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Oregon's 2008 Vintage Conditions May Push the Envelope, Again

Josh Bergström predicts that 2008 will be a "slow-cooked" vintage.

Posted: Sep 10, 2008 11:28am ET

By Josh Bergström

Posted by Josh Bergström

As I traveled up California’s Highway 101 through Santa Rosa last week, I couldn’t help but notice all of the deeply colored fruit hanging on tired vines, the picking bins stacked in vineyard rows and the harvest trucks with juicy payloads cruising back and forth between busy wineries. I was on a sales trip, promoting my wines to some of the area’s great and exciting new restaurants, and as I talked to these chefs and sommeliers, I couldn’t help but be excited about the smell of harvest in the air, and anxious about the fact that my vineyards’ Pinot Noir grapes up in Oregon’s Willamette Valley were, at best, a dark shade of pink—at least two weeks behind whatever is considered “normal” for this time of the year.

On the plane ride home, as we descended over the lush and fertile Willamette Valley toward Portland, I looked out over the volcanic Cascade mountain range to my right and the fog-covered Pacific Ocean to my left. I thought about how it would soon be chanterelle season, and how the heirloom tomatoes in my garden were so ripe and sweet. Many of the local fine-food purveyors at the marketplaces would soon be presenting their end-of-season bounties: pole beans, sprouted-grain breads, corn, honeys, mushrooms, oysters, artisan cheeses and so much more. I wondered what my wife, Caroline, and I would cook for dinner.

For us, food and wine go hand in hand. So many comparisons can be drawn between the business and culture of food, and those of wine. Some vintages are fast and hot, others are slow and cool, and the flavors we discover and enjoy will change with each year’s circumstances. I predict that this is going to be a “slow-cooked” vintage.

Oregon’s Pinot Noirs are best known for capturing wild, fresh, earth-driven berry and spice flavors and aromas. These characteristics are enhanced and electrified in long, cool vintages in which fruit hangs on the vines into the late days of October. The longer the fruit can wait to achieve balanced flavors and structure, the better the wines. But the later we wait in Oregon, the greater the risks we face. Bad weather can mean dilution, molds, split berries, inhospitable harvest conditions and a general frenzy. Hot weather can also cause a frenzy, but for a different reason. Overripe berries lead to high alcohol levels, quickly falling acids, shriveled berries and, in extreme cases, raisins. Migratory birds can decimate vineyard crops within hours. And there is no underestimating the catastrophic results of running out of cold beer during the harvest period.

I have often likened great winemaking strategy to that of the downhill ski racer—you either take the gold or crash and burn trying. The risks are great, expensive and sometimes terrifying. But if the waiting pays off and the risks do not become greater than the reward, then the greatest wines are made. These are the wines that provoke the kind of passion that brought us into this business in the first place.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  September 10, 2008 1:34pm ET
I love your style of writing! I felt transported just by reading it, and I don't have the best imagination to start with. Here's to many more posts!
Alan Snitow
NJ/NYC —  September 10, 2008 8:40pm ET
Josh, what beer is it that you like to keep on ice to get you through the harvest?
Greg Malcolm
St. Louis, Missouri —  September 10, 2008 11:06pm ET
Josh, thanks for being a part of this blog. If I undersood correctly, it sounds like 2008 Willamette Valley is shaping-up to be more of an '05/'07 vintage, versus an '03/'06 vintage. Is that generally correct?
Timothy Perr
September 11, 2008 12:46am ET
Josh, nice job! Any rain in the forecast?Adam Lee told me that sourcing fruit from Oregon will turn your hair gray. I didn't believe him until last year's harvest. Sounds like this year will be a nail-biter too.
Josh Bergstrom
Portland, Oregon —  September 11, 2008 12:54am ET
It's great to be apart of this blog with my fellow winemakers/friends from California (Adam and Brian) as well as the International crew.Alan: Oregon is home to a number of incredible microbrews which you should check out if you have the opportunity. Great beers from Deschutes, Bridgeport and others. My favorites are some of the seasonals, especially around harvest (Deschutes Jubelale is one of my favorites.)Greg: This has been a long and cool year so far and definitely shaping up to be, as you mentioned more of a cooler year than a hotter year. That being said, we are currently enjoying 10+ days of beautiful weather with sunny skies, winds from the East and temperatures in the mid 80's which should hopefully place us in a good position for the late September, early October "crunch" time.
Rob King
Portland, OR —  September 11, 2008 2:58am ET
I'd just like to second Josh's microbrews comment here; especially at this time of year when local brewers drive out to the hop fields to bring back bags full of just-picked fresh hops giving off luscious billows of piney, resinous aromas. Truly one of the great seasonal treats as the brews they go into are around only for a few weeks at best. I raise a pint to the harvest!Rob K

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