Click Here for Original Article by Harvey Steiman for Wine Spectator, November 2013
Harvest. For winemakers, no other word is loaded with so much potential and anticipation. After a long growing season of endless work in the vineyards, it's time to see what nature delivered. On the West Coast in 2013, most vintners are reporting a great year, a twin to the promising 2012. In many parts of Europe, however, it's another year of challenging conditions and low yields.
In the second of five 2013 vintage reports, American winegrowers in the Pacific Northwest are reporting a long, pleasant growing season. The only dim spot was Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where late rains threatened the Pinot Noir. On America’s emerging East Coast, a wet spring and summer gave way to a sunny fall, salvaging the harvest. As for final quality in the bottle, it's too early to know, but here's a sneak peek.
The good news: A warm summer, sunny and mild, boded well as grapes matured along a normal ripening curve. Early picked grapes could be outstanding. After late-September rains (see “the bad news”), mostly sunny skies meant that those grapes that had not suffered too much from more than a week of rain could produce good to excellent wines.
The bad news: It was gray and rainy from Sep. 22 to Oct. 3, interrupting what had looked like a terrific vintage. More than 4 inches of precipitation fell on the heart of Willamette Valley.
Picking started: Sept. 10
Promising grapes: Pinot Gris and earliest-picked Pinot Noir in Willamette Valley. Chardonnay seemed less seriously affected by the late moisture. Southern Oregon saw much less rain, and warm temperatures should benefit its roster of grapes such as Cabernet, Syrah and Tempranillo.
Challenging grapes: Anything picked in Willamette Valley after Sept. 22.
Analysis: Many vintners are calling 2013 a “tale of two vintages.” Those vineyards picked before Sept. 22 benefited from an idyllic summer, fully ripening without high sugar levels, making delicious and generous wines.
After the rains, all bets are off. Temperatures remained cool and some healthy grapes were picked. Some vintners say their wines are surprisingly fine. “We see no issues in the resulting wines,” said Ken Wright, who makes wines from all over Northern Willamette Valley at his eponymous winery. “They are in fact showing very well—clean, balanced and full of fruit. Amazing how resilient the fruit can be with attentive farming and cellar practices.”
The good news: The warmest vintage since 2003 cooled off just in time for harvest. The resulting wines were less likely to tip over into overripe flavors or high alcohol levels, and picking proceeded at a normal pace. Total tonnage was up about 5 percent over 2012, a record for the state.
The bad news: The abrupt change in mid-September from hotter-than-normal to cooler-than-usual temperatures led some wineries to pick before grapes were fully ripe.
Picking started: Aug. 22
Promising grapes: Syrah looks like the star, although Bordeaux varieties did very well too.
Analysis: Growers learned from both 2003 and 2005, hot vintages that pushed the ripeness curve. They let canopies spread a bit more than usual and adjusted crop sizes to achieve the kind of balance they wanted. With that cooling trend starting in mid-September, the red wines should come with ripe flavors, moderate alcohol levels and vivid acidity.
“About the time the Chardonnay harvest was slowing down, Riesling kicked in,” said Doug Gore, chief winemaker for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “Same for reds. Merlot slowed down, and then Syrah and Cabernet cranked up. All of this makes for a spread-out harvest with varieties not running into each other so we can really take our time and pick when we want.”
- Harvey Steiman