With a very cold and wet spring, the grapevine budbreak in Oregon’s Willamette Valley vineyards began much later than usual. The grapevines are awakened from their long winter’s sleep once the average daily temperatures reach 50°F. Due to unseasonably cool weather in Oregon, this year’s budbreak occurred about two weeks later than normal, according to surveys by the Oregon Wine Board.
So how does that translate for the pending grape harvest in the fall? Once the grapes have flowered and fruit begins to set, grape growers and winemakers can predict that harvest will occur about 40-50 days later. Depending on the weather, sometimes grapes can gain a little extra headway during the summer months if conditions are warm and sunny. But anyone who’s familiar with the Pacific Northwest knows that summer-like conditions in the summer are never a guarantee. Surprisingly, we did experience warm, sunny days over Independence Day weekend, contradicting the rule that it’s never nice until after July 4. Despite the fact that most of the summer was unseasonably cool, the grapes did catch up a bit, shaving days off the calculated harvest date.
Overall, the grape harvest in the Willamette Valley has been a bit of a nail-biter with rainy conditions mixed with sunny days. Vineyard managers and wineries literally took their cues from Mother Nature, tasting and testing the grapes brix (sugar levels) daily as the weather forecasts changed by the hour. But a few extra days of sunshine pushed many vineyards to the proper ripeness and sugar levels. Then the long-awaited harvest began in earnest and the grapes began arriving to the wineries, many over the predicted tonnage. Suddenly the winemakers were presented with new challenges of what to do with all the extra juice. Getting creative, some winemakers now plan to add roses to their 2011 vintage lineups while others are experimenting with blends to create new wines they hadn’t expected to make earlier in the season.
Even though just three weeks ago the press was predicting doom and gloom for Oregon’s Willamette Valley grape harvest, the winemakers and grape growers are a very happy bunch! Their fruit is looking and tasting great after surviving a cool summer and less than perfect early autumn. Mark your cellar notes now because the Willamette Valley’s 2011 wine vintage will be an incredible one with nuances that can only be achieved with unusual weather conditions. Once again, we are reminded that Oregon’s skilled vineyard managers and winemakers endure the “Mr. Toad’s wild ride” adventure each year for the love of Pinot noir, Pinot gris and all the other varietals they grow here in the Willamette Valley.