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Washington and Oregon: A One-Two Punch

Harvey Steiman
Posted: February 3, 2000

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Harvey Steiman reports on Oregon's 1998 vintage.

Search our tasting notes database for more wines from Washington and Oregon.

For more about the 1999 harvest, see our Harvest Diaries feature.

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Washington and Oregon: A One-Two Punch

By Harvey Steiman

For both Washington and Oregon, 1999 looks to be the second consecutive excellent vintage, thanks to a warm, sunny September and October. Unusually cool weather in early summer delayed the season in the prime winegrowing regions in both states by almost a month.

In normally rainy Oregon, vintners expected the worst, but the rains held off and led to a trouble-free harvest. To hedge their bets and urge their vines to ripen sooner, many of Oregon's leading winegrowers stripped bunches from their vines. The warm weather ended up producing wines of intense color and rich flavor, vintners said.

"We kept hearing that rain was coming, but it never got here," said Rollin Soles, winemaker for Argyle in Oregon, which makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and sparkling wines. "It stayed sunny and warm. We could just relax and wait around until the grapes got ripe."

"It was kind of perfect," said Ken Wright, head of Ken Wright Cellars, which makes single-vineyard wines from all over the Willamette Valley in Oregon. "These are the darkest Pinot Noirs I've ever seen in Oregon. They're not quite as lush as the 1998s because they are higher in acid, but I think that will soften up more than usual when the wines go through malolactic fermentation."

It was a no-excuses vintage, added Soles. "Anybody that screws this one up ought to be spanked," he laughed. "After 1998, we have a heck of a one-two punch with this vintage."

In Washington's Columbia River Valley, yields were down, although new vineyards coming into production probably ended up making the 1999 harvest as big as 1998 overall. "It was a lot cooler than 1998, and that kept the crop level down and the acidity up," said Doug Gore, winemaker at Columbia Crest. "The aromatic whites [Riesling and Gew¸rztraminer] are really aromatic, and the Chardonnays are pretty intense. The reds will be long-lived wines."

Columbia Valley, in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains, gets very little rain, but 1999 was the coldest vintage in Washington in 45 years, according to heat summation data from Washington State University. "I didn't think it was ever going to get warm," said Gore, "but we had about two weeks of 90-degree days in September."

"It's the coldest vintage I have seen in my 21 years here," said David Lake, president and winemaker of Columbia Winery. "We had to wait an extra two weeks for the acid levels to come down and the flavors to come up, but they did. I think it will be an extraordinary vintage. I have never seen so much color and aroma."

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