We have been planning to bottle a wine called Lucille since the first time we heard Lucy’s heartbeat during an ultrasound. From the moment Lucy became mobile, she has walked vineyards, kicked dirt, and sampled grapes alongside us. Freedom Hill Vineyard has always been a special place for her, with tall, hanging trellis blocks of old, twisted Chardonnay vines that she would dart underneath, while chasing the dogs and tasting the fruit as she wove through the maze of vines. She would exclaim ‘Dad, I like the red grapes, but I really like the white ones!’.
Ken has had the fortune to work with Freedom Hill Vineyard since his first harvest in 1995 and we began working with the fruit as Walter Scott in 2012. Originally we were sourcing just a single acre of Chardonnay along with our Pinot noir blocks, but in 2017 we were offered an acre of old vine Chardonnay also planted in 1995. Since the beginning we knew this block was special and have worked closely with Dustin Duschee and his family to increase the intensity, concentration, and focus through limited yields and organic farming.
Lucille is a concentrated expression of the Freedom Hill Vineyard, giving depth and layers of which only old vines can. Fragrant grilled Sicilian lemons and Mediterranean tahini drives a piercingly fresh tangerine note on the palate with a briny minerality that leaves a mouthwatering sensation. The juxtaposition of power and weightlessness follows all the way through the lusciously long finish.
The weather patterns in the Willamette Valley are truly some of the varied and impactful influences that contribute to making this an amazing and challenging region in which to grow wine grapes. There is no doubt that we have extreme weather events due to climate change, but our overall growing conditions moderate these spikes compared to cool climate regions from around the globe. The 2019 vintage drove that point home with obvious reminders that we are truly still a cool climate region.
The winter of 2018 started off generally mild, then finished cold and wet as we transitioned into early 2019. The spring was wet as is typical in the Willamette Valley, but a warmer than usual in April and we saw a warmer than average start to the growing season following bud break. As in 2018, we once again aimed for lower yields in all of our sites through aggressive shoot thinning to ensure the vines concentrated on developing the fruit we intended to harvest.
The summer began with moderately warm weather in late May and June, allowing for consistent flowering followed by near-record rain in late June and July. Basically, we were in the midst of possibly the highest mildew pressure vintage any grower in this valley had ever experienced. That said, the vines, as Kevin Chambers from Koosah Farm observed, “were very happy!” Why? The answer is that there were no heat spikes in 2019, giving us an old school Oregon cool summer.
August brought warmer temps, but none of the real heat waves we have come to expect throughout late summer. Pinot noir and Chardonnay like more consistent temperatures and got exactly what they wanted in 2019. Our growers made one last pass at veraison to drop any damaged fruit and fine tuned the crop even further to ensure the vines had an optimum chance to ripen their fruit.
As we moved into September, the mildew pressure began to threaten the grapes in the valley. Luckily, in the Eola-Amity hills, we receive assistance from the powerful Van Duzer winds to help fight off botrytis and mildew, which keep the vines happy and mostly dry. By the numbers, September saw the lowest heat accumulation since 2007, but as we had lower yields in all of our sites at the outset of harvest through intentional shoot thinning, the vines were in balance and delivered beautiful, ripe fruit.
There is no denying that 2019 was challenging. Just over 5 inches of rain fell in September, but that was over the entire month following a dry August, allowing the dry earth to absorb much of the moisture. We danced with and around the rain events, picking our sites when we had a good window and the fruit was ready.
We spoke with a fellow winemaker at a tasting event in November following harvest whose first vintage was 2014 and he said, “I thought this (winemaking) was easy”. We’ve had it pretty easy from 2014-2018 for sure. You really have to look back at 2007, 1996 or 1995 for a vintage to compare with 2019, where patience was the name of the game.
While Walter Scott produced significantly less wine in 2019 due to yields, we could not be happier with the result. We are so excited for you to experience this vintage through our wines!