Stepping up to a conveyor belt carrying grape clusters to a de-stemmer, Anna Matzinger quickly grabs three bunches out of the 50 or so heading up the line and, from them, plucks three green grapes.
It’s almost as though the Archery Summit winemaker spotted them 30 yards back and zeroed in on them for exclusion.
“We’ve had a year with a lot of large clusters and big grapes; every once in a while it pushes one of the grapes to the outside and it gets too ripe. We want to catch them before they get into the fermentation tanks,” Matzinger said.
Matzinger is unassuming for someone who, just a few weeks prior, had her 2006 Red Hills Estate Pinot Noir named the best wine in Oregon by Portland Monthly Magazine.
During the last full week of September, Archery Summit is ramping up for an eventful few days. FYBs, or “Funny Yellow Bins,” used to collect the grapes from the vines, are piling up and Matzinger and the vineyard’s other employees are racing the weather to ensure the best possible harvest.
“Each harvest has its own story. This one is no different,” said Matzinger.
If this one had a title, it might be “Best Laid Plans.” Earlier in the month, the clusters in the vineyards were so large and full that they were in danger of of desiccation, raisining and the looming spectre of disease from the maturing canopy leaves.
“We decided to cut back the canopy to expose the grapes, which allows the cool night wind to pucker the grapes and decrease their size. The result would be a high flavor to skin ratio,” Matzinger.
The earlier proactive approach has put the grapes in jeopardy of overexposure now; a heat wave in the 90s is expected over the next three days. The clicking of clippers is ever-present as Archery Summit’s crew of about 35 race to bring in the grapes before the heat arrives in full force. In a single day, they will pick more than 30 tons of grapes.
“In an ideal harvest, we get to do everything proactively, but part of the fun is in reacting to the unexpected,” Matzinger said.
If all goes accordingly, picked grapes enter Archery Summit’s fermentation tanks about an hour after arriving from the vineyards.
“It really means we have a pristine quality grape from the outset,” Matzinger said.
Then, it could be said, gravity takes over. At Archery Summit, wine flows downward from the moment it enters the five-story facility.
From the conveyor belt where Matzinger plucked the three stray grapes, they are moved one story down to the fermentation tanks, where they’ll spend the next three to four weeks.
“We only use the yeast the grapes bring in from the field; we don’t add anything. Mostly, we just control the temperature and stir them occasionally,” she said.
For Matzinger, winemaking is a nurturing process and allowing the natural yeasts to do their thing is one more expression of that philosophy. For that same reason, Archery Summit uses the most sustainable and organic processes possible while producing their vintages.
Matzinger views pinot grapes as the ones best able to express the terrain on which they were grown. She prefers to get out of their way over fiddling with something that isn’t broken.
From the fermentation tanks, the wine flows down to settling tanks and then down again to one of the winery’s more than 600 barrels – all of which are stored in man-made tunnels excavated for the task of storing the wine at a constant temperature.
What might seem like a long wait for some is actually some of the most exciting time for Matzinger.
“I love watching it and tracking its growth. Around January, the wine starts giving a glimpse of what it’s going to be and then four months later it’s showing off,” she said. “It’s evolving the whole time.”
After aging in barrels, the wine flows down to blending tanks and then into the the bottling tank, which is on an elevator – the piece de resistance of Archery Summit.
“I actually heard about the elevator before I ever worked here; that’s how unique something like this is. What it means is that we never have to use a pump when making our wine,” Matzinger said. “Over the course of its life, wine forms bonds and anything you do to put pressure on it can break them. By relying on gravity we don’t put any extra pressure on the wine.”
While the Archery Summit facility is unique among Oregon wineries, it’s the work that Matzinger and the staff put in during this critical week that will flavor whatever ends up in bottles a year from now.
“We have a great facility, but its job is not messing up the fruit coming in from the field,” she said.