The rains started on Friday, September 28. I was tasting wine with Luisa Ponzi at her family's winery outside Portland, Ore. when a series of showers dampened her spirits. She admitted to being nervous.
"There are a lot of grapes still out there," she murmured.
I left Oregon the next morning, and the real storms came. And came. And then it rained some more. Basically, the sun did not emerge until late October.
To quote Louis IV, Après moi, le deluge.
In between the storms and showers, they tried to pick the Pinot Noir grapes.
On October 5, an email arrived from Dick Shea and Shea Vineyard. "I'm building an ark," he wrote.
On October 20, I got an email from Rollin Soles at Argyle. "Hey Harvey, Pissing down today, no grapes left. I'm calling this vintage 2007 and 2007 and a half. Before 28th Sept it was similar to 2000 vintage, after 28th it's been more like 2005."
In 2005, the rains came in the middle of the harvest. It had been a warm but not over-the-top year. Those who picked before the rain made wonderful wines. Those who waited lost out, mostly.
In 2007, Argyle was among the few to get most of its Pinot Noir into the winery before the wet weather. Unlike in 2005, the weather was cool for most of the growing season. Also, because the vines wanted to throw a big crop, few grapes were ready to pick before the rains arrived. Those who got their yields down were able to get some grapes in before the rain, or early in the storm cycle.
That sure sounds like a disaster for most vintners, but some winemakers say they are pleasantly surprised by the wines in their tanks.
"We learned something this year," said Tony Rynders of Domaine Serene. "We learned that good farming can withstand more moisture than we thought. The wines we made taste pretty good right now."
Josh Bergström echoed Rynders' sentiments. "We like the wines," he said. "The alcohols are lower than I've seen a long time, but the wines taste fresh and balanced."
One lucky break was that temperatures remained on the cool side. In theory this inhibited the development of mold, which could have ruined the harvest. Instead, the grapes remained sound.
"These aren't going to be blockbuster wines," Rynders added. "But It's a real Oregon vintage. A little rain, but the wines are nice."
Even Shea is hopeful. His last email said, "Hope you get a chance to come up and taste the 07s in barrel this winter or spring. Considering the weather I think you will be quite pleasantly surprised."
In neighboring Washington, where it seldom rains on the vineyards (being in the rain shadow of the vertiginous Cascade Mountains), heat makes the biggest difference from one vintage to the next. And 2007 had little heat. Plenty of sunshine, but at least one vintner thinks it will be vintage with some tart wines.
Bob Betz, whose Betz Family Vineyards makes wines from grapes grows in various parts of the state, wrote:
"There is some very exciting juice, pHs lower than I’ve ever seen despite a high degree of sugar and phenolic ripeness. Some reds, pre-MLF (malolactic fermentation), are at 3.3 to 3.4 pH [more typical is 3.5 to 3.8]; they didn’t rise despite playing the waiting game on the vine. Acidity is moderate and not out of line, but the pH levels may offer some aging opportunity. It was a vintage to pick by flavor; the numbers never told the real story."
We'll just have to taste them, when the fermentations are done and the wines are settling down.