Swafford on wine: Remembering Halloween: the longest and spookiest in memory

I missed trick-or-treaters knocking at our door this year. Not that we would get many pirates, ballerinas and Draculas, but I loved complementing the littlest ones even when my guesses didn’t even come close to figuring out their homemade identities. I had to make do with chuckling in the grocery aisles at Fred Meyer where the employees kept their creative and wacky traditions alive with some good costumes again. How sorely needed this year was humorous-spooky, to relieve grim reality-spooky all around us.

All of this triggered an interesting flashback from Newport, Ore., to Newport Beach, Calif., years ago before we escaped Southern California to the magnificent Oregon coast. It was Halloween when I drove into Newport Beach’s Fashion Island shopping center to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner in nearby Irvine where we lived. I parked and looked up at the glass box that was a bank building next to the wine store and right into the office of the woman manager who was quite visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall in that office that cantilevered out over where I had parked. I was almost eye-level with her swivel chair, where she sat with her back to the glass wall and with her legs crossed while talking to a client on the other side of her desk. Then she stood up, shook hands to signal the close of a loan or mortgage transaction and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I was looking at the ranking official in the bank, half-dressed as a sexy, dance hall performer in a Wild West saloon! She was all legs, net stockings and cleavage — I was ready to go in and open an account myself. I almost forgot to get the wine for dinner.

‘Fire wine’ in the world’s vineyards

In Sweden, aquavit is a clear, distilled alcohol similar to vodka that is aptly called brännvin, or “fire wine.” Unfortunately, out-of-control wildfires swirling around the great vineyards of California and here in Oregon again this year, as it did last year, made it tempting to appropriate the name from the Swedes for our Vintage 2020. Fire seldom burns the vines themselves, but the problem of smoke and ash drifting over the vineyards can affect the taste of the finished wine in the bottle. Smoke taint, if found in heavy concentrations, can render some wine undrinkable. Many factors bear on the potential dangers fire brings — how close the flames, which way the wind blows, what stage of growth of the grapes — the threat is there, but is not always fatal.

Brush fires worldwide from Australia, Chile and Portugal, to name just a few of the major areas, have prompted Australian researchers to develop sophisticated high-tech methods of analyzing smoke taint, so the degree of damage and how to control and mitigate the results can be found. Artificial intelligence and drones flying overhead reading the grapes on the vines below to find out which can be made into good wine are helping the battle to save agriculture from this result of global warming.

We visited winemaker Jonathon Scott Oberlander at his West Eugene Winery early last month when he was very busy bringing in and crushing his Pinot noir grapes. I wanted to introduce my Denver son-in-law Robert, who had recently purchased cases of J. Scott premium Bradshaw Vineyard Pinot. We noticed being poured into each bin of uncrushed grapes, a half-gallon container of what turned out to be oak wood chips. The explanation was that this would not only add flavor, but would help offset some of the minor smoke taint.

We made a hasty exit to get out of the way of the bustling wine making activity and to hurry downtown to the recently opened J. Scott Tasting Room in the Fifth Street Market area for a great food and wine experience. As we left the winery yard, a tractor driver towing several bins of grape clusters invited us to taste grapes just plucked from the vines. They were so sweet I had to be dragged away by my daughter Rachel, who said there wouldn’t be enough for wine. The tractor driver then introduced himself: Jim Bradshaw, who was bringing his grapes to be made into J. Scott’s premium Pinot noir that had gone to Rachel and Robert in Denver.


Joseph Swafford
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