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2008 harvest winemakers' blog

A Tale of Two Vintages

Josh Bergström has been pleasantly surprised by the 2007 and 2008 vintages in Oregon.

Posted: Oct 27, 2008 11:19am ET

By Josh Bergström

Posted by Josh Bergström

What started out as a potentially very scary vintage in Oregon has turned out to be very anticlimactic … and that is a very good thing, I think. Compared to 2007, I find myself walking through vineyards this year and just pushing the harvest date off by one more day … or even two or three. The sun is still shining.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Oregon was nearly looking at the 2008 vintage that just wouldn’t happen—the anti-vintage, the apocalypse, the … well, you get the picture. We were close to three weeks behind a "normal" year going into the month of September, and it was raising the hairs on necks around the valley. What happened next could almost not have been written better if it had been scripted.

As we entered the end of September and had still not harvested a single berry, I began to wonder what would happen. The forecasts said rain. Sugars were low and flavors were not optimal. We knew that October can be less than predictable. Last October gave us fewer than 10 prime picking days between rain showers and cool weather during the entire month.

This October, however, has been sunny and beautiful, with cold nights and daytime temperatures in the mid to upper 60s. We have seen very little rainfall; in fact, this year has been drought-like, with a very low average annual rainfall in the Willamette Valley. Instead of rushing to do anything, we have found ourselves simply waiting. And lo and behold, we are picking vineyards at our leisure as they reach full physiological ripeness.

Which brings up a good point: I get a lot of questions in the national and international marketplace about 2007 and 2008 in Oregon. So here is the official skinny from what I've seen and tasted:

2007 was a challenging vintage in that we had very few picking opportunities between cool and wet weather. The important thing to remember is that the grapes went into the cool October poised on the verge of ripeness. All they needed was some extra hang time. Some vineyard sites saw three inches of rain in the month of October and some saw close to eight inches. Site variation is just as key here as it is in Burgundy or New Zealand or California or elsewhere. The weather stayed cool, however, and as physiological ripeness in the clusters advanced, botrytis and other molds did not. The wines came in clean, with great color, perfume and seed and skin ripeness, but lacked the 2006 appeal of huge sugars. Fine by me. In fact, the finished wines have a refreshing pure mineral character about them that I love. It constantly stuns me to taste these wines and reflect on the weather that we had.

2008 started off looking like a repeat performance of 2007, but we did not have the same ripeness going into the month of October. In fact, as I mentioned above, we were way, way behind. This was very scary. And once again the weather looked like it would fall apart and we would have to break out our old-school notes on "how to make sparkling wines." Color in the cluster was variable, seeds were green, and flavors were not hinting at a "tour de force." And then it happened: the sun came back out and it never went away. The days have remained mild with no precipitation, the nights have stayed cold, and the conditions couldn't be better for harvesting and making wines of incredible integrity. Picking dates were pushed off at first by a day or two, then a week, then two weeks—and now we are picking fully mature Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clusters at the end of October. I am personally still 46 tons away from finishing this harvest! These wines may someday be counted as some of the best that have been made in Oregon. A great vintage!

But my question to you is this: Would you rather drink only the vintages that were handed to you on a silver platter, where everything falls into place once a decade, or the vintages where great winemakers struggled and strove to craft great wines in adverse conditions? Do you only go to market to search out the "great" vintages that got 100 points, or do you look for the dark horse, the sleeper, the underdog? I think that with 2007 and 2008 you have both, and that is what we are talking about now. Both will be great, but for totally different reasons, and probably will appeal to totally different palates.

When I taste the 2007 and 2008 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays side by side someday, I wonder which one I will love more: The one that I took my time with because nature was kind to me, or the one that I proudly crafted, despite what nature threw at me?

John B Vlahos
Cupertino Ca. —  October 27, 2008 12:49pm ET
Josh, who cares about the weather variance year after year. Its what you do with what you got that pays off in the end, and that is reflected in the producet that ends up in the bottle. Keep up the good work (and keep your fingers crossed, year after year).
Josh Bergstrom
Portland, Oregon —  October 27, 2008 2:23pm ET
John,Thanks for your thoughts. I guess my point was that it is exactly the weather variances year after year are what directly affect our decision making processes and our need to get more or less "creative" with our raw materials. More importantly what I am after is whether people tend to chase the "great" vintages or the "overlooked" vintages that fall in-between.Take care.
Eric Heinz
Philadelphia —  October 27, 2008 2:33pm ET
Most of all, I would rather drink great wines that are great values. A nice $22 bottle can accomplish that, as can a spectacular $60 bottle. Assuming that the market perception is that 2007 was an "off" vintage, and assuming that winemakers charge the same or more for 2007 than they did for 2006, I predict many, many cases of unsold 2007 wine as dollars will be spent on safer bets from Chile, Spain, etc.
Josh Bergstrom
Portland, Oregon —  October 27, 2008 7:30pm ET
Hi Eric,Hopefully the market will not perceive the 2007 wines from Oregon as "off" as they are far from that. My worry was that they would get overlooked as they are sandwiched between two riper vintages. I agree that most consumers' primary motivation is value, especially in today's economy, and as such you will probably not see any price increases out of Oregon this year. Cheers!
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  October 27, 2008 9:56pm ET
Good question. I never completely avoid any vintages. It's the differences between those vintages that I find interesting.
Miguel Lecuona
Austin, TX —  October 28, 2008 12:39pm ET
Josh -- your home-stretch run in Sept and October could have been written here in Bordeaux. "we are not in a hurry", was the operative guideline. Yields will be pretty small due to the variable bud set and the difficult early conditions, but what was finally left on the vines to pick seems to please the chateau owners I spoke with. Perhaps it is as you say, compared to where they stood 4-6 weeks ago, many are extremely pleased. How these will ultimately show, and how they will be priced -- those are forward looking questions!How were your yields vs 06 and 07?That, perhaps, is the advantage of a Silver Platter vintage -- generally better yields.
Greg Malcolm
St. Louis, Missouri —  October 28, 2008 5:40pm ET
Thanks for your blog and comparison of the vintages, Josh. The insight is appreciated. Based on a few barrel samples back in April, it was evident that at least some of the more experienced Oregon winemakers would produce very good '07 Pinot Noir. I, for one, will not skip '07, but will be selective. Personally, I think that '07 will be more to my liking than '06. Your description of the '08's has my mouth watering. I'm thinking about my next trip to Oregon already.
Mark B Lyon
Eugene, OR —  November 3, 2008 6:55pm ET
I agree it's very helpful to hear your perspective Josh. "Chasing the vintages" is for Bordeaux futures! In every vintage since '97 I'll try a dozen or so Oregon Pinots from my favorites and buy based on how those tasted. The '97's turned me off in just a few bottles... Speaking of bottles, I'd buy more OPN if I could store the dang things, the bottles you guys use are HUGE!

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