Today is Sunday September 15th, 2013 and it is our first day of harvest. It is also our 15th anniversary of making wine as a family business and Caroline and my 14th wedding anniversary. It is a misty morning in the Willamette Valley with thunderclouds overhead booming occasional claps of thunder as we pick young vine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Le Pre du Col estate farmed vineyard on the Ribbon Ridge. It is an emotional day for sure thinking back on the past 15 years together building our family business one vintage and one farming season at a time. Each one of those years I can remember clearly, mostly based on their unique weather imprint on the wines.
The 2013 vintage thus far has been one of the driest and warmest that I can remember. We had a very mild winter followed by a beautiful spring with warmer and drier temperatures than we normally see in the Willamette Valley for that time of year. The summer was also warm and dry, which is fairly normal although July was the driest month ever on record. We received a fairly sizable rain event around Labor Day which is also normal for Oregon. What is different is that usually after Labor Day we settle in to dry and fair conditions with occasional showers but mostly pleasant until the middle of October. This year however the low pressure fronts have brought more showers than normal, or at least were anticipated. We currently are sitting with a ten day forecast that shows more chances of showers than sunshine with little to no idea of what the end of September or the beginning of October might hold. Here we go…. time to roll the dice.
The annual guessing game of what the weather is going to do is what consumes most of our time and mental energy this time of year. I personally look at four different weather forecasts about four times a day and try to pair that knowledge with the taste and advancing ripeness of our fruit. Should we pick before that rain on Friday or let it ride? Will the rain be enough to create botrytis rot or will it just knock the dust off the plants? Will the rain dilute the fruit and all of those wonderful flavors we have been working so hard to farm all year long or will the rain give those thirsty vines a kick-start to finish off the year strong.
To tell you the truth: I don’t mind the rain anymore. It really doesn’t matter. It rains all of the time in Oregon and if there is one thing I have learned in my 17 year career in the Oregon wine industry is that you can do absolutely nothing to stop it from falling. My first vintage as an aspiring cellar rat was 1997 with Lynn Penner Ash at Rex Hill in 1997. That was one of the rainiest vintages in Oregon’s history. And the wines were fine. Some even better today. So I guess I started off thinking that rain was normal. Since then we have had many vintages marked by rainfall in one way or another: 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011…….. all pretty darned good vintages for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay if you ask me. In fact we had a neighborhood pre-harvest party last night with some of my favorite vintner friends and many of them brought “off” vintage wines to toast the coming of another potentially “challenging year” and we couldn’t have had a better time drinking those beautiful bottles of wine. The reality is that great winemakers make great wines every year. Some wines are ready to drink sooner and some just take a little bit more time to open up.
The fruit that we brought in today looks beautiful and I am excited by the flavors. Next up are young vines from Silice, Bergstrom Vineyard, lots of Chardonnay from our estates and Anderson Family and Carabella and then we will bring in Shea. It’s going to be a great harvest. I don’t know if this year will be marked by dry and warm or cool and wet. That remains to be seen at this point but believe me, the grapes are ready, whether the weather is ready or not.