With so much money resting upon both the quantity and quality of each year’s grape harvest in Oregon, the din of speculators can be heard as early as March in some years. Keep in mind that this is before bud break and long before the first grapes have appeared on any vines. The truth is that there is very little accuracy in this kind of early guesswork, as tempting as it may be to opine. It is, in fact, winemaker intuition that guides most decision making early in the game.
Vintners from all over the valley seem to concur that from bud break in mid April, 2012 was looking more like a ‘normal’ Oregon vintage than the past two have been. This was despite some general nervousness at the persistently chilly days in June. However, by mid-July and the arrival of a string of sunny days, the dissenters were few. In fact, on July 17th, NPR posted a piece stating that 2012 would be a miracle vintage.
below, Clos du Oiseau Vineyard in the Eola Amity AVA
By this point in late August, with harvest a mere three or four weeks away for most wineries, one thing is certainly clear – yields (the amount of fruit) will be much larger this year. The best wine growers will be dropping a lot of fruit to ensure that what is left to ripen can thrive. Less fruit on the vine also concentrates the mineral magic drawn from the soils.
As I write, fruit across the valley is slowly turning from green to purple or yellow as the canopy converts sunshine to sugar. This change of fruit hue is known as veraison, and is shown in the image at right. In fact, if you live in wine country, all you need to do is open your window; you’re likely to hear the excited buzz of winemakers as they watch their fruit transform. The winery workers should now be busy cleaning out those fermenters and lining them up to be filled with grapes. The most organized among them have gathered their harvest crews, ready for the call.
Because of our cooler – and much less predictable – climate, growing and harvesting wine grapes in Oregon can be a crapshoot. This isn’t Lodi, where everyone picks the same fruit on the same day every year. Oregon wine growers are a dedicated bunch, willing to run the soggy gauntlet for the tenuous shot at something ethereal. Well, I’ll keep my shopping dollars solidly behind them, knowing that the best will produce sublime wines even in the toughest vintages.
Now, has anyone seen my sorting table?
above, sorting grapes at Patricia Green Cellars