RAINY AND COOL AND JUST WHAT WE NEED AT HARVEST TIME - The Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area The Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area

RAINY AND COOL AND JUST WHAT WE NEED AT HARVEST TIME

The daytime temperatures have suddenly dropped from 95 degrees last week to 55 this week, dark clouds rolled in and the first rain that we’ve seen in months began to fall, with more forecast through the end of the week. Outside my office window a hard, hammering rain crashed down, and then minutes later it gave way to bright sunshine that reflected off wet car windows. Ten minutes later the whole cycle repeated. What does this mean to our AVA at this crucial moment in the life cycle of a vintage? It means that it’s September in Oregon, and harvest is just around the corner. As it does nearly every year around this time, the weather is making it interesting.

“We really needed it,” said Thomas Houseman, veteran winemaker at Anne Amie Vineyards. “We’ve gone eighty-some days without rain. We’re dry-farmed and this is helping us out a lot. Some of our stems were beginning to show lignification with hard, stressed fruit that was beginning to show signs of shutting down its ripening. It looks now like we will be warm days and cool nights right through harvest.”

Just to the west of Anne Amie, Brian O’Donnell of Belle Pente Vineyard & Winery was also welcoming the rain that mid-September has brought to the AVA. “We picked six tons of estate Pinot on Saturday to get started, our ‘warm-up’ run,” he said. “Like everyone else, we are waiting for this front to pass through and plan to get started in earnest after things dry out for a few days. The fruit really seemed to come back into balance after that heat wave early in the month, and I’m pretty bullish on the vintage so far. It looks like we might get good flavor development at modest sugar (potential alcohol) levels.”

As Trudy Kramer, the President and co-owner of Kramer Vineyards noted, “Some people freak out when it rains. We are looking forward to the slowing down of ripening. All the vintages good and difficult we have been through, a little rain is not all that bad.

“I am not worried,” she added. “Just another thing to live through.”

Trudy mentioned the forecast that noted climatologist Dr. Greg Jones, the newly appointed Director of the Center for Wine Education at Linfield College in McMinnville, has given for the area, so we drove down to campus to pay him a visit. “This rain won’t hurt,” he said, “and is followed by another warm [stretch of days]. We expect to see the rain stop, the vines dry out, with days in the 60s and 70s and nights in the 50s, and then everybody will get their grapes in and be happy.”

Dr. Jones pointed out that we have had a very hot growing season, but the spring was cool and wet, with plenty of water in the ground after above-average precipitation last winter and spring. Overall measured heat units have caught up with the hot, dry vintages of 2012-’14. Wineries should also see a bumper crop of fruit this year, he added, as grape bunches have been large and healthy.

Why should anyone be concerned about weather shifts and rain in September in Oregon? As Thomas Houseman pointed out after consulting his notes, it rained last year on September 17th, 18th and 23rd and the quality of the harvest was not affected. They also picked much earlier last year, and this year’s harvest will begin at about the same time that he finished bringing in his grapes last year. These next couple of weeks of hang time are golden for phenolic (flavor) development.

It’s just that many of us have a hard time forgetting the freaky September storms of 2013 when, after a perfectly beautiful, hot summer, two storms blew in over a mid-September weekend, fueled by typhoons that sprang up in the Orient and never really dissipated, and wreaked havoc on vineyards over the course of three very wet days of heavy rain and lashing wind. Many vines were severely damaged and winemakers faced excruciating decisions on whether to leave fruit hanging or salvage what they had. Vintages like 2013 are like ghost stories that winemakers tell their children.

But this rain that we’re seeing is no typhoon. Just a very pleasant change in the weather, pushing us instantly from a very hot summer into a cool, pleasant fall with rain that we’ve all been waiting to see. So let it pour, at least for a day or two. Our grapes are being refreshed and will be ready to release their delicious juices in a couple of weeks, and 2017 should prove to be a fine vintage, indeed.


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