Oregon vintners usually spend their harvesttime looking at rain clouds gathering in the sky, threatening to disrupt their picking. Not this year. Winemakers across the Willamette Valley are feeling relaxed and happy.
By the first week of October, many had already finished picking. Most of their wines were already in barrel, having completed fermentations weeks before. Flowering came early this spring too, so the growing season was as long as or longer than usual, for some as much as 110 days. "This year is so mellow I did the whole vintage in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, " joked Rollin Soles of Roco.
The winemakers like what they have, too. Sampling tanks and barrels around Willamette Valley, I found ripe flavors and a bit more restraint than previous vintages. It could be the crowning touch in a series of three outstanding vintages. Most winemakers characterize 2014 as ripe and opulent, and 2015 as ripe but less opulent, perhaps more cellar-worthy.
And 2016? "It was super early and it just kept coming," said Lynn Penner-Ash, smiling ear to ear. She and her husband recently sold their brand and winery to Jackson Family Wines. She continues to run the winemaking.
"Oregon has never had three consecutive vintages like this," said Dick Shea of Shea Vineyards. "There were bigger berries in 2014, and they really ripened up. This encouraged the blue component in the color and flavor. The grapes were smaller in 2015 and there was more heat at harvest, which made for more black fruit flavors. The 2016s also had small berries, and we thought it would be identical to 2015. In the fermentations, the wines showed more aromatic lift and less tannins. They're more elegant."
"There was no weather pressure this year," said Sashi Moorman, winemaker for Evening Land Vineyards. Temperatures were high when he made an initial pass through vineyards to pick grapes for starter fermentations, "but then we had 10 days of 70° F. It was magic." Tasted from barrel, the wines were bright and expressive, already showing completeness.
At Domaine Drouhin, Véronique Drouhin-Boss believes the 2016 vintage is similar to 2006. "They are both warm years that made wines with more finesse than you might expect," she said. If that 's what 2016 will be, thumbs up all around.