Oregon winemakers are upbeat — as usual

Rain, snow, heat, bone dry and wildfire smoke? Welcome to Oregon’s 2017 wine vintage.

Oregon’s vineyard and winery operators are a famously optimistic bunch — even a terrible year for grapes would be described as “challenging” instead of bad. But with harvest in various stages determined by variety and geography, people in the industry acknowledge 2017 threw weather curves all season.

“That’s agriculture,” said Melissa Burr, director of winemaking at Stoller Family Estate in Dayton, Ore. “That’s what we farm all year for. We’ll be OK.”

The winter and spring brought heavy rain, snow and even freezing temperatures to much of the state. Then came an usually hot and dry summer; even Portland went 57 consecutive days without rain. September brought a week of cold rain, followed by a glow of warm days, followed by clouds and drizzle or downpour again as the month faded. October? A little sun, a little rain...

Despite weather fluctuations, the season was marked by healthy vines, a good fruit set and moderate sugar levels in the grapes, said Burr, who is in her 14th harvest year at Stoller.

“There’s a lot of balance out there,” she said.

Pinot noir vines produced heavier clusters this year, she said. Pinot vines usually average about 150 berries per cluster, but this year range up to 250 berries per cluster, Burr said.

Some vineyards had a bit of sunburn during the long hot spell this past summer. At Forest Edge Vineyard south of Oregon City, on the east side of the Willamette Valley in the Cascade foothills, grower and winemaker Ron Webb said he had to cut and drop some Pinot clusters due to sun damage. He and his wife, Jan Wallinder, also reported a heavier than usual fruit set this year,

In the Columbia River Gorge, grower and producer Brian McCormick noted another potential twist of 2017: Heavy, lingering smoke from wildfires, especially the Eagle Creek Fire in the Gorge.

McCormick, whose wines include the Memaloose and Idiot’s Grace labels, said he hasn’t noticed an acute flavor impact in early fermentations, but grapes have their own minds about such things.

The heavy smoke was like having cloudy skies during the last two weeks of ripening, he said, and judging ripeness can get tricky in such conditions.

“We’re not going to know for awhile,” McCormick said.

A roundup of vineyard and winery reports provided by the Oregon Wine Board indicates color and flavor are good, accompanied by generally lower sugar levels. Hot and dry weather meant that some regions, including the Willamette Valley, “needed some more time for the vines and fruit to recover and regain balance,” OWB spokeswoman Sally Murdoch said by email. Southern Oregon vineyards began picking early because of heat spikes.

Murdoch based her report on vineyard websites and blogs, conversations and other communications.


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