A cool, wet spring led to the latest budbreak we've seen for the past several years, and hence later flowering. This means a greater chance of favorable weather and the development of a large crop both in terms of berry quantity and size. This calls for discipline in fruit-thinning. The summer was warm and sunny, accumulating growing degree days and 'catching up' the projected harvest to about two weeks behind 2015 and 2016. Underlying the challenges of the 2017 vintage, was a very sound growing season and harvest.
The 2016 vintage was one of contrasts. Spring started with a bang as we saw record warm temperatures push budbreak and flower earlier than ever across Oregon. This heat interspaced with rain led to very fast growth and heightened mildew pressure. We believed we were in for another 2015 vintage as we moved into the summer, but 100 degree days gave way to mild temperatures across Oregon through the summer months. This modulation of temperature slowed the growth of the vines and ripening of the fruit and we moved through veraison and into harvest. Versaison was extended in some vineyards with almost three weeks from the start to the end. This additional time for the fruit to change color and move into its final ripening phase led to a long and stretched out harvest. Before we started picking, we experienced a heat wave with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees over several days. This heat pushed some of the earlier vineyards to ripen quickly and we had to work quickly to bring the fruit in before it became overripe. All in all, we saw beautiful (if hot at times) weather, a little lower yields than projected and tremendous fruit that was clean, concentrated and ripe. In some ways we have had an embarrassment of riches with a tremendous run over the past few vintages that has continued with 2016.
2015 started warmer and drier than average due to the strengthening El Nino leading to the earliest budbreak on record. Spring was typical for Oregon with alternating rain and sunshine, topping up soil moisture and slowing development. Warmer conditions at the start of summer made for rapid bloom with excellent set and the weather remained warm and dry up until harvest. 2015 was the earliest harvest in decades, but all in all, the quality for the 2015 vintage in Oregon was exceptional with fantastic phenolic development, balanced sugars and acids.
2014 started out quick and warm with early budbreak. Exceptional weather conditions set very large potential crop across the state, requiring much crop thinning. The summer turned out to be the warmest in Oregon’s history, yet it was without a real heatwave. Veraison occurred three weeks earlier than 2011, under warm and sunny skies. At the start of harvest, the fruit was perfect: perfect chemistry, perfect flavors, perfect health. Conditions during ripening were dry and sunny and grapes were able to be picked at optimum ripeness with no pressure from disease or weather. Both quality and quantity were high and the 2014 vintage in Oregon could be counted as among the largest and finest this state has ever seen producing wines of tremendous depth, balance and focus that will age for years.
2013 started off with a dry winter and an early spring. The arid conditions were a concern for most dry farmers but rain in May topped up the soil to carry the vines through the rest of the season. The Willamette Valley was early with bloom but experienced a series of fronts which reduced set and lowered yields at most sites. Late season weather in the Willamette Valley caused some logistical challenges at harvest but helped to slow down the ripening. The warm, dry summer combined with an early season start, developed great color, flavor, and tannin ripeness.
The 2012 Oregon growing season was a return to normalcy after two wild, late years. A normal budbreak launched us into a spring that was classic Oregon - periods of warm sunny weather followed by cooler rainy weather. There was a touch of frost but budbreak was quick and uniform followed by a drawn out flowering. Poor weather during some periods of set reduced the crop through shatter. Pinot Gris was hit the hardest and we saw significant reduction in crop size for this variety. We enjoyed a true summer with very warm weather for the first time in two years and no rain through July, August and into September. As the harvest started, the heat in the Rogue Valley and the Columbia Gorge pushed the vines into overdrive. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris came in fast and furious starting in the third week of September. A bit of a cooling period followed and harvesting slowed down with picking beginning in the Willamette Valley around the first week of October. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris came in hand in hand for the Willamette Valley with perfect ripeness and low yields. Chardonnay took the longest and we even saw a bit of rain that cooled things off as we mostly closed out the Willamette Valley harvest in the third week of October. All in all 2012 will be remembered as a classic Oregon vintage with great weather at harvest and low yields. The fruit was ripe, sound and very healthy. Little sorting was needed and the flavors were intense.
2011 was a year of records and extremes. The growing season was the latest and coolest ever in Oregon. This, with the very cool growing season, led to higher costs in the vineyard: additional passes for vinework, natural sprays and weed control. The industry feared the most difficult harvest since 1984 but fair weather held through mid-November with a surprising result where both quality and quantity previled and grapes achieved full phenolic ripeness with little to no rot. The resulting wines are complex, intensely flavored, possess great texure and depth, and have lower alcohol than average. The reds in particular are darkly colored and will be long lived. 2011 will be remembered as a late, dry "miracle" harvest.
The 2010 growing season was among the most difficult we have faced. We paid for a warm, dry winter with a cold, wet spring that pushed the whole growing cycle back by at least three weeks. Keeping up with the weeds by hand and holding off mildew with our natural sprays that wash off in the rain was challenging and costly. We had to be very careful not to compact the wet soil with too many passes through the vineyards which were slippery and saturated. More rain during flower set led to shatter lowering the initial fruit set. Once the weather warmed, the well-watered vines had accelerated growth requiring many trips through the vineyard to thin or position shoots and cut back excessive growth. We had a late veraison followed by a late harvest under clear skies bringing us beautifully ripe fruit with lower sugars resulting in lower alcohols. Many vineyards were hit hard by grape-gobbling birds with some picked at only half a ton per acre. The low yields and fine harvest weather resulted in 2010 Pinot Noirs with great color, elegant tannins, fantastic length and great concentration. These wines will live on for years marking 2010 as another classic Oregon vintage.
Spring blossomed in 2009 gloriously warm boosting the vines into early budbreak. Summer stayed warm occasionally punctuated by rain until the heat came in earnest with record highs. The first part of August cooled down with rain followed by sun until Labor Day when a late summer heat wave pushed temperatures back into the 90's. We achieved almost record hang time in most vineyards creating much work and green thinning passes in the vineyards to keep yields in line at an average of 2.5 tons per acre. It was a long harvest resulting in wines which exhibit elegance, beautiful balance and softness.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley was blessed with a wonderful 2008 harvest. Weeks of late great weather and small berries responsible for lower than expected yields (1-1.5 tons/acre) resulted in one of the finest vintages on record. It is a vintage defined by the vineyard rather than the weather because each site developed fully to reveal their pedigree. 2008 Willamette Valley wines have elegance, structure, concentration and a definite sense of place.
The 2007 Oregon growing season started early and wet. The vintage was significantly cooler & wetter than what we are used to in the Willamette Valley. Even with the rain and cold the vineyards still marched towards maturity – albeit at a slower place. Those who waited to pick and contained the disease pressure were rewarded with some beautiful grapes that will produce wines of great delicacy, aromatic piquancy and fine tannins. The late bud-break and minor early-harvest rain events translated to naturally balanced fruit and, consequently, wines. Alcohol levels were restrained, acids exquisitely vivid and flavors of fresh fruit rather than over-ripe, baked desserts. It was a growing season that separated the good farmers from the mediocre ones and the good sites from the average ones.
The 2006 Oregon growing season started late and wet but offered great weather for flowering setting the largest crop that we have seen in a few years with abundant but not large clusters. A gorgeous summer heated dramatically in June and July, but cooled appreciably in August to begin a soft slow slide into harvest. The Willamette Valley heated up again pushing the small berries into overdrive and launching an early harvest for Pinot Noir. Whites benefited from some cooling and a bit of rain taking their time to retain beautiful acid/ripeness balance.
Cold, wet weather made for a late budbreak and flowering with shatter that translated into low yields for the second year in a row. Mildew threatened into July with a cooler summer than normal. It turned hotter towards the end of August and the beginning of September but picking did not begin until October. It was then interrupted by a bit of rain and cold but finished gloriously well into November under beautiful skies. These ended up being some of the best wines we have seen for years.
The 2004 vintage was anything but typical. The spring was early and warm. However, rain during flowering resulted in the worst shatter Oregon has experienced for years bringing very low yields, about half of normal. A hot summer seemed to promise an early harvest and for a small portion it did before the weather turned cold and rainy. Luckily the rain did not last that long and we were able to harvest well into October under beautiful skies. The wines from this vintage are classical Oregon.
The 2003 vintage was the most interesting harvest since 1997. The growing season can be summed up with one word: hot. Spring was warm so that budbreak and flowering progressed unimpeded to yield an abundant crop. Summer brought hot weather that lasted through most of harvest, which was accelerated by a hot east wind. Higher elevations and older vineyards ripened more slowly but generally harvest came on quickly. The clusters were perfect with more tropical and mango notes than normal. The slight dehydration of the grapes made for more concentrated flavors and, most importantly, an underlying ripe acidity making for a tremendous vintage.
The 2002 vintage was blessed with a faultless growing season that carried into a beautiful harvest. The fine weather at harvest not only allowed the grapes to be picked when they achieved a brilliant amount of sugar but also when the flavors and tannins had become truly physiologically ripe. Healthy, concentrated, and thick-skinned, the clusters were incredible. All over Oregon the 2002 vintage was near perfect and will certainly be remembered as one of the best in the history of this relatively new area of Oregon viticulture.
The 2001 vintage is the first of the modern era vintages when vintners saw climate change having a direct effect on the crop. A hot growing season resulted in huge yields of big, ripe berries with thin skins. The August weather was so hot that many clusters were sunburned presenting a challenge. Usually sunburned grapes fall off the cluster on their own and it proved difficult to remove them during sorting. It was necessary to pick all the fruit at once oddly because of the heat instead of rains but berries were so ripe they were falling off clusters on their own. Every tank and vessel in the valley was filled to capacity with the large crop. The wines were intense, dark and high in alcohol than previous vintages, but not as long-lived.
Vintage 2000 was a little warmer than 1999 bringing more rain and an earlier harvest. The grapes had much thicker skins and the wines were tight, dark and austere with great structure, taking longer to come around in bottle and leading critics to miss how beautiful this vintage truly is.
1999 was a classic Oregon vintage that produced a range of elegant, pretty wines. A later growing season and harvest compared to 1998 resulted in moderate crop loads with fairly thin skins. Winemakers who chose to extract more from the grapes made great, age-worthy wines. Those who chose not to use extraction techniques made immediately approachable wines.
The 1998 vintage is the greatest vintage of the 90’s by far, mirroring the lauded 2008 vintage! The growing season had both a moderate start and finish with low yields due to a high amount of shatter during springtime bud break and flowering. Picking began in late September and was luxuriously stretched out over 4-5 weeks with a lot of time to make the exact right picking decisions. Days were cool and sunny and the nights were cold, ideal for berries. The resulting wines were tremendous, dark, sumptuous and intense, and are still alive a decade later.
1997 was an interesting vintage, to say the least. It was a very warm growing season resulting in an early vintage and low yields. Picking began in the second week of September followed quickly by the El Niño rains, smack in the middle of harvest! Those who picked during and after the rains produced wines that were extremely dilute. But those who picked prior to the rains saw fruit with some extra tannins and acid, producing wines that were much better and quite age-worthy, similar to 1993 in Burgundy. Winemakers who chose to pick prior to the rains had to hustle to get all the fruit in working 24-hour-a-day shifts for one week. Subsequent harvests 2007 and 2013 shared some similarities to 1997.
1996 was a relatively hot growing season across Oregon. There were some rain storms during the early harvest, but not as much as 1995. The rain brought some botrytis, but the fruit was fairly clean although the skins were a bit thin. All in all, good fruit with adequate ripeness made for solid, fairly generous wines.
1995 was a relatively tough vintage; a cool growing season was accompanied by on-and-off rain during harvest. The resulting Oregon Pinot Noirs were poorly received by critics, especially on the heels of the great 1994 vintage. Clusters were affected by botrytis because of the rains and, as such, yields were moderate at best. Wines were more earth-driven and lower in alcohol and body. On the other hand, 1995 was an excellent vintage for Oregon white wines.
It’s interesting to keep in mind that viticulture wasn’t as advanced as it is now in Oregon, the Pinot Noir Dijon clones were just coming in, so things were generally late-ripening and rain during harvest was more detrimental than it is now.