When it happened, Oregon's 2013 Pinot Noir vintage looked like a flop. A warm growing season climaxed with a couple of heat spikes in mid-September. And then it rained. And rained. And rained some more. Some vineyards counted 9 inches of rain in a week. Most of Willamette Valley got around 4 inches. "I never saw rain so sideways here, and it hit when everything was pretty damn ripe," said Rollin Soles of Roco.
Now that the wines are ready to bottle, many 2013s I tasted last week displayed precise flavors and even the sort of delicacy that made 2010 and 2011 so charming. It all depends on how carefully the grapes were sorted and when they were picked. Elk Cove's 2013 Pinot Noir Mount Richmond East bottling, for example, was even more open and expressive than a series of 2012s.
"If you were careful on the sorting table, there was a lot of great wine to be made," noted Adam Campbell of Elk Cove. "Some early picks made nice wines, and sometimes I beat myself up about not picking before the rain. But I wouldn't have picked that early, so it was worth weathering the storm."
For many, the rain plumped up their already flavorful grapes with water. Most vintners employed a traditional Burgundian technique, saignée, which drains off some of the free-run juice from the must before it starts fermenting. This concentrates color and other elements, and the saignée fraction can make a pleasant rosé.
At Roco, Soles took it a step further. He rented a reverse osmosis machine and ran the saignée from all 5,000 cases of his 2013 production through it before adding it back to the fermenting wine. "Think about it," Soles said. "With saignée you're taking out the center of the grape. To turn it into rosé is like taking out the heart, the acids, the fresh fruit of the grape. So we basically remove the water and put that beautiful center back into the wine."
To prove his point, Soles saved a few samples of water deleted from the saignée. They tasted bright from the low pH from the grapes, but it was better than some bottled water. Tasted from barrel, Roco's 2013s showed cleanly articulated ripe flavors against a lovely transparent framework.
Other wineries used different means to fashion very good to outstanding wines in 2013. For the producers I visited, admittedly from the top tier, 2013 will be anything but a washout.
A few large-volume Oregon Pinot Noirs from 2013 are already beginning to appear on retail shelves. The tide will peak next spring and summer as the '13s roll out over the next couple of years. There are always several Pinot Noir vintages in play from Oregon. Right now we are seeing the last of the 2011s, a very light vintage overall, and a lot of 2012s, which have tremendous richness, suppleness and presence without going over the top. There's a little something for everyone in there.