September 09, 2008

Oregon harvest update

I've been thinking since last spring that this might be another 1999 vintage for the northern Willamette Valley. That was the year of the "bummer summer" where steady warmth never really set in, until September and October, where consistently warm and sunny days lifted winemakers' hearts and broke a few records.

Well 2008 isn't exactly 1999. Summer wasn't that bad. Yet we find the grapes maybe two weeks behind schedule after a cold spring, a late bloom and crop set, and an only occasionally warm summer. Portland hit 100 three times this year, which is a lot for us. We just probably had more than our usual number of days below 80.

Sure enough, September has brought warm and sunny late summer weather that's about as perfect for human beings as it is for grapes. Cool but still pleasant nights. Warm sunshine all day long. Here at home, we're even back to eating outside. The tomatoes are finally ripening. If only the kids were back in school and things would be perfect.

Wait, they are.

Looking at the seven-day forecast from Portland's more reliable tv forecaster Mark Nelsen (he's actually really good, and not just for tv), the sunshine is here for another week, perhaps longer. This coming Sunday and Monday might get back into the low 90s, which is nice this time of year because the heat only lasts for a few hours. The intense summer heat is gone. The nights cool off. You can sleep.

The old winemakers always say that September makes the vintage. This year's shaping up beautifully, though that late start to the growing season means we need good weather into October. With that, and the apparently only average sized crop out there that allows the vines to focus energy on what fruit it has, quality could be tremendous.

If you want to see how it plays out, pay attention to the weather. Rain isn't a killer, unless it's endless. For September, we'll pretty much take whatever heat we can get. Once October comes, I've learned you really just need 70 or better to finish off ripening well. Those days can be rare, though in 1999 they came regularly. We needed them in '99, and we'll probably need them this year too. I'll be watching. How about you?

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