What a crazy grape harvest 2013 is turning out to be in Oregon's northern Willamette Valley. The short story? Harvest began last week under sunny late summer skies, then picking shut down for days as rain fell intermittently throughout this past week, more picking resumed in the last couple of dryish days, again picking has stopped for an unseasonably wet and windy weekend, and with perhaps 50% of the local grape crop still on the vine, growers and winemakers look at a rainy forecast for clearing and dry days to resume picking.
What does it all mean? First and most importantly, rain isn't bad. People sometimes freak out about rain and down in my native California it seems even the threat of rain brings out the naysayers who write off a vintage before grapes have even been picked. Grapes are tougher than people think, even Pinot noir, and personally I'd rather have lighter more delicate wines from wet harvests than heavy, overripe wines from drought conditions.
That's not to say the wines of 2013 in Oregon will be light. I actually brought in 90% of my grapes last week before any really significant rain, and I'm thrilled with what I have happily fermenting away in the winery as I type. My red wines won't show any affect of the rain we're seeing right now, and that will make for interesting comparisons to wines made from later picked grapes.
This vintage is making me think of a more extreme 2005, where we had a nicely warm summer though not as warm as this year, then an early window to harvest at the earlier ripening sites where grapes were picked without any weather issues. At the end of September 2005, the heavens opened and it rained hard for a couple of days, not unlike this past week. Picking resumed amid up and down conditions, much like we've seen the past few days. Then as the season drew out, some really nice picking windows reemerged and the last of the grapes came in under fair skies. And you know what? 2005 is one of my favorite vintages of the past decade plus.
Who knows how 2013 will turn out, and I sympathize with those who have lots of fruit still out there hanging in this nasty weather. It's easy to say the grapes are tough when you don't really have anything left out there (just a little Pinot blanc to bring in in a week or two). But the truth is, I was afraid of extreme ripeness this fall after the consistently warm but rarely super hot summer we had. Seeing the fruit I brought in last week at sugars in the 22 to 23 range, with pHs in the 3.2 to 3.3 range, wow, that's chemistry I'd like any day. What about the flavors? I thought everything tasted nicely ripe, with the Bjornson fruit reminding me of 2011 with dynamic fruit expression at low sugar and low pH, just what I want and something I never expected given the growing season.
In all, there's no judging a vintage when so many grapes are still on the vine. Given when I've brought in, I'm thrilled for 2013. Given the fruit I've tasted that's still out on the vine, I'm excited so long as we do indeed see some prolonged drying and final ripening time. And before anyone writes things off because of rain, just remember 2005.