My visit to the Wahle vineyard the other day gave me a nice chance to check up on the progress of this year's pinot noir crop here in the northern Willamette Valley.
A couple weeks ago, some of the various clones in this vineyard still weren't fully through veraison, when red grapes actually gain their red/purple/black color. Spring was downright chilly and everything started slow. Summer was a bit cool, so things really never caught up. Just like Portlanders' tomatoes, the grapes have matured late this year.
September started pretty warm and dry. Then we saw some light rain, nothing to be worried about. The past week has been beautiful, with temperatures in the mid 70s to nearly 90 every day. Average this time of year is 70F, so we've been way ahead. Bear in mind that this time of year it's often nice if it's not rainy and 60F. Hence the middle of the road average.
All that warmth means the clusters in the Wahle vineyard at least have softened noticeably, with sugars rising and the grape skins giving up some rich color when pinched in your hand. Still, the flavors aren't quite there and the acids are still pretty tart. Harvest is more than a week away here.
And wouldn't you know it, after today's high clouds and mid 70s temperatures, we now expect rain and wind for a number of days. I've learned from old timers to worry less and let the fruit hang until it's ready, especially in years like this when disease pressure has been markedly low and the grape vines are still looking green and strong. Once the leaves start yellowing, even sunshine won't help too much if the leaves aren't working properly. So I'm taking advantage of the wisdom around me, the hope of more sun and dry weather next week, and the fact that I'm not making wine commercially yet. What do I have to lose?
Driving around Yamhill county, I've yet to see anyone picking. I've heard of some lower elevation sites already coming in, but pretty much everyone's going to ride out whatever mother nature has in store. After last year and 2005, when we saw some good rains yet made some tasty wines, I'm excited to see what happens.