For Oregon’s 2010 vintage the score may be tied at zero at the end of regulation time, and the vintage facing elimination, but the game is not over. All it takes is a last minute goal in stopage time to be the greatest moment of the year.
The 2010 vintage so far is colder than 2007, the coldest since 1999. Go take a look at your favorite vintage score chart and you will likely notice a difference in the 1999 vs. 2007 scores. September and October have a big effect on the vintage. Winemakers and vineyard managers are well aware of how cool things are and are taking steps to give the fruit every chance to be all it can be. Sokol Blosser recently posted a video showing the veraison in their vineyard.
Looking Back at Oregon’s Vintages
While Oregon wine vintages can be generalized, no winemaker or vineyard always fits the mold, whatever the mold is. Every taster has a different style of wine they are looking for. I am limiting my review today to the Willamette Valley. I have included some of my personal observations, links to other resources, and some temperature data from the agrimet weather station in Aurora.
I tend to group Oregon wine vintages into four categories. First the hot years, like 2003, 2006, and 2009. The hot vintages produce wines that are very fruit forward. With the increased heat, alcohol levels creep up, and the wines lack the balance to be truly amazing. I really enjoyed the 2006 wines, with all of the fruit, they are drinking great at a young age.
The second category is the middle of the road years, like 2004 and 2005. These are the years that Oregon is made of. I can go to my favorite producers and grab a bottle and know that I can get the Oregon Pinot I love.
The third category is the cold years, like 2007. Despite all of the bad press that 2007 received, I enjoyed it. If you take a look at the vintage scores from Robert Parker or Wine Spectator, it was the lowest since 1996 or 1997. I have had a number of Pinots that were underwhelming. That is not to say there aren’t some great wines out there. I have found several producers that I much preferred their 2007 to their 2006. The wines from 2007 tended to be lower in alcohol and higher in acid. This made for some very nice white wines, for my palette. I like white wines with a bit of acid, so I have bought plenty. The other advantage of an extremely cold vintage is that is can help show a bit about vineyards and winemakers.
The fourth category is the great vintages, for the 2000′s it looks like 2008 was the year. For in 1990′s 1999 was the highest scoring year. You will also hear people talk about 1998 and 2002. In these years all of the pieces fall into place just right. Nature deals the vineyard managers and the winemakers a hand that they can use to show of the best of what Willamette Valley Pinot Noir can be. The wines should be balanced and have exceptional flavor. They will also age well.
For more insight into each vintage, the Oregon wine board has harvest reports back to 2005.
An Inside Look
There are many great resources out there to keep track of how the vintage is shaping up. Amalie Roberts has a great vineyard blog and calendar. Karl Klooster had a recent article in the Oregon Wine Press about how the vintage is shaping up entitled “All Eyes on the Sun“. Scott Paul posts frequent updates on his blog, including a recent post taking a look at each of the vineyards he is sourcing fruit from.
A Historical Comparison
Below I have compiled charts of the Growing Degree Days at the end of each month for each year starting with 1999 as well as the 30 year average. These numbers are from the agrimet weather station in Aurora. These numbers are reflective of this location. The exact numbers at other sites may vary. For example, looking at the numbers provided from the 2009 Oregon wine board harvest report, shows McMinnville at 2161 degree days, compared to the 2655 I have. They do provide though a quick reference to how the vintages have compared.
So based on the data from Aurora, 2010 is behind every vintage except 1999. At this point 2008 was colder than 2007, yet turned out to be a much better vintage. What did the rest of the year look like in other vintages?
So what can we expect from 2010? It is still way too early to tell. In Oregon August, September, and October can make or break a vintage. Vineyards are about two weeks behind “average” at this point. Everyone knows that is has been a cold slow spring. Winemakers and Vineyard managers have the time to make adjustments for this. Crop loads will be lighter than last year and vineyards will be watched carefully to be sure that growth is happening as it should.
In looking at the growing degree days, one vintage stood out to me, 1999. I have charted the 2010 and 1999 vintages so far below.
Looking at this chart, and the ones above, it looks like the vintage, temperature wise so far, is in line with 1999. How did that turn out? Jesse Lange of Lange Estate was recently quoted as saying so wine Wine Press NW.