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Oregon's 2008 Vintage

Cool Summer's Slow Ripening Grapes Saved by Hot September Sun,
2008 Rated Oregon's Best Vintage Ever

Oregon's 2008 vintage provided winemakers lots of nail-biting, hair-pulling frustration. Day after day, overcast weather made June and July two of the coolest summer months in recent memory. Oregon's longtime winemakers compared the season to 1997, the last year that Oregon experienced a cold summer.

Wine Spectator ended giving the 2008 vintage an overall rating of 97 points, and it's been heralded from New York Times to Food & Wine Magazine as one of Oregon's best. So something went right.

What happened was, in the nick of time, Mother Nature decided to smile on the Willamette Valley, and the sun came out. A gorgeous late summer/early fall is not only ripening fruit, it's redeeming 2008 to the point of possible greatness

Oregon winemakers racked up their highest ratings ever. Some of the best are listed on our sister site, northwest-wine.com.

Pinot noir grapes love hot days and cold nights - and 2008 provides them. 2008's September highs in the low '90s are paired with nights in the low '40s, perfect conditions for complexity as well as ripeness.

Heavy rains before October could change everything - but so far, the hot, clear days continue, and white wine grapes are close to harvest. If the heat keeps up, Mother Nature may have delivered ideal condition for making complex and full bodied Pinot noir.

Above, Belle Pente Vineyard

The 2008 crop was reduced in size when nervous winemakers responded to the cool weather by dropping fruit, cutting most of the clusters of grapes off each vine, leaving just a few. Fewer clusters of fruit per vine make it more likely that the grapes left on the vine will ripen. If the hot days of September continue, winemakers will not only harvest ripe fruit. They will harvest better quality fruit - fruit that is capable of making complex, "big" Pinot noirs.

Too Much Heat Has Been the Issue - Until This Year

If cool weather was the concern in 2008, heat has been the bugaboo of Pinot noir for the last few years. Pinot noir is notoriously, hearbreakingly difficult to grow. The long stretch of warmer vintages that started in 1998 changed the way Oregon makes Pinot noir. It has been easy to ripen the fruit - sometimes too easy. Overripeness, sunburn, poor fruitset, and an infestation of destructive voles were of greater concern than cold weather. Extreme heat can damage fruit, literally giving the grapes a sunburn. In extremely hot summers, ripening happens so fast that Pinot noir grapes don't develop the complex flavors that come from slowly ripening over a long, warm fall. Winemakers are forced to harvest ripe fruit before they want to.

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