Bergström is on the top of anyone's list of Oregon's best wineries. As one of the youngest commercial winemakers in Oregon, winemaker Josh Bergstrom rocketed to fame with a series of very highly rated vintages.
Bergström Wines believes that winemaking begins and ends in the vineyard. 90% of what you enjoy in a glass of wine depends on a vineyard's performance in any given year. The winemaker's hand must not surpass its role of simply allowing a natural fermentation to take place in his cellar. We believe that Oregon Pinot Noir must have an intense purity of fruit that can only be achieved through natural, non-interventionist, non-industrial, artisan wine-growing.
Bergström learned from studies in France and through trial in Oregon that intensive farming of grape crops produces the best wine.
It's hard to write about a winery that receives so much great press and so many high scores.
What more can we say?
The Bergström family has a vision, and they are sticking to it. "Our goal from the very beginning," says Josh Bergström, winemaker and vineyard manager, "has been to craft the greatest possible wines we could. We want to be leading the forefront of Pinot noir in Oregon and America!"
And if the scores of national wine critics are any measurement, Bergström Vineyards is rapidly realizing their goal. The Wine Spectator has given a passel of impressively high scores to Bergström wines, and there is little doubt that Josh Bergström currently has one of the hottest hands in Oregon winemaking.
"We have been fortunate to have started our winery in the second of six consecutive great vintages," comments Josh. "It's great when people congratulate us on the scores, but I always say 'thanks, we've been working really hard at making it all successful!"
"Working hard at it" is clearly the focus of Josh's time. An energetic and affable member of what has become an informal band of "young Turks" who are invigorating Oregon's wine world, Josh spends a vast amount of energy tending his vines, managing his cellar, and marketing his wines.
Mostly, though, his time is spent in the vineyard. "Vineyards have always been where we put all of our efforts," he says. "My job is winemaker and vineyard manager, but I spend 10 months out of the year on a tractor or in the vineyards. We will do anything we possibly can in the vineyards to make a concentrated and balanced wine."
Josh's focus on the vineyard was learned both in the wine cellars of Oregon and the vine rows of Burgundy. "I cut my teeth working with some of the great wineries of Oregon and with some great winemakers," he explains, "and I observed carefully where these people focused their energies, and it was always on the vineyard first."
In France, he saw a similar phenomenon. "When I went to Burgundy to study theory, I saw that the focus was vineyards, vineyards, vineyards, all the time. What I noticed more than anything was that these people are farmers!"
When he returned from Burgundy, what he had learned gave Josh some new ideas about how to manage the newly planted Bergström Vineyards. "I remember walking through Le Musigny and Romane - Conti and seeing vines with two to three clusters per plant. I remember thinking, wow, that's extreme! But if you can match the vine and the vine spacing to your soils and your climates, it may be the best thing for the wine."
So, Josh threw himself into the farming side of winegrowing. "As I learned to farm more and more, it totally consumed everything that we did at Bergström. I realized very quickly, unlike a lot of other wineries, that the vineyard truly is the place where the wine comes from. But," he adds with force, "I wanted to take it to a new level."
Organic, Biodynamic, New Farming Methods
Not content to simply ape what he had learned in his work experience Josh looked at new ways to achieve the optimum balance in his vineyards - everything from varied row and vine spacing, to severely small yields, to organics and biodynamics.
"Wine can be a fairly competitive industry," he comments, "with a lot of theories and schools of thought being thrown this way and that. But let's all realize that we're agriculturalists - we're people who farm - and we have to do what is right for the crop. The reason we pay so much attention to our soils and our vineyards," he explains, "is because we want to grow the perfect photosynthesis machine that's going to give us perfectly balanced fruit."
One place where Josh decided to make a difference was in balancing vine needs and crop yields. "Even when I was younger I thought that the whole 'two tons an acre' paradigm was garbage! It didn't make sense when you considered different spacing." With vineyards planted to varying densities, Josh felt, the accepted formula became moot.
Even though the 2-tons-per-acre has become a rough standard, Josh decided to tighten yields even further. "I like to aim for anywhere from 0.8 tons to the acre with young vines, all the way up to 1.5 or 1.6 maximum with old vines," says Josh - but adds significantly "of course, it depends on the balance of the vine."
Reducing Crop Loads, Teaching Vines New Ways to Grow
For an example of what he means, Josh points to his experience with Hyland Vineyard, an old-vine Pinot noir (33 year old vines) vineyard that Josh has farmed under contract since 2000.
"The vines were used to carrying 3 to 3.5 tons to the acre and we instantly took them down to eight clusters per plant," explains Josh. The first year under the new regime the vines did not perform well. "It was a shock to the plant's system," he says. "They thought 'I'm not carrying any fruit, why should I ripen it?"
Added to the mixture was the fact that the vineyard tended to have high tannins. "If you are only getting 22 brix and it's a tannic site, then that's an austere wine," he says. "If you can get it to achieve better sugar ripeness and phenolic development, then all of a sudden the tannin issues seem to disappear."
The view from south from Bergstrom winery