Sunday, June 28, 2009

Willamette Valley Weather and Vintage review from OPC

This is an excerpt from the Oregon Pinot Camp handbook. I would suggest you pay close attention to the 2007 vintage. It's been severely panned by the press however the wines exemplify exactly what makes Oregon a wonderful place to make Pinot Noir. High toned red fruit, medium body and "kung fu acidity"*.

OPC Weather and Harvests: A Vintage Review

1985: The vintage was hot and dry from beginning to end. Harvest was in late September, under ideal conditions. Crop was a bit short. Also noteworthy was frost on May 11th and 12th, which affected many locations near the valley floor. Quality was good to excellent.

1986: The year started early, with buds bursting around March 20th. Bloom was somewhat early. The summer was hot, with the year tracking very close to 85°F until 3 inches of rain fell in September. Good weather returned at the end of the month, but the poor weather during fruit maturation diminished the quality of the Pinot noir vintage somewhat. Some excellent Chardonnays were made. Quality was average to good.

1987: Very hot, dry vintage with a September harvest. Grapes harvested in hot conditions. Sugars sometimes reached maximums before flavors developed. Quality was poor to very good.

1988: The lack of rain in the Fall and early Winter of 1987 led to a peculiar malady in 1988 called “late Fall drought-induced Boron deficiency”. The result was a very poor set and resulting small crop. Nonetheless, 1988 was a classic Oregon Pinot noir vintage, with cool temperatures and a long, dry Fall. Quality was good to excellent.

1989: In the late Winter of 1989, Oregon suffered a severe freeze with temperatures at below -5°F. The consequence was moderate to serious vine damage and bud damage in the Spring of 1989. Crops were significantly reduced. The vintage was characterized by a late budbreak, but a hot Summer and Fall. Harvest was in September. Quality was good to very good and the quantity was short.

1990: Very cold conditions in December of 1989 caused bud damage which led to the third straight year of short crops in Oregon. The vintage resembled 1988, with a long cool year and a dry Fall. Quality was very good to excellent.

1991: A long, cool Spring pushed bloom into late June and early July. The rest of the season was, however, ideal with an extraordinary, long, warm Fall. The crop was good. Because of the late harvest, quality was enhanced by severe thinning. Quality ranged from average to very good, depending on cultural practices.

1992: This was the hottest year in Oregon’s brief modern viticultural history. The harvest ranged from early to mid-September. Fortunately, the heat relented somewhat at the end of maturity, allowing many producers to make wines of outstanding quality. The experience of 1987 may have aided producers in making their cultural and picking decisions. Crop was good. Thinning was required to be successful. (The earliest harvest to-date.)

1993: This may become another classic Oregon vintage. Bloom was in late June. Harvest was relatively late, but the Fall was warm and relatively dry. The crop was average. Thinning generally enhanced wine quality. (The latest harvest to-date.)

Vintage notes 1985–1993 by Ted Casteel, Bethel Heights Vineyard

1994: A highly ballyhooed vintage, this was a short, dry, and warm harvest. Thinning was unnecessary, with most vineyards having croploads under two tons per acre. Alcohols are moderately high, extraction huge and the reception by press predictably strong. Seen as the best vintage released to-date by some, with 1998 rivaling it.

1995: A vintage with rain at harvest ending a good growing season and, unfortunately following on the heels of 1994, received poorly by critics. A moderate to good yield and heavy rains for a week or more in the middle of harvest meant many wines lack the depth of fruit and color that others have. That notwithstanding, the vintage made exceptionally rich, elegantly styled wines at the single vineyard and reserve levels.

1996: The second rain-affected harvest, fruit in this year was closer to fully ripe when a few days of rain arrived, resulting in almost normal size and richness in the Pinot noirs. The vintage yields were slightly below normal levels but not financially threatening as with 1994 and 1998, plus in all years since 1994 more winemakers are chosing to crop-thin to achieve intensity. A fat, rich vintage considered the best of the rain years by critics.

1997: The last of the rain vintages, this year showed great promise until the skies opened. Crop loads promised the largest harvest yet and they were almost ripe when rains came. Unlike the prior two vintages when the rains stopped for post-rain ripening, 1997 remained wet. Botrytis pressure was high and earlier-picked vineyards and those who sorted and crop-thinned fared better. Very good structures bordering on tannic, plus slow to evolve fruit has made this vintage unpopular with critics, although excellent producers made stellar wines just now showing off.

1998: Glorious wines, not much of them. A large 1997 crop and damp, cool weather at bloom doomed this vintage to short crops, but that meant, with a normal ripening season and no early rains, deeply extracted and highly structured wines. Croploads were even smaller than 1994 and the wines, just beginning to be released, are big but require time in bottle to regain their lushness and finesse. Possibly the best vintage to-date. But wait…

1999: A very cool growing season followed a very late bloom period in 1999. A great wine was thought unlikely to arise, considering a full cropload hungin most vineyards and a need for the last two months before harvest to be perfect to fully ripened fruit. Many vineyards were severely crop-thinned as a precaution, but the weather cooperated and all vineyards ripened if owners were patient. Many of the best wines are as good as 1998, some claiming to be better. Great variability can be expected, however, due to earlier than optimal picking by those not trusting Mother Nature. An almost Burgundian level of acidity will make this vintage ageworthy.

2000: The 2000 growing season was almost perfect, starting early in both budbreak and bloom, setting a full crop in vineyards and thus giving a chance to precisely choose optimum yields with crop thinning. During harvest, which started the last week of September and lasted until the last week of October, only 1.1" of rain fell, with very good ripeness and moderate to good acids. Colors and extractions on the Pinot noir cuvees were excellent, acids good, but not as firm as 1999 and fruit totally ripe without disease pressure. Third-in-a-row, with 2000 a good average of the prior two vintages’ characteristics. In a word, a “pretty” vintage.

2001: This year produced a soft, big vintage. It saw almost ideal growing and ripening weather and less than an inch of rain during harvest. This is not a typical cool climate vintage since acids are as low and ripeness as full, despite above average yields before crop thinning, as we’ve seen since perhaps 1987. The Pinot noirs will be soft, fleshy and early appealing, with moderate colors. Whites will be full and broad, and early maturing. The alcohols are restrained slightly by yields that didn’t force extreme extraction. With perspective in 2004, a lighter, slightly harder and not well- received vintage by critics—some excellent wines, although not across the board, from the weakest vintage of the excellent 1998–2003 string.

2002: An extended, dry and moderately warm harvest put the finishing touches to what may be one of the best two or three vintages Oregon has seen—perhaps best ever for whites, close to best for reds. A slightly early budbreak ushered in a warm, dry growing season with excellent heat summations, but not heat spikes. An inch of rain in mid-late September corrected imbalanced high sugars and low pHs and set the stage for an extended harvest of well over a month for Pinot noir. Harvests of young fruit prior to this only rain event may give some elevated alcohols. Croploads were full, permitting precise green harvesting for full ripeness and extraction. Excellent acidities due to moderate temperatures throughout the growing and harvest periods, make this a richly ripe but structured vintage, both for whites and reds.

2003: This is an excellent vintage, albeit unusual in the fiery nature of the growing season. The same dry and warm growing and ripening seasons held for 2003 as with the past few vintages, only more so, with Region II (not cool climate!) heat accumulations of 2,500 units, average highs of 78F July-October, and half the normal rainfall with 2.75 inches. Fruit was disease free, crop set was generous enough for easy honing to desired levels, and soil moisture was adequate due to good pre-season winter rains. Concerns regarding this vintage center on high sugars and resultant high alcohols, and low acids. Most comparable past vintages, like the excellent 1992, may urge us not to worry.

2004: This vintage started out as a carbon copy of 2003, but thankfully cooled off and got needed rains in late August and then again in mid-September before most vineyards’ final ripening phase. What a difference some rain makes! Young and early vineyards that were almost ready to harvest the first week of September could have done without the rain, but the rest thought it a blessed relief and assured nutrient mobility in the vines. A short cropload due to poor weather at set, extreme temperatures the prior vintage, and vineyard growth irregularities, plus growing season heat (2004’s Degree-Day 2404 compared to 2003’s 2535 in McMinnville) make 2004 properly plump and extracted, but with restraint—average Brix down 1%. An interesting vintage—almost an average of 2001, 2002, and 2003, with perhaps a little more variability in reds and more structured, brighter whites similar to 2002.

Vintage notes for 1994–2004 by Harry Peterson-Nedry, Chehalem

2005: Although moderate in temperature, this was the coolest vintage of the last six years. It got off to a very early start (March budbreak), but the weather turned cool and rainy in late May and June, leading to a late bloom and reduced crop due to poor set. A warm and dry July and August followed. Fall was cool and it rained significantly late in September. Although most winemakers fear rain just prior to harvest, in Burgundy they say a good rainstorm in early September is a basic ingredient of a great vintage. 2005 was a classic example of fall rains providing balance to the fruit after a dry summer. There was almost no damage to the fruit from splitting or rot and harvest followed in dry conditions over the next few weeks. There is significant excitement (and some surprise) over the quality of wines produced in this unusual vintage. The wines are well balanced, have moderate alcohol, good acidity, and supple tannins.

2006: Thanks to favorable weather at bloom and an extended growing season, Oregon’s 2006 vintage was characterized by that rare combination of plentiful crop yields a warm and dry growing season with little precipitation and modest disease pressure. The resulting wines were rich and hedonistic. If there were any issues, they revolved around fruit reaching higher sugar levels prior to developing physiological maturity. Higher than average alcohols resulted. 2003 was the only vintage in recent times warmer than 2006, as measured by heat unit accumulation.

2007: This is a milestone Oregon vintage- Beautifully balanced, racy white wines and elegantly structured red wines were produced, in spite of some significant rainfall that occurred throughout the first three weeks of October’s harvest. Bud break and bloom occurred “on time” in the first week of May, followed by a summer of above normal temperatures (by 3 to 4 degrees F!) September, when slightly below normal ‘finishing temperatures” put Oregon onto the path of beautifully long hang times. Then a series of rain fronts progressed weekly across Oregon’s vineyards delaying harvest by as much as 2 weeks. As flocks of migratory birds were ushered into the area with each successive storm front, growers reported using bird netting for the first time in 2007. Growers picked hastily in the dry windows between these weekly weather events. Those growers with their crop-loads well tuned to lower-yields, and well up on their spray schedules were rewarded with balanced and elegantly ripened fruit: Great colors and ripe tannins combined with layers of complex and subtle flavors. As of this writing, many of the white wines are released and achieving critical acclaim; the Pinot noir wines are still resting in the barrels having only just completed M/L.

2008: Hailed by many as the “best vintage of the last 20 years”- Oregon’s 2008 started with a very late bud break- almost a full month last. However, the finishing weather of October was a God-Send: very little precipitation fell in the early weeks of October, just enough to keep the vines from shutting down. 78 degree days and 45 degree nights allowed fruit to ripen slowly and evenly, with very little disease pressure. Surprisingly, the vintage ended with very little accumulated Growing Degree Days- a mer 1976. This resulted in extremely well balanced wines with complex fruit flavors, yet still with relatively low sugars (therefore lower potential alcohol levels compared to recent vintages such as the 2006, or 2003).

*Kung Fu Acidity- a term created by Matt Olson

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