Small World Wine Company

Bringing Oregon Small, Family Owned Wineries from the Willamette Valley and Beyond

Wine Spectator 2010 Oregon Vintage Report

2010 Oregon Vintage insight from Harvey Steiman of the Wine Spectator.

Don’t make any bird jokes around Oregon vintners this year. You are more likely to get a scowl than a laugh. Hungry birds reduced a crop that was already small thanks to cool summer weather. Many winemakers had already thinned further to bring the grapevines into balance so they could ripen the remaining fruit.

“There were times that it looked like a scene straight out of a Hitchcock movie, with the birds flocking from one block to the next as the [noise] cannons blew,” says Naseem Momtazi, whose family makes Maysara wines from its Montazi Vineyard in the McMinnville AVA. “They were vicious and it seemed as if nothing scared them.” Summer temperatures were extremely cool, delaying the harvest by two weeks. Then came the threat of rain, not an unusual occurrence in eastern Oregon, where the prime Willamette Valley Pinot Noir vineyards are. The birds just added insult to injury. “Birds were a problem,” sighs Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, “and no matter how hard we applied all tactics available to growers, many of our two-ton-per-acre sites became one-ton-per-acre sites.”

Lower yields and the extra-long hang time did produce better flavors. “As we walked and sampled the vineyards this year we noticed that the flavors were developing at a much quicker pace then the sugars,” says Penner-Ash. As a result, the fermented wines from well-farmed vineyards are showing no green or underripe fruit characteristics, despite low alcohol levels.

“We were 30 percent down from the ’09 vintage,” says Ken Wright of Ken Wright Cellars, who buys grapes from all the sub-AVAs in Willamette Valley. “As we pressed off the lots we were frankly blown away at the dense color, deep black cherry-driven aromatic profiles and beautifully clean flavors and textures—110 to 115 days of hang time certainly helped with aroma and flavor development.”

Wright and other Oregon veterans see similarities with 1991, a cool vintage that aged well thanks to sleek, elegant structure. “I do not recall the ’91s being this aromatic or having color this healthy, though,” he says.

“Compared to ’08, the only year with almost as much hang time as 2010, we will have lower alcohol but very flavorful wines,” says Dick Shea of Shea Vineyard. “Frankly the combination is almost unique in my 22 years of experience here. I think there is a great deal of excitement among the winemakers.”

Other than bird damage, the vintage will be remembered for looming rainstorms. Several expected storms in late September and early October passed with little rain. But a big storm arrived Oct. 23 and hammered the area for several days. No one has much good to say about vineyards that were not ready to pick before Oct. 23. Those who picked before that storm are happy with what they have in barrels today. “We got everything in before the rain,” Shea says. “Our last pick was on the morning of the 23rd.”

A spring frost reduced the crop in southern Oregon, a source of Rhône varieties to several of the state’s big-name wineries. “Our Viognier and Syrah came in at 50 percent of prior years,” says Penner-Ash. “We had to supplement with some nice fruit from the Columbia River Gorge area, on the Oregon side.”

—Harvey Steiman


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