Worry is a negative emotion and there was a lot of it going around here in Oregon right before the ’08 harvest. Fortunately, the generosity of the juice the grapes are producing this season is now overshadowing reasons for concern, which means less gray hair among the growers who still have some!
I have to admit that until recently, I was a bit nervous for Oregon wine growers. Many of the grapes were lagging in ripeness and maturity as cool temperatures and rain blanketed the Willamette Valley region.
Early in the season I predicted an October 22nd harvest date and until recently I was pretty sure I was going to loose a bet I made with a couple of colleagues. It wasn’t but a month ago that grapes were barely changing color. And recently, I thought to myself, here we are, almost half way through the month, and many of the grapes have not reached their potential, and now we are getting hit by cooler temperatures and rain. It definitely felt like a catastrophe looming in the distance.
But it’s amazing what a difference a couple of weeks can make. According to the Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association (DHWA), Winemakers across the Dundee Hills are smiling, and with good reason.
“Two weeks ago, I was extremely nervous because we were so far behind our 2007 pick dates,” admits Erath Winemaker Gary Horner who, with winemakers across the AVA, saw early October grapes lagging in ripeness and maturity from the late spring. “But the fruit is fabulous! We’ve seen flavor development at lower temperatures, the color has kicked in and we have acids and brix levels consistent with a classic Oregon vintage.”
Vineyard Managers are equally thrilled with the quality of the fruit. “In over 20 years farming the Dundee Hills, I’ve never seen fruit that tastes this good this late in the year, and this solid,” says Buddy Beck, President of Advanced Vineyard Systems who oversees the viticulture at DePonte, Vista Hills and several other Dundee Hills estate wineries.
“This is the kind of harvest our friend David Lett would have loved,” said Jesse Lange of Lange Estate. “Late in the year. Cool, fresh and dry with perfect fruit, even ripeness and flavors that will blow your mind. What a great tribute to Papa Pinot.”
Allen Holstein, Vineyard Manager for Stoller Vineyard and Argyle’s Knudsen, two of the Dundee Hills’ largest and most renowned vineyards, echoes Buddy’s enthusiasm: “Yields are right where we want them at around 2.5 tons per acre on the Pinots and no one is complaining! We had light rain in early October after a long, dry spell which caused some of the small berries to split, but we’d opened up the canopy by thinning leaves at the grape zone and they didn’t soak up the water. Weather has been cold so we’ve dodged the bullet as far as rot is concerned.”
“Cold indeed!” reports Eleni Papadakis Associate Winemaker at
Domaine Serene where the winery and estate vineyards are frequently above the morning fog line. “The fruit has been arriving in pristine condition partly due to this weather. In fact, the grapes have been so cold that our sorters at the crush pad are wearing two pairs of gloves. Our estate fruit is still to be harvested and the quality of the Pinots is superb. Chardonnay is about a week out as we’re just moving into the tea flavors. We’ll be sampling again at the end of the week. Why hurry when we have this perfect weather?”
According to the DHWA, “Winemakers are ecstatic with day after day of cool, dry weather, driving vineyard managers to distraction as they postpone picking as long as possible. The weather forecast has been particularly variable with predictions changing frequently, often by the hour”.
“The weatherman is playing with us, so we’re playing along too,” says Leigh Bartholomew, Vineyard Manager at Archery Summit. “Rain forecast midweek didn’t materialize, so winemakers pushed back picking to take advantage of the extra hangtime. It hasn’t been easy to schedule crews and winemakers have been known to cancel the next day’s pick. But who can blame them?” She credits lower yields and slow ripening to the intensely concentrated flavors, and firmly believes that this bodes well for quality. “We’re seeing lower sugar levels along the lines of 2005, yet with physiological maturity in the fruit. It’s exciting!”
At The Four Graces Black Family Estate vineyard at the entrance to Dundee, General Manager Anthony Van Nice echoes the positive sentiment. “We’re extremely impressed with the fruit and it’s certainly not too early to predict stellar wines from the 2008 vintage,” he reports. “With this great grape weather, we have the luxury of time on our side and using every day to our advantage. Pickers are moving from lower to higher elevations, meaning that our Reserve blocks and Pinot Gris will come in around October 23.”
Cliff Anderson, Anderson Family Vineyards, the northernmost vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA reports: “This is the latest harvest we’ve seen. The weather has been miraculous. Vines are still holding on past when they usually have begun to go dormant. The fruit coming in is fully ripe, delicious and full of flavor from the long hang-time. With the cool summer and late harvest we have bright acids, low alcohols and the potential for some spectacular wines. We’ve harvested Pinot Gris, about half the Chardonnay and just started (one block) on the Pinot noir (which hit the magic 24 brix right on the button). We expect to bring in the rest of the crop over the next several days. Likely finish day is Wednesday – an amazing October 22nd!”
It looks like I might win that bet after all…:)
Now that the harvest in the Dundee Hills is 50-70% complete and the rain has finally materialized, it looks like its going to be a great year. Let’s raise a glass to the 2008 Oregon vintage.