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Oregon Under the Weather

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 2, 2007 3:05pm ET

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.

Robert West
Tomball, Texas —  November 2, 2007 5:12pm ET
It was rather Louis XV who said, "Apres moi le deluge.
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  November 2, 2007 5:38pm ET
Sounds like the 07's will be "drink now" wines. Early reports are that the 06's are going to be huge and will need plenty of bottle time, so the 07's will fill in the space. But for buying I'll probably stock up on the 06's and ease down on 07's, much like 04's to 05's.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  November 2, 2007 10:57pm ET
Harvey would you consider the 2005 vintage ready to drink now and have us consumers hold on to the 2006 wines? I'm holding onto my 2005 pinot from California for now, but I'm not sure what to do with my Oregon pinots. Thanks.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  November 2, 2007 11:05pm ET
Most of my drink windows for the 2005 Oregon Pinots are something like "now through 2012" up to 2015. They are approachable wines, but those who like mature Pinot will appreciate how they develop.
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  November 3, 2007 8:14am ET
I am certainly a lover of Oregon Pinots...it always amazes me the impact that reports have on buying strategies...I for one will welcome seeing some Oregon Pinots back in the 12% - 13% range in 2007 and can't wait to taste them in barrel....
Eric Hall
San Francisco, CA —  November 4, 2007 6:40pm ET
Actually, even though it is popularly attributed to Louis XV, it should be attributed to Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV." See "Le Mot Juste" edited by John Buchanon-Brown & others (Vintage Books).
Dave Adams
Maple Grove, MN —  November 12, 2007 7:35pm ET
I just got back from the Salud charity auction in Oregon where 42 of the top vineyards submitted special cuvee's for this event and auctioned them off to the attendees to benefit seasonal workers' health care expenses. All were 2006's. I tasted virtually all of them. Quality was consistent across the board. There certainly was a buzz about how good the wines are showing now. Yes they have ageability, but they are exciting and racy now as well. I suggest you buy early and often! As for the winners, I'm sure Harvey will let us know in the months to come. I certainly had my favorites and will buy them up before word get's out to the buying public.

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