It is hard to picture more ideal grape growing weather. On the heels of the late and nail biting 2010 and 2011 harvests, 2012 got off to a wonderful start. Spring temperatures were mild with standard cool and wet days interspersed with plenty of warm, sunny days, which allowed the grapevines to start the season strong. The summer proved warm and dry with cool evenings. These ideal conditions resulted in optimum flavor development and balanced acid profiles. Harvest started in late September and continued through October with only a few minor showers, enough to knock the dust off the grapes. Windy conditions late concentrated the fruit flavors, which resulted in slightly more depth than the similar vintages of 2002 and 2008.
The growing season began splendidly with ample heat. While the season started out very warm and ripe, the harvest was split in thirds by two major rain and cooling events. This yielded three different styles of wine: one big and fruity from the early picks, one subtle and soft from the middle picks, and one flavorful and elegant from the last picks after a long period of drying out in October. All in all, 2013 is an intriguing vintage with varying styles, nearly all with nice flavor development and elegance. Expect short to mid-term aging potential.
The 2014 vintage in the Willamette Valley will go down in the record books. We had an early bud break, an early fruit set, early veraison, and an early start to the harvest. The vintage produced historically high yields due to the warm 2013 summer and Mother Earth’s well-timed rains. When yields were carefully monitored, the cool nights and warm days made concentrated and balanced wines reminiscent of 2012, 2008, and 2002. The hallmark of the 2014 vintage is approachability. The wines please in their youth, and will also age gracefully, providing stunning experiences for many years to come.
The record-breaking heat of the 2015 vintage produced poised and plush fruit. With thoughtful decision making in the vineyard, specifically regarding canopy management and crop loads, our vineyards balanced physiological ripeness with sugar and acid levels. The intense summer heat hit peaks that caused vines and fruit to pause their maturation. Consequently, we had some vineyards produce fruit with higher acid levels and lower brix in 2015 than in 2014, a less hot vintage. During the 2015 harvest, the fruit, including seeds and skins, tasted great, and the resulting wines show handsomely today, while also holding promise as they age.
Traditionally when you look at grape ripeness you consider the sugar content and the acidity of the juice to decide on a harvest date, but another important and often overlooked aspect is physiologic (flavor and tannin) ripeness. The true goal of a grape-grower is to align the sugar, acid, and physiological ripeness so they all coincide. This can be very challenging. However, the long hang-time and mild weather of 2016 meant that the physiological ripeness came early compared to acid and sugar ripeness. Thus, many could have picked earlier than expected, as sugar increased and acid dropped quickly at the end, all after flavors had fully developed. It can be very tricky for us Oregonians, who are used to waiting and waiting to get every last bit of flavor and concentration from the grapes in cool vintages, to actually call a pick at the optimal time in warm years. The temptation to wait to pick when weather is cooperating can potentially be our downfall in warm (2002, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2016) and hot (2003, 2006, 2009, 2015) vintages, sometimes causing wineries to miss that ideal picking window. In 2016, however, many wineries had learned from recent experience, giving us the confidence to call an earlier pick date.
2016 vintage comes on the heels of the opulent 2014 and the structured 2015 vintages. All three vintages produced fruit-forward wines, however, 2016 provides clear elegance and polish with lifted aromatics. They wines will taste great young, but have the stuffing to develop with time. Out of the last three years, we would not be surprised if 2016 drops the most jaws.
A wet, cool spring yielded a late bud-break and delayed flowering, leading to a more “typical” Oregon vintage when compared to the previous three. Near perfect conditions during fruit-set produced a large crop, ripened by hot, dry conditions from late July into early September. Mid-September showers helped to recharge soils and balance brix and phenolic ripeness, which resulted in harmonious fruit being picked during the extended September through October harvest. The 2017 vintage harkens to some of the classic Oregon vintages. We expect it to carry forward the string of impressive vintages.
Bloom started in mid-April, an average and more typical start compared to 2014 and 2015. Fruit set was large requiring thoughtful thinning in the vineyards to keep ripeness balanced and quality high. Cool weather during fruit set helped maintain vibrant acidity through harvest. May through early September proved exceptionally dry, with a few September showers helping to recharge soils and balance brix and phenolic ripeness. Pick time proved important, as sugars rose quickly in September and October. Mother Nature cooperated in allowing us to pick according to our preferences, rather than according to her schedule due to fall storms. 2018 will certainly prove to continue the string of excellent vintages that started in 2014.