Harvest 2020

Welcome to the Harvest 2020 report! Harvest, affectionately known as “crush” is a busy time, but we still do our best to document the vintage with photos and memories. Scroll down for notes on the progression of the most exciting season here in wine country.

Vintage Highlights

Pinot Noir Cluster With “Hens & Chicks”

In 2020 we had gorgeous fruit.

We always look for small clusters and small berries, and in 2020 the fruit was some of the most promising we’ve ever seen. Why do we love small clusters and berries? Small clusters lessen the load on each vine, allowing the plant to concentrate flavor in a smaller amount of fruit. This also reduces the need to thin clusters, something we always do around veraison (color change) but it’s nice when nature does some of the work for us! Also, small berries have a greater surface area to volume ratio, meaning there’s more of the good stuff in the skins, where all of the color and most of the flavor comes from. Not everybody knows this, but grape juice is clear, so red wines are fermented on the skins, allowing time for the skin to break down and release flavors and colors into the juice.

In 2020 it was all hands on deck.

Members Of Our Sales Team Sorting Pinot Noir. From Left To Right Todd Stewart, Shirley Brooks & Cameron Christie

It was a famously difficult year for everyone, and we were not spared. During a normal vintage, Elk Cove attracts winemaking students from around the world to work harvest. Many of these winemaking students jump from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere to double up on harvest each year and gain as much experience as possible. In previous years, we’ve had vintage crew from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Germany, France, Moldova… But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel was nearly impossible in 2020, grounding our traveling sales team and all international winemaking students. The solution? We put our sales team to work making the wine! This was smarter than it sounds – some of them had winemaking experience and we had a great team running the crew including 2nd generation Owner/Winemaker Adam Campbell and Australian native Associate Winemaker Heather Perkin – who came to Elk Cove nearly 15 years ago as an international winemaking student herself.

Our Harvest Sweatshirt Theme: “All Hands on Deck”

Other harvest theme: beards!

The seasonal Elk Cove beard fashion was in full force. Both Adam Campbell cellar master José Sotto vowed to grow their beards until the pandemic was over and Joe Campbell sported a well-trimmed number reminiscent of harvests of the late 1980’s.

Adam Campbell And Joe Campbell Enjoying A Brief Maskless Moment To Taste Some Chardonnay Outdoors

In 2020 there were major fires in Oregon

To top it all off, 2020 was the first vintage we experienced real concerns about fire affected fruit. Thankfully our estate vineyards are about as far North and West as you can get here in the Willamette Vlaley, far from the center of the fires, but we did see weeks of smoky skies. Thankfully the small fire near Hagg Lake was quickly extinguished. We are still learning about the affects of fire on winemaking, so every winemaker had a slightly different take on what to do. For us, we opted to test extensively, sell off any juice that didn’t meet our standards and simplify our winemaking, declassifying all of our best fruit to make the best 2020 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir we possible could. Skipping a vintage of Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs also helped us adjust to limited labor availability in 2020.

two vineyard stewards during pinot noir harvest
Pinot Noir Harvest

In 2020 we cannot thank ¡Salud! enough

Like many organizations, ¡Salud! Services had to pivot in 2020. A 30+ year partnership between Willamette Valley wineries like ours and local healthcare providers, ¡Salud! makes healthcare services accessible and affordable for Oregon vineyard stewards and their families. ¡Salud! was instrumental in helping vineyards get up and running in 2020, helping us safely adapt to new health regulations to keeping our crews safe out in the vineyard and in the winery and providing no-cost COVID-19 screening on site in the vineyard across the Willamette Valley.

Official 2020 Vintage Report:

VINTAGE 2020 was a challenging vintage with nicely concentrated wines. The COVID-19 outbreak brought labor and safety challenges that we overcame in step with increased seasonal demands in the vineyard and cellar. Luckily our vines are 6 feet apart and well suited for social-distancing, but creative solutions saved the day – we even recruited our sales team for our harvest crew.

Cool, wet conditions in spring led to a 25% lighter than average fruit set with small clusters and berries, ideal conditions for flavor intensity. Summer brought steady heat and cool nights, increasing our expectations for a fantastic vintage across the board here in the Willamette Valley. Then, in August and September, Oregon experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons in history, bringing with it worries of smoke-affected fruit. Ripening slowed until the winds shifted eastward and the skies cleared in mid-September.

The silver lining for Elk Cove is that our vines are located in the northwest corner of the Willamette Valley, where smoke effects were minimal. We will not release any wines that exhibit smoke taint, and have aggressively tested for it. We sent a great many samples to the laboratory in 2020. We’re confident that we made some fantastic wines from intensely concentrated fruit.

The 2020 Harvest Crew
The 2020 Harvest Crew