vine is dormant. Sometimes pruning is performed at the start of spring when the buds are swelling to shock the vines and delay bud burst. This is common practice in areas/sites that are prone to spring frosts in an effort to reduce the risk of crop loss.

Two main types of pruning:
Usually 1-4 canes retained depending on plant spacing, vine capacity and target yield. A replacement spur on each side of the head gives rise to next years fruiting cane and replacement spur. Old cordons and unwanted canes are removed manually from the trellis system.

Cane pruning is more commonly practiced in cool climate viticulture. It will produce higher numbers of clusters/shoot and potentially larger clusters than spur pruning. Therefore in years of poor set there will be more fruit than a spur pruned vine.
Cool cloudy springs inflorescence primordial development* particularly at proximal buds. This means the buds closer to the vines have less potential clusters/shoot or smaller potential clusters than those further up the cane. Cane pruning is more expensive, requires more skill and is less mechanized.

Spurs are canes cut back to 2 buds along a permanent cordon. Spurs are spaced approximately 3-4 inch apart but more buds are retained per spur or spurs density is changed depending on vine capacity and target yield.

Spur pruning is more commonly practiced in warmer climates where vines have better proximal bud inflorescence primordial development. This system is more easily mechanized, costs less and requires less skill.

There are many variations on these two pruning techniques to different training/trellis systems.

* Inflorescence primordia are miniscule undeveloped clusters inside either the primary or the secondary buds. The term for the singular is primordium. Their size is related to the number of flowers with potential to transform into a berry and, therefore, to final cluster size. Inflorescence primordial development is temperature and light dependent thus buds further up the canes develop later in spring when light and heat is more abundant.

Time Posted: Jan 25, 2011 at 8:38 AM