Thursday, January 7, 2010

Oregon's 2009 Vintage Weather

2009 was nothing if not a challenging vintage in northern Oregon, as it was characterized by extreme heat spikes in late July and late August, a record number of 90+ degree days (24 vs. the usual 13), and hot conditions in late September when many were harvesting. Sifting through the official industry harvest report (PDF) I see mentions of dehydrated berries, high sugar and alcohol levels, and promises of "flashy" and "lush" pinot noir — egad!

Of course, that's not the whole story.

After September 28, high temperatures in both Salem and McMinnville were more apt to be in the middle 60s, so those who could wait to pick and those with cooler sites had more breathing room. And Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate notes that "acid and pH levels were perfect" for later-ripening varieties like riesling, thanks to a long stretch of cool October weather.

And of course, good winemakers make good wine even in difficult vintages. It was relatively easy for Oregon winemakers to make excellent wine in 2008, but 2009 required the winemaker to really rummage through her toolbox. Some 9 to 18 months from now we'll see how the wheat separates from the chaff.


Cabfrancophile said...

Good to know. I've tried some Oregon Pinots--not super cheap, not super expensive--and it seems like a problematic region for a consumer. '06s I've tried taste like Cali Pinot on steroids. One '07 was weak and watery. Sounds like '08 is good, while '09 is '06 on steroids.

So 1 out of 4 vintages is solid. Is this typical? I think maybe I'll stick to the Loire where top wines in mediocre vintages are both good and relatively inexpensive.

Wicker Parker said...

Hey, I just tweaked this post for reasons of emphasis -- the last thing I want anyone to do is carry an overly negative impression of the vintage, for great wines will be made. It will be very difficult to do so, but the best winemakers will do it.

There have been a lot of hot vintages in the Willamette Valley this decade (03, 06, 09, to a lesser extent 04) but those who can harvest healthy, just-ripe grapes at sane pH levels -- and who are specifically not interested in making "opulent" wines -- are more apt to make wines that make me happy. In other words, I think we just have to do a lot of research and choose carefully.