CUTTER CASCADIA hails from the dramatic, picturesque hills of Oregon's Columbia River Gorge. Michael Garofola's wines always express place but what's most striking about them is how they also speak to the temporal, joyful role of wine (see: Strawberry Mullet Rosé). Coming out of his fourth vintage (two of which were fire vintages, as in literal fires), we asked him about the impacts of the 2020 fires and kept it lit with an MFK.
Marry, Fuck, Kill with Disco, Muscadet, Mushrooms
Marry: Muscadet, Fuck: Mushrooms, Kill: Disco
Tough call on marry/fuck. Let's face it: Muscadet is what I need but mushrooms are what I want...maybe I can assume I will have a prolonged affair with psilocybin and marry Muscadet for their dependability and grace. As far as killing disco, I'm just not that good of a dancer unless there's Muscadet and psilocybin around so it's kind of a chicken or egg thing.
Talk to us about the 2020 fires in connection with past years
2020 was my second fire vintage in four years. There were some major differences from my perspective in the Gorge. In 2017, the year of the Eagle Creek fire, the vineyard I source Dolcetto from (von Flowtow), was about 25 miles from the epicenter of the fire. Western Hood River was in Stage 2 evacuation orders and it hit two weeks post veraison** -- that vineyard was under smoke for about three weeks.
In contrast, the 2020 fires, which affected literally every vineyard on the West Coast it seemed, was quite different. First, with the exception of the Mosier fire that happened a few weeks earlier but was put out very quickly, there were no active fires close to either Hillside (The Dalles) or von Flowtow (Hood River) and the smoke stuck around for about 10-12 days although it affected the vineyard around the same window as the 2017 fires (i.e., post veraison). That being said, the western to central Gorge got shellacked by smoke from Hood River, Underwood, and Mosier, whereas The Dalles seems to be less affected. I'm not exactly sure as to why, but I do know there's a pretty consistent wind that comes in from the northwest at Hillside every afternoon and perhaps that kept the smoke and ash off the clusters and pushed it all out to the south. The foreman at Hillside even sent some lab samples in for guaiacol and it came back negative although maybe some stuff in the lower blocks were affected.
In the winery, the only fruit in 2020 I had full on smoked was the Dolcetto from Hood River (like in 2017) although it was very different on a sensorial level from the very beginning. The smoke expressed itself completely differently than the 2017. The 2017 Dolcetto expressed itself more like tobacco, specifically like a black cherry pipe tobacco my old man used to smoke in his pipe when I was a kid. The 2020 (as of this moment) tastes more like bacon fat and dates (aka Devils on Horseback) and is a bit more plush from a fruit perspective, which I can't entirely be mad about.
But the real gut punch that could be affiliated in an indirect way to the fires was bird damage. While we know fires kill and displace birds, I lost about 40ish% of the block to birds and have a feeling the massive fires pushed them away from their homes as they sought the safe havens far away from the epicenter of the fires. This is ultimately conjecture, but it makes sense to me. Granted, bird damage is a thing, especially for late ripening grapes like Dolcetto in a cool climate, but I have NEVER seen the devastation I saw this last year. We don't have netting, have never needed netting, but when I drove up the driveway on the day of the pick and noticed half the vineyard gone, it was a sinking feeling in my stomach I will never forget so we will always have netting from here out... trust.
**Veraison is the onset of ripening on the grapes.