December 17, 2018

2018 Wine Harvest Report: Oregon and Washington Vintners Are Pleased Despite a Hot Summer

by Tim Fish

Both Washington and Oregon vintners weathered a hot, dry summer in 2018, and even drifting smoke from wildfires in other regions. But timely rains and cooler temperatures in early fall led to lovely fruit and potentially great wines.

Oregon sees smoke, but also promising wines
Willamette Valley’s winemakers are accustomed to curve balls in the weather, especially during harvest, but 2018 is the fifth year in a row that nature cooperated. “It was a beautiful year,” said veteran winemaker Ken Wright of Ken Wright Cellars, a man who’s typically blunt about a vintage’s flaws.

Josh Bergström of Bergström Wines agreed. “Oregon has never seen so much sunshine,” he said. It was also one of the largest Oregon harvests on record.

The growing season was uneventful in the early months. Budbreak and bloom progressed smoothly. May was dry by Oregon standards and there was little or no rain in summer, which was also unusually sunny. “It wasn’t as hot [overall] as 2016 or 2017,” Wright said. “But throughout the summer it was crazy dry and crazy hot.”

Those conditions touched off numerous wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, first in southern Oregon in July and then British Columbia and eastern Washington in August. As a result, a haze of smoke hovered over large parts of Willamette Valley for several days. Smoke taint doesn’t appear to be an issue, winemakers said, although it can be difficult to identify early in the winemaking process.

By mid-September the vines were weary from too much sun and not enough water, and began shutting down as ripening stalled. Growers and winemakers started to worry, but then a half an inch of rain arrived, reviving stressed vines. What followed was about two weeks of cool nights and warm but not blistering days. “That cooling kind of saved us,” said Argyle winemaker Nate Klostermann. “If we hadn’t had cooler weather, it might have been off the charts, ripeness-wise.”

As temperatures warmed again, harvest moved into a fast gear, with white and red grapes ripening quickly. “It was very compact at that point,” Klostermann said.

Most vintners were pleased with their Pinot. Bergström was a bit concerned with tannins, because of the hot and dry conditions. “We suspected they might be hard and bitter,” he said. Bergström has increasingly used a higher percentage of whole-cluster fermentation as recent vintages have grown warmer. This year he decided to go 100 percent for the entire crop. “The tannins are finely knit but there’s structure,” he said. “The Pinots are deeply colored and rich.”

Despite the warmer than typical weather, Klostermann said his Pinots retained a much higher level of acidity than recent vintages. “There’s lots of purity from the Pinot Noir. They’re harmonious and balanced,” he said.

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