A mild and relatively dry winter was followed by a moderately dry growing season. As flowering approached, weather was highly variable with intermittent heat, coolness and rain leading to slightly lower yields after the dry season. There were some significant heat spikes in early June, which set new records and stressed the vines along with isolated incidents of sunburn. Thankfully, disease, bird and insect pressures were low. Yields varied depending on location but quality was high to exceptional. Harvest was longer than average due to extended nice weather and the 2021 wines are showing optimal grape chemistry, natural balance, and pure flavors making for an outstanding vintage.
Consistent with the recent long-term pattern, the 2020 growing season proved to be a dry one. A mild and dry winter made for lower-than-average groundwater reserves with drought conditions persisting in parts of the state. Very changeable weather, from heat to cool to wet, during bloom, along with stunted spring growth, led directly to some ‘shatter’ and hence poor fruit set (smaller berries and clusters).
Summer heat stress was moderate but mature vines were well-buffered, allowing for healthy photosynthesis and plant metabolism. We seemed poised for a high-quality, low-yielding vintage. Close to Labor Day, we were suddenly faced with wildfires across the state, including in and around the Willamette Valley. These posed smoke risk to grapes and dark skies affected photosynthesis for some vines. Overall, aside from the risk of some smoke-affected grapes, fruit quality of both white and red grapes was high with modest yields.
A challenging 2019 vintage began warm and wet into early June. All regions of Western Oregon experienced increased disease pressure from the high soil moisture and associated vegetative growth although our dry-farmed vineyards were happy. Proper canopy management and sound crop protection practices were crucial for success before summer arrived with average heat accumulation. Overcast conditions led to the coolest September and October since 2007 helping the fruit maintain acidity and freshness going into harvest. Interspersed showers during the harvest period slowed fruit development, and ripeness was achieved at lower sugars. Vintage 2019 was a true ‘cool climate’ year, and a reminder that good work and proper timing can achieve great things in Oregon wine.
Across regions, budbreak was early to normal, followed by unusually dry conditions in the early growing season for Northern Oregon and storms in Southern Oregon until flowering. The result was a fairly compressed bloom period in all four growing regions. Fruit set was average to high, requiring crop adjustment in some areas. The peak of the season brought the longest rainless period on record (90+ days), but moderate daytime temperatures and nighttime lows took much of the pressure off of the vines. The harvest period saw some intermittent showers, but not enough to affect fruit quality. Fruit chemistry was well balanced across regions, making 2018 one of the best vintages of the decade.
A cool, wet spring led to the latest budbreak we’ve seen for the past several years, and hence later flowering. This means a greater chance of favorable weather and the development of a large crop both in terms of berry quantity and size. This calls for discipline in fruit-thinning. The summer was warm and sunny, accumulating growing degree days and ‘catching up’ the projected harvest to about two weeks behind 2015 and 2016. Underlying the challenges of the 2017 vintage, was a very sound growing season and harvest.
The 2016 vintage was one of contrasts. Spring started with a bang as we saw record warm temperatures push budbreak and flower earlier than ever across Oregon. This heat interspaced with rain led to very fast growth and heightened mildew pressure.A modulation of temperatures slowed the growth of the vines and ripening of the fruit as we moved through verasion and into harvest. Verasion was extended in some vineyards with almost three weeks from the start to the end. Before we started picking, we experienced a heat wave with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees over several days. This heat pushed some of the earlier vineyards to ripen quickly but all in all, we saw beautiful (if hot at times) weather, a little lower yields than projected and tremendous fruit that was clean, concentrated and ripe. In some ways we have had an embarrassment of riches with a tremendous run over the past few vintages that has continued with 2016.
2015 started warmed and drier than average due to the strengthening El Nino leading to the earliest budbreak on record. Spring was typical for Oregon with alternating rain and sunshine, topping up soil moisture and slowing development. Warmer conditions at the start of summer made for rapid bloom with excellent set and the weather remained warm and dry up until harvest. 2015 was the earliest harvest in decades, but all in all, the quality for the 2015 vintage in Oregon was exceptional with fantastic phenolic development, balanced sugars and acids.