We’ve been growing the German-Swiss cross Müller-Thurgau since 1986. Over the years, we’ve made wines in a range of styles from dry to off-dry, semi-sweet to dessert, even sparkling. Both the sparkling and still wines have become quite popular and are usually the top sellers in the tasting room.
While Müller-Thurgau is widely planted in Germany, it also does quite well in the Alto Adige of northern Italy. These vineyards are planted at high elevations, with close spacing. In reading the online winemaking notes, we noticed a couple of key production differences. First, the wines are fermented and aged in concrete or old oak casks. Concrete is an area of interest, but not an investment we're ready to make quite yet. Second, the grapes are crushed before pressing.
Foot crushing the Müller-Thurgau
We found the idea of crushing Müller-Thurgau very intriguing. As a rule, we whole cluster press our white wine grapes. Whole cluster pressing reduces the extraction of harsh tannins. These compounds may impart bitterness or astringency on the palate. However, Müller-Thurgau is a grape that is naturally low in tannins. Further, we wondered if crushing the grapes might result in a wine with more varietal expression. However, we don't own a machine that crushes grapes, so how would we experiment with crushing the fruit? Taking another cue from the old world, we decided to adopt a low-tech solution: feet.
During the harvest of 2018, we invited folks up to the vineyard on the day of the Müller-Thurgau pick to help us with this very important task! The harvest started at dawn, finishing around noon. We lined up the bins of grapes on the crush pad, and after a foot sanitizing dip and rinse, people climbed into the boxes one by one and went to work. It only took about 15 minutes, but squashing grapes with your feet is a quite a workout!
We noticed a difference between whole cluster pressing and crushing immediately; the press yield was 14% higher in the crushed fruit. During primary fermentation, the tanks produced a cornucopia of tropical aromas. After fermentation, we noticed the wine was quite flavorful, which is unusual for Müller-Thurgau at that stage. We continued to observe amplified flavor through the spring, finding the variety’s trademark peach and starfruit profile, but also lychee, passionfruit, mango, lime, gooseberry, and sweet basil.
Based on the flavor profile of the 2018 Müller-Thurgau, we decided to crush in 2019 as well. Now that we have another vintage for comparison, we're convinced that crushing is the best protocol for this variety. The 2018 Müller-Thurgau Estate will be released February 6.
Made from rehydrated grape pressings, Piquette is a lower-alcohol beverage full of fizz and fruit. We read about this nearly forgotten beverage of the ancient farm worker during harvest and decided to give it a try with Müller-Thurgau. Grape solids usually go to the compost pile after pressing, but there’s still sugar and flavor in those skins and pulp that can be extracted after a few days of steeping in water and pressed again. We were delighted to find this humble drink to be tart and citrusy, with a gentle sparkle on the palate. The finished alcohol is 7.5%, perfect for a sunny midday refresher.
Bottled in single-serving 12-ounce longnecks and sharable 750 mL sparkling formats, the Piquette will be released on the first day of spring, March 19.
Also known as méthode ancestrale, this is the oldest method of sparkling production, in which the wine is bottled before primary fermentation is complete, finishing in the bottle. The active yeast consumes the residual sugar from the grapes, generating pressure, resulting in a gentle fizz with loads of yellow fruit flavors. Typically, the wine is not disgorged, and will have a cloudy appearance from the spent yeast in the bottle.
We released a small 20-case lot of Pinot Gris made in this style over the summer, and it sold out quickly. Between the strong response in the tasting room and our desire to grow in our knowledge of sparkling wines, we have increased production this year. Look for the 2019 Pétillant-Naturel Pinot Gris this spring.
We’ve been bottling standalone clones of Pinot Noir since the 2014 vintage (click here for more explanation). In 2017, we expanded the collection to include five clones: Pommard, Wädenswil, 115, 667, and 777. These are wines we make for ourselves, to learn more about clonal selection and expression, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised that these wines have gained a following over the last few years. We’ll be releasing the elegant 2017s throughout the spring and summer and will host a comparative tasting on April 25 & 26 (reservations recommended).
The short answer is that the grapes are doing just fine. We’re still about 15 inches behind in rainfall for the calendar year, so the vineyard has absorbed the recent rain quickly. It’s been 104 days since bloom, and the Pinot Noir looks full, healthy, and on track to harvest in a couple of weeks.
The only crop damage we're seeing so far is due to sunburn, and that happened long before September.
--Keith Kramer, owner
The concern with excess rainfall just before harvest is twofold: first, water has the potential to puff up the fruit, diluting sugars, acids, and flavors. In extreme cases, the skins can split, leading to rot. While crop losses due to rain-fueled disease is always a consideration in this region, our farming team keeps this in mind throughout the growing season, taking steps to promote good air flow and an open canopy.
The most challenging harvest in this regard was in 2013. Typhoon Pabuk dumped inches of rain on us over a single weekend when there was Pinot Noir still ripening on the vine. Good farming practices, meticulous sorting, and thoughtful winemaking produced some truly stunning wines that year. Plus, the drama of a once-in-a-hundred years storm made for some great conversation. This year hardly compares to that vintage, as the rain has been much lighter, spread over several weeks.
It’s not unusual for the Willamette Valley to receive an inch or two of rainfall in September. Looking at the monthly totals since our first harvest in 1989, preharvest precipitation is something of an annual event. It’s clear that 2019 is above average, but not record-breaking. The amount of rain this year is closest to 2010, and it’s tempting to draw a comparison to one of our favorite vintages. While the weeks leading up to the harvest are defining ones, it’s only part of the story.
If we layer Growing Degree Days into the discussion, a different picture of vintage 2019 begins to emerge. Growing Degree Days (GDDs) are a measure of heat accumulation throughout the growing season.
It’s interesting to note that classic “warm” vintages like 2004, 2006, and 2009, are on par with our current “mild” summer in terms of GDDs. Of the three, the most apt vintage comparison might be 2004. ’04 is remembered for a warm and dry summer, followed by September rain. What comes up less in this conversation, is that the weeks during harvest in October were beautiful that year.
We've been farming this property for 35 years. In that time, we've experienced a vast range of harvest conditions--wet, dry, humid, cool, early, and late. The vintages we find compelling often have rainy Septembers: 2004, 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2017.
The short answer is that Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir Blanc are both white wines. However, one is a white wine made from white grapes, whereas the other is a white wine made from red grapes.
A clone of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc is the result of a mutation where the DNA sequence that dictates skin color jumped, creating a gap in the code. This is how all mutations in grapevines occur--some are more easily observed than others for future propogation. Like other clones of Pinot Noir, Blanc has its own personality, both in the vineyard and in the glass. Although Pinot Blanc favors cool climates, it's late ripening.
Flavor Profile: lemon, pear, apple, apricot, almond, stony minerality
Pinot Gris is also a clone of Pinot Noir where the DNA color sequence jumped partially, resulting in the mauve hues we observe at harvest.
Flavor Profile: apple, pear, honey, flint, spearmint, citrus, peach
A white wine made from a dark-skinnned grape, the Pinot Noir clusters are pressed immediately after harvest, limiting the color extraction and flavor influence from the skins. For red wines, the skins are usually present for the duration of the fermentation; for rosé, the skin contact is limited to a few hours or days.
Flavor Profile: apple, peach, clover, honeydew melon, jasmine
With grilling and cookout season around the corner, it’s time to stock up on wines for summer entertaining. Second-generation Willamette Valley winegrower Kramer Vineyards produces both still and sparkling rosés. The winery’s General Manager and grilling enthusiast Becky Kramer shares her top picks for selecting wines for your next barbecue.
“Always have plenty of chilled sparkling wine and rosé on hand. They’re some of the most food-friendly wines out there! The combination of refreshing, bright acidity and fruity flavors really works with the savory smokiness of the grill. A dry rosé can pair with everything from shellfish to pulled pork sliders, ribs, burgers and sausages—even the potato salad.”
The Willamette Valley is synonymous with Pinot Noir, and Kramer has plenty of experience pairing this with salmon, pork chops, lamb, chicken and game birds. “Oregon Pinot noir is quite versatile with grilled foods too,” she notes, “it’s inherently earthy and smoky, often spicy, and the red or dark fruitiness pops nicely without dominating the meal.” If beef is on the menu, she’ll open something darker, like a Syrah or Rhône blend. “Beef usually needs wines with more tannins, so reach for something that will stain your teeth.”
At her own grill, Becky says she loves to cook meat of all types, but drumsticks are her favorite, “there’s something incredibly satisfying about standing over the grill with tongs in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.” Her favorite wine to serve? Rosé of course, “still or sparkling, as long as it’s dry.”
Becky’s fondness for grilling was fueled by her childhood growing up in wine country. “We have a hill that overlooks the vineyard and is our favorite spot to grill with friends. In the summertime, we’ll host causal cookouts and everyone brings good sides and wine to share while the meat or fish is cooking. It’s a wonderful communal experience in a relaxed atmosphere, and the view is amazing.”
Kramer Vineyards is releasing a new collection of rosé wines from its estate vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, just in time for barbecue season.
2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir
2017 Rosé of Carmine
2017 Rosé of Pinot Gris
2017 Celebrate Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir
2017 Celebrate Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Gris
Müller-Thurgau is a white grape variety created by Dr. Hermann Müller from the Swiss Canton of Thurgau in the 1880s. The goal was to cross Riesling, capturing its rich, complex flavors, with the earlier ripening Sylvaner. However, neither of these goals was achieved, nor was Sylvaner crossed with Riesling. DNA fingerprinting has revealed that Müller-Thurgau is a cross of Riesling and a grape called Madeleine Royale. The latter, as it turns out, is a cross of Pinot and Trolliger. Most widely planted in Germany, Müller-Thurgau is also found in Austria, Northern Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Japan, and of course, the United States.
In 1980, vineyard owner Keith Kramer took a viticulture class at Erath every other Saturday for three months. The instructor Al Holstein, had some Müller-Thurgau planted in his vineyard. This was very exciting to another student in the class, who peppered Holstein with questions about the grape. Keith was not very interested in Müller-Thurgau initially, but the guy “made such a stink about it” that when the Kramers had an opportunity to buy some fruit from Courting Hill Vineyard a few years later they decided to try it. That first wine was a very fruity, off-dry white that had enough potential that they went ahead and procured some starts from Sokol Blosser in the mid-1980s.
Müller-Thurgau was among the first wines in our tasting room for our grand opening in 1990, and it quickly gained a following. We increased the acreage in our estate vineyard to three, which does not sound like much, but this variety routinely produces 4-6 tons to the acre, double or triple the yield compared to Pinot Noir. As our production grew, we experimented with assorted styles, including a sparkling wine, a dessert wine, a dry barrel-fermented wine, and a late harvest wine. The stainless, fruity Estate bottling is our most popular wine, followed by the Celebrate sparkling wine.
It is easy to see why Muller-Thurgau is a tasting room favorite. In a region full of Pinot Gris, and to a lesser extent Chardonnay and Riesling, Müller-Thurgau stands out. Its unique flavor profile with starfruit, lychee, melon, hints of orange blossom and gardenia, gentle acidity with a sweet and sour effect on the palate makes it easy to sip. Plus, Müller ripens at lower sugar levels, so the alcohols in the finished wines are lower than many table wines, usually around 11%.
I never really gave clonal choice too much thought until recently. As a second generation winemaker with an established vineyard, our clonal selections were made many years before I decided to pursue a career in wine. Why focus on this aspect when there are so many variables at play—soil type, elevation, vine density, vine age, slope, trellis system, own rooted or grafted? Aside from the differences in ripening time, are the clones of Pinot Noir really all that distinguishable, or is it mere trivia?
There are more known clones of Pinot Noir than any other grape variety. When we established our vineyard in 1984, there were three clones available: Pommard, Wädenswil and Gamay Beaujolais. The Dijon clones, such as 114, 115, 667, etc., began to come into Oregon in the late 80s and early 90s. These clones may differ in any number of ways—cluster size and shape, berry size, color, early or late ripening, etc. Now there are over 50 clones of Pinot Noir available in the United States, and we’re up to 9 at our estate.
As interest in these new clones has increased, we began to study them more closely in our vineyard. The higher crop levels in 2014 led us to introduce a series of single clone wines of Pinot Noir: Dijon 115, Dijon 777, and Pommard. For these, we followed similar winemaking protocols to allow for the clearest clonal expression possible. The fruit was harvested by hand and 25% whole clusters were layered on the bottom of 1-ton vats, and topped with destemmed fruit. After a 5-day cold soak, fermentation began. The must was pumped over and punched down twice daily and pressed at dryness. The wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels for 14 months and bottled.
It is too early to ascribe personalities to each of these clones based on one vintage. However, these three wines are quite different from one another, leading me to rethink perspective on clonal significance. The Dijon 777 clone is remarkably spicy, with dark berry fruit and black tea. Whereas the Dijon 115 is far subtler, with a delicate earthiness and minerality. The Pommard is the closest to what I would describe as a classic Oregon Pinot Noir, but perhaps that’s due to my familiarity with our Pommard-dominant vineyard? With this series and those to come in future vintages, we hope to further our understanding of each clone in the vineyard and in the cellar.