Oregon winemakers optimistic about warm vintage

By on May 30, 2013
Oregon winemakers

Jim Bernau is founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, Ore. (Photo courtesy of Willamette Valley Vineyards

Washington isn’t the only Northwest region excited about a warm spring and dreams of a less-stressful growing season and harvest.

Western Oregon winemakers and grape growers have thus far enjoyed a warm, dry spring that has them well ahead of typical years.

“It’s looking to be an extremely early year,” said Patrick Spangler, owner of Spangler Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley. “We could use one of those.”

Jim Bernau, CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards near Turner, is relieved after three less-than-optimal vintages.

“I’m hoping Mother Nature will come back and help us,” he told Great Northwest Wine, “because 2010 was the coolest I’ve seen, 2011 was a bit of a respite, and 2012 was 25 percent lower than average yields. I’m just hoping for a normal season.”

Because the Willamette Valley is on the edge of viticultural viability, the math becomes basic when it comes to growing grapes.

“We average 110 days from bloom to harvest,” Bernau said, adding it can swing five days in either direction. “If we get an early bloom, we’ll start the countdown.”

Bird damage a big story in 2010

Bernau pointed out that 2010 was especially bad for Oregon winemakers because of bird damage. Harvest was so late, he said, it came right in the middle of the region’s natural bird migration. All those ripe, yummy grapes were a treat.

“The season went so late, bird migration was in full swing,” he said. “We were picking some of our grapes in November.”

This year, he is optimistic.

“As long as it doesn’t cool down, we could have a nice, early harvest — ahead of bird migration,” Bernau said.

Bloom coming early to western Oregon wine grapes

Oregon wine

Adam Campbell, second-generation winemaker at Elk Cove Vineyards in the northern Willamette Valley, says his vines are well ahead of normal years. (Photo courtesy of Elk Cove Vineyards)

Adam Campbell, winemaker at Elk Cove Vineyards in northern Yamhill County, figures he is at least two weeks ahead of normal. He said a 10-day stretch of daytime temperatures around 80 degrees really helped push his vines along. He added that somewhat cooler, wetter weather the past two weeks have put everything in a bit of a holding pattern.

Campbell expects to see bloom in the next two weeks, well ahead of the average.

“Normal would be in later June,” he said. “We’ve had bloom as late as mid-July and still managed to get things ripe.”

Campbell said he doesn’t want to be picking grapes in early September because that wouldn’t allow his Pinot Noir fruit to get the hang time it needs.

“But if we can be a couple of weeks ahead, that would be great,” he said.

He said that 2010 and 2011 were saved by dry late seasons.

“We just can’t count on that every year,” he said. “This gives us a little insurance policy if we can pick in late September instead of late October.”

He added that yields have been extremely low the past three years.

Umpqua Valley more than a month ahead of 2011

Oregon wine

Patrick Spangler is the owner and winemaker at Spangler Vineyards in Roseburg, Ore. He says his grapes are perhaps five weeks ahead of the cool 2011 vintage. (Photo by Bob Marple for Great Northwest Wine)

Spangler estimates he is perhaps five weeks ahead of 2011.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “We might actually bloom in May, which is unusual.”

All three cautioned that the season is still young and anything could happen.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Spangler said. “September and October are critical. But I like the challenge of being early rather than being late.”

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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