With wines safely tucked away in barrels and tanks, winemakers from across Oregon wine country took a deep breath after one of the most intense harvests on record to give an early assessment of the 2014 vintage.
In the northern Willamette Valley, Stoller Family Estate started harvesting Aug. 27, picking Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for sparkling wine. Winemaker Melissa Burr said she started the sparkling project last year, with plans to make about 400 cases per vintage.
Harvest for still wines began Sept. 7 and was pretty much wrapped up by early October.
“It was such a compressed harvest all over the Willamette Valley,” Burr told Great Northwest Wine. “We brought in the bulk of it in two weeks. The weather was great. I was very happy with the quality. We had ripe, opulent fruit.”
She indicated there will be a lot of wine from 2014 because the vines produced a heavier crop than usual in Oregon wine country. Stoller Vineyard in the Dundee Hills has 191 acres in production, and a little more than 550 tons were harvested this year. Of that, Burr received 250 tons – up from about 230 tons in 2013. That’s enough for Burr to make about 15,000 cases of wine.
Stoller sells the rest of its grapes to such wineries as Chehalem, Adelsheim, Boedecker, Argyle and Purple Hands.
Burr said growth will continue for the next several years, as Stoller has new plantings that haven’t yet come into production, as well as about 30 more acres of land yet to be planted.
At nearby Erath Winery in Dundee, winemaker Gary Horner brought in his last grapes Oct. 11. Horner said rainfall wasn’t much of an issue. In fact, when about an inch of rain fell at the end of September, it was welcomed by most because dehydration was becoming a problem with the grapes.
“No complaints,” he said. “Everything is solid.”
Horner added that because the year was so warm, he saw a lot of ripeness with alcohols exceeding 14 percent.
“That’s the price you pay in a vintage like this,” he said. “But everything is quite good.”
Doug Tunnell at Brick House Vineyards in Newberg said that even though he spent a lot of time and effort to remove clusters in July and August, he estimates his crop is 40 percent higher than 2013, also a warm year in Oregon wine country.
“It was as if Mother Nature just heaved grapes out of the bosom of the Earth,” he said. “Never seen the likes of it in 25 years.”
Warm year throughout Oregon wine country
In Southern Oregon wine country, Abacela owner Earl Jones in Roseburg said that while his vineyard received a record amount of heat, there were fewer spikes in temperature. This meant using less irrigation because the extremes were less often. He said the result was perfectly ripe fruit and little disease pressure.
Robert Morus, owner of Phelps Creek Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge town of Hood River, said he left more fruit hanging on his vines in an effort to slow ripening. He ended up with optimal weather during harvest, so his grapes ripened more evenly and he brought in a record-sized crop.
“Harvest weather was ideal,” he said. “We were able to pick at a relaxed rate.”
In the southern Walla Walla Valley – the northeastern corner of Oregon wine country – Marty Clubb of L’Ecole No. 41 was pleased with how his grapes came in from Ferguson, his estate vineyard near Milton-Freewater. Clubb, whose winery is in the town of Lowden, Wash., said his grapes had high natural acidity – a surprise considering the warm heat that typically equates to flabbier acids.
“I am thrilled about it,” he said. “We’ve had to do virtually nothing to the fruit. It’s really looking good.”
Ferguson Vineyard has 17.4 acres of the 40-acre property in production, primarily in Bordeaux varieties. It is part of SeVein, a development that is part of famed Seven Hills Vineyard. This summer, Clubb’s first release of the 2011 Ferguson Vineyard was rated No. 1 Bordeaux-style blend at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London.