Wine grape harvest to a winemaker is on par with Christmas for a kid! As the grapes race toward their ripeness finish line, excitement grows with each passing day. Every year Oregon’s vineyards are filled with winemakers tasting fruit and checking sugar levels to determine the best time to pick. However, this year, they also had to consider complications due to COVID-19, weather, wildfire smoke, labor shortages, and more when making their picking decisions. After the 2020 harvest gut punch and left hook– wildfire smoke that so badly tainted some grapes that they were left on the vine to rot– I’m happy to share that Oregon’s wine industry escaped relatively unscathed this year!
I recently reached out to several of our winemaker and grape grower friends about this year’s harvest. Here’s what they saw and had to say about the 2021 growing season, harvest, their fruit, and more…
“Keep an eye on this vintage – the fruit shows all the hallmarks for greatness: delicious, clear, fresh and clean. The ridiculous heat spikes early in the growing season and dry summer seem to have intensified flavors without damaging the crop. A little rain before harvest plumped up the clusters and the cool nights kept mildew at bay. All around, 2021 could be one of those benchmark vintages that we live for in Oregon.”
“Elkton has experienced a welcome return to near-normal crop yields. Our typical westerlies off of the coast kept the area pretty much smoke-free. We did have a little for a couple of days, but that was before véraison and didn’t cause any concern about issues with the fruit. When the heat dome did strike the Northwest at the end of June, we had 3 days with over 100˚F/37˚C degrees– June 27 hitting 114˚F/45˚C, the hottest I remember. Then, on August 11 & 12, we had two more days over 100˚F/37˚C. With the extended dry period with no rains and low humidity, there has been no disease pressure on any fruit that has come into the winery. The fruit looks really good. So, all in all, a very good-looking year for the wines coming out of Elkton.”
“I’m very excited to say that 2021 ended up being a perfect season. Coming off 2019 being a little cool, and the smoke of 2020, we really needed a good harvest, and we got it. Flower happened just at the end of the heat dome, so it did not negatively impact the fruit. We did notice an odd phenomenon we called “vine to vine variability,” where we had 10 perfect vines and then 1 or 2 with low yield shatter type fruit set, which made it tough to determine weights mid-season. Overall, we expected that quality would be high, but the yield could be low. After a warm summer and almost no traceable rain over the final 100 days, both the quality and the yield came in just perfect. We picked fruit about 10 days earlier than last year, with our final picks at the end of September, just before the rains arrived.”
“Quite simply, this year’s harvest was an absolute delight. Our Pinot gris and Pinot noir ripened early across the vineyard, yet both managed to develop complex flavors balanced with textbook-perfect acidity. All the grapes were super clean with no signs of disease or bird damage. To be honest, it was some of the prettiest fruit I’ve encountered since I started farming eight years ago. While our overall yield was still below average, our total weight tags were up about 25% from last year. I guess only time will tell if this is destined to be the vintage of the decade but after all the sham, drudgery, and broken dreams of 2020, it feels incredible to have cultivated such gorgeous, healthy grapes this time around. The bulk of our harvest has found a happy new home at Pike Road Wines. The tiny amount I held back for my label has almost finished fermentation. It looks, smells, and tastes extraordinary. Undoubtedly it is going to have one heck of a story to tell and I’m thankful it is shaping up to be a joyful tale.”
Harry Peterson-Nedry // Ridgecrest Vineyards & RR Wines
“Everything looks better through the lens of the 2020 wildfires… we don’t want to see anything like that again. Hot and dry, 2021 sported a 5-day stretch that averaged 103˚F/39˚C highs and a three-month growing season dry spell of 92 days– mid-June to mid-September– with a mere 0.02 inches of rain. Although we did not experience desiccation from the heat, yield was variable, both because of interrupted flowering with the last showers in early June and small berries from our near-drought conditions. Yet, despite the growing season heat spikes, I consider 2021 to be a moderate vintage. Harvest in our Ridgecrest Vineyards began earlier than average on September 10, which was within a day or so of the comparably warm and earliest 2015 and 2016 starts, and ended 25 days later, on October 5.
Based on full-ripeness AND generally very good acidity, 2021 may resemble 2018, especially in concentration, as well as notably warm vintages like 2014-17 or early century 2003 and 2006. Winemaking decisions will determine the finesse and grace with which the size is carried. Whether a problem for growers last year or not, without the specter of climate change burning brightly in neighboring counties, 2021 seemed to be an ‘easy, wait-until-they’re ripe vintage with a welcome splash of rain just to prove we’re Oregonians’.”
“The biggest impact on fruit quality and chemistry will be the 100+ day drought we endured here in the Dundee Hills. While the mature vines showed little to no water stress during the season, I expect acid levels, pH, and acid ratios in the juice chemistry to be a bit off. The mini-drought of 2018 caused a similar shift– we’re expecting it more so this year. Our site, being north-facing, mitigates these impacts due to heat shielding. Overall, the fruit quality is quite good with no sour rot, botrytis, etc., visible anywhere. Basically, a very clean harvest. Skins are tough and loaded with tannin and color. Gentle handling will reduce extraction and help balance. I think it will be quite a good vintage for Native Flora.”
“I am stoked about this vintage. It’s been fast and furious, and early, but the fruit quality has been amazing. Flavors are great, fermentations have been healthy and full of energy. It’s been an exciting vintage, and I can’t wait to taste the finished wines.”
As are we! Expect the first wines of the 2021 vintage to start hitting the market in Spring of 2022.
A hearty thank you to everyone for sharing their harvest photos.
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