If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you might recall seeing some pleas for "no rain" or "sunshine" dances over the past few weeks. That's because I was up in Oregon interview winemakers for this blog, spending everyday looking at and tasting from the carefully tended clusters of Pinot Noir from some of our favorite wineries - Westrey, McKinlay, Chehalem and Bethel Heights - among others. And it seemed to me, what they all needed was just a few more weeks of mostly dry weather and partial sunshine to maximize their potential.
Yes, it's been an odd year on the West Coast. Late bud break, uneven flowering and fruit set and a remarkably cool summer have combined to push back harvest in California, Oregon and Washington by a couple of weeks in warmer spots and upwards of a month in others. But in Oregon's Willamette Valley, savvy vineyard managers - no strangers to cool weather - have been aggressively dropping fruit, thinning canopies and watching intently for any signs of botrytis, which could wreak havoc on their vineyards. At most of the sites I visited, the clusters left on the vines had incredibly small berries, which translates to fantastically concentrated flavors if grapes are able to ripen fully. Brix (sugar) levels were rising steadily, too. And while some of the wine press appears fatalistic about the vintage, the majority of growers I met described themselves as "cautiously optimistic."
So are the Willamette Valley growers deluding themselves? Far from! In fact, little is different right now in the Willamette Valley than in the 2008 vintage, when the long, slow season, which stretched well into October for many, resulted in exceptional wines. Climatologists are predicting a sunny (for Oregon, that is) October, and if they're right, this might be one of the best Oregon vintages this decade, with foward fruit, complexity and plenty of balancing acidity. In the meantime, wineries are getting ready for harvest - training interns, cleaning tanks and unloading new barrels - waiting patiently for the pick. Keep your fingers crossed!
Check back soon for video interviews with some of the Pacific Northwest's top producers, old and new. In the meantime, visit KLWines.com to get your hand on some of the elegant 2007s and cellar-worthy 2008s, as well as some older vintages that are ready to drink.