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Tasting Wines2012: This was a uniformly excellent vintage in the Willamette Valley, moreso than the past few years where some winemakers read it well and others may not have. The weather was storybook, almost entirely positive, with the Grinch of hail in one or two localized sites proving we’re as vulnerable as Burgundy. The heat accumulations are the 5th highest in the last 16 years, putting ripeness in the league with 2004 and 1998. The perfectly warm and completely dry growing and ripening seasons kept disease away and pushed full ripeness without sacrificing acid structure. (archived 2012 Harvest reports)

2011: Yes, 2011 is THE latest harvest on our records.  Three weeks late, picking some of our blocks as late as the second week of November, one would think the cards were stacked against us.  However, considering three positive aspects from the vintage; 1) late season sun, 2) lower yields, and 3) below average rainfall - we’re seeing one of the best vintages of the last twenty years emerge.  Resulting wines are fully ripe, rich, deep, dark AND carry low pHs/high acids and low alcohols, which bodes exceptionally well for long aging, food friendliness and a reputation that makes similar years, like 1999 and 2008, humble! (archived 2011 Harvest reports)

2010: This vintage is one of the Global Climate Change extremes, very cool, late and, at the end, wet. Very early warmth at bud break, cool and wet Springtime weather, a cool growing season with the least heat we've seen in this 40 year industry, followed by a ripening that was Indian Summer-like for awhile, then bringing a wet two-week late harvest.  Very low pHs, higher acids and lower alcohols promise great, long-lived, balanced wines. (archived 2010 Harvest reports)

2009: The 2009 vintage may be one of the best, with nice balance in all ways for both reds and whites—very good quality and yields as well as good ripeness and acids. The closest vintage in memory might be 2002. It was the type of vintage to satisfy winemakers AND accountants, with yields in the 2.5–3 tons/acre average this year, compared to 2–2.5 in normal years, and with high quality demanding only patience awaiting flavor development. Fruitfulness caused some problems early on, with large berries and full clusters pushing off berries in the cluster, allowing early-harvested blocks to develop botrytis and require sorting. Later blocks were pristine and, assuming patience (and if nothing else, we’re patient!) to await flavor development rather than picking on simple analytical numbers like TA and brix, will be as good as any wines we’ve made, especially for Pinot Noir. (archived 2009 Harvest reports)

2008: The 2008 vintage saw one of the coolest growing seasons on record, with 1,976 degree-days of heat during the growing season, versus the average for the last twelve years of 2,212 degree-days, and second only to 1,968 degree-days in 1999. This vintage resembles 1999 in the counterintuitive ripeness of the crop we finally harvested, and both vintages showed very good acid levels and excellent, full ripeness at lower sugars. Look for both whites and reds to excel this year, with very ageable wines, rich and complex from release to old age. Lower croploads, almost half-crop in nature, also similar to 1999, brought some of this richness, with harvest dates that were two-plus weeks later than average but not experiencing significant rainfall. (archived 2008 Harvest reports)

2007: In summary, we think this may be a fantastic white vintage and a surprisingly good red vintage, despite the rain that many times might lead to less intense wines. With rain in the range of 2005 and much less than the last really rainy harvest season of 1997, most winemakers in the valley knew how to adapt and took advantage of the vintage’s attributes, such as lower sugars (and therefore alcohols) and higher acids. As long as botrytis is kept from reds or sorted out, and winemaking sleight of hand provides physical therapy for the intensity shortcomings, such as saignée, tannin adds, chaptalization, and acidulation, the vintage will have stellar wines, just with more variability. Buy whites in general, buy reds from trusted names. (archived 2007 Harvest reports)

2006: I have the highest regard for the Pinot Noirs in barrel, not having seen better fruit EVER from selected blocks or vineyards, including 22 harvests from Ridgecrest! The reds should be held to high expectations. The whites are the surprise, since a very warm vintage often blunts the acid, raises alcohol to unbalance the wine, and softens the fruit to soft and fleshy. Not so in 2006. The Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc are crisp, bright, and scintillating in fruit aromas and complex in spice and fruit flavors. The warmth that came during the growing season abated before most fruit seriously began ripening, with cooler days and, especially important, acid-saving nights giving finesse to the wines. Appealing early, they should age respectably, too. Color me pleased. (archived 2006 Harvest reports)

2005: 2005 was an old-style Oregon vintage, warming the cockles of the hearts of industry old folks like me as much as the coffee we drank. Cooler and damper than the average modern vintage, mature winemakers and mature vineyards understood and adjusted to the weather, giving the grapes a chance to fully ripen and working magic to assure clean fruit. Experience should show with our three classic estate vineyards. Great extraction, great acid, lower alcohols (no Pinots above the 13%s!) — expect wines of finesse and ageability. (archived 2005 Harvest reports)

2004: What a difference some rain makes! Vintage 2004 was destined to be equally hot and ripe as 2003, until we had a quenching rain in late August and then a month later. Young and early vineyards that were almost ready to harvest the first week of September could have done without the rain, but the rest (like Chehalem's) thought it a blessed relief. A short cropload, plus growing season heat make 2004 properly plump, but with restraint. An interesting vintage-almost an average of 2001, 2002, and 2003-it has perhaps a little more variability in reds and more structured, brighter whites, similar to 2002. (archived 2004 Harvest reports)

2003: This is an excellent vintage, albeit unusual in the fiery nature of the growing season. The same dry and warm growing and ripening seasons held for 2003 as with the past few vintages, only moreso, with Region II (not cool climate!) heat accumulations of 2500 units, average highs of 78F July-October and half the normal rainfall with 2.75 inches. Fruit was disease free, crop loads were easily honed to desired levels, and soil moisture was adequate due to good pre-season winter rains. Concerns of the vintage center on high sugars and resultant high alcohols, and low acids. Almost comparable past vintages like excellent 1992 may urge us not to worry. (archived 2003 Harvest reports)

2002: An extended, dry and moderately warm Harvest put the finishing touches to what may be one of the best two or three vintages Oregon has seen—perhaps best ever for whites, close to best for reds. A slightly early budbreak ushered in a warm, dry growing season with excellent heat summations, but not heat spikes. An inch of rain in mid-late September corrected imbalanced high sugars and low pHs and set the stage for an extended harvest of well over a month for Pinot noir. Harvests of young fruit or mature fruit by jittery winemakers prior to this only rain event may exhibit elevated alcohols. Croploads were full, permitting precise green harvesting for full ripeness and extraction. Excellent acidities were left due to moderate temperatures throughout the growing and harvest periods, making this a richly ripe but structured vintage, both for whites and reds. (archived 2002 Harvest reports)

2001: 2001 is a soft, big vintage. It saw almost ideal growing and ripening weather and less than an inch of rain during harvest. This is not a typical cool climate vintage since acids are as low and ripeness as full, despite above average yields before crop thinning, as we've seen since perhaps 1987. The Pinot Noirs will be soft, fleshy and early appealing, with moderate colors. Whites will be full and broad, and early maturing. The alcohols are restrained slightly by yields that didn't force extreme extraction. Albeit different, as high a quality year as the prior three. (archived 2001 Harvest reports)

2000: The 2000 growing season was almost perfect, starting early in both bud break and bloom, setting a full crop in vineyards and thus giving a chance to precisely choose optimum yields with crop thinning. During harvest, which started the last week of September and lasted until the last week of October, only 1.1" of rain fell, with very good ripeness and moderate to good acids. Colors and extractions on the Pinot Noir cuvees were excellent, acids good, but not as firm as 1999 and fruit totally ripe without disease pressure. Three-in-a-row, with 2000 a good average of the prior two vintages. (archived 2000 Harvest reports)

1999: A very cool growing season followed a very late bloom period in 1999, making a great vintage unlikely, considering a close to normal crop load in most vineyards and a need for the last two months before harvest to be perfect to fully ripen fruit. Many severely crop-thinned as a hedge, but the weather cooperated and all vineyards ripened if owners were patient. Many of the best wines are as good as 1998, some claiming better, however greater variability can be expected due to earlier than optimal picking by those not trusting mother nature. An almost Burgundian level of acidity will make this vintage an excellent ager. (archived 1999 Harvest reports)

1998: Glorious wines, not much of them. A large 1997 crop and damp, cool weather at bloom doomed this vintage to short crops, but that meant, with a normal ripening season and no early rains, deeply extracted and highly structured wines. Crop loads were even smaller than 1994 and the wines, just beginning to be released, are big but require time in bottle to regain their lushness and finesse. Possibly the best vintage to-date. But wait…

1997: The last of the rain vintages, this year showed great promise until the skies opened. Crop loads promised the largest harvest yet and they were almost ripe when rains came. Unlike the prior two vintages when the rains stopped for post-rain ripening, 1997 remained wet. Botrytis pressure was high and earlier-picked vineyards and those who sorted and crop-thinned fared better. Very good structures bordering on tannic, plus slow to evolve fruit have made this vintage unpopular with critics, although excellent producers made excellent wines just now showing off.

1996: The second rain-affected harvest, fruit in this year was closer to fully ripe when a few days of rain arrived, resulting in almost normal size and richness in the Pinot Noirs. The vintage yields were slightly below normal levels but not financially threatening as with 1994 and 1998, plus in all years since 1994 more winemakers are chosing to crop-thin to achieve intensity. A fat, rich vintage considered the best of the rain years by critics.

1995: A vintage with rain at harvest ending a good growing season and, unfortunately following on the heels of 1994, received poorly by critics. A moderate to good yield and heavy rains for a week or more in the middle of harvest meant many wines lack the depth of fruit and color that others have. That notwithstanding, the vintage made exceptionally rich, elegantly styled wines in the single vineyard and reserve levels.

1994: A highly ballyhooed vintage, this was a short, dry and warm harvest. Thinning was unnecessary, with most vineyards having croploads under two tons per acre. Alcohols are moderately high, extraction huge and the reception by press predictably strong. Seen as the best vintage released to-date by some, with 1998 rivaling it.

1993: This may become another classic Oregon vintage. Bloom was in late June. Harvest was relatively late, but the fall was warm and relatively dry. The crop was average. Thinning generally enhanced wine quality.

1992: This was the hottest year in Oregon's brief modern viticultural history. The harvest ranged from early to mid-September. Fortunately, the heat relented somewhat at the end of maturity, allowing many producers to make wines of outstanding quality. The experience of 1987 may have aided producers in making their cultural and picking decisions. Crop was good. Thinning was required to be successful.

1991: A long, cool spring pushed bloom into late June and early July. The rest of the season was, however, ideal with an extraordinary, long, warm fall. The crop was good. Because of the late harvest, quality was enhanced by severe thinning. Quality ranged from average to very good, depending on cultural practices.

1990: Very cold conditions in December of 1989 caused bud damage, which led to the third straight year of short crops in Oregon. The vintage resembled 1988, with a long cool year and a dry fall. Quality was very good to excellent.

1989: In the late winter of 1989, Oregon suffered a severe freeze with temperatures at below -5°F. The consequence was moderate to serious vine damage and bud damage in the spring of 1989. Crops were significantly reduced. The vintage was characterized by a late bud break, but a hot summer and fall. Harvest was in September. Quality was good to very good and the quantity was short.

1988: The lack of rain in the fall and early winter of 1987 led to a peculiar malady in 1988 called “late fall drought-induced Boron deficiency”. The result was a very poor set and resulting small crop. Nonetheless, 1988 was a classic Oregon Pinot Noir vintage, with cool temperatures and a long, dry fall. Quality was good to excellent.

1987: Very hot, dry vintage with a September harvest. Grapes harvested in hot conditions. Sugars sometimes reached maximums before flavors developed. Quality was poor to very good.

1986: The year started early, with buds bursting around March 20th. Bloom was somewhat early. The summer was hot, with the year tracking very close to 85°F until 3 inches of rain fell in September. Good weather returned at the end of the month, but the poor weather during fruit maturation diminished the quality of the Pinot Noir vintage somewhat. Some excellent Chardonnays were made. Quality was average to good.

1985: The vintage was hot and dry from beginning to end. Harvest was in late September, under ideal conditions. Crop was a bit short. Also noteworthy was frost on May 11th and 12th, which affected many locations near the valley floor. Quality was good to excellent.

*Vintage notes for 1985-1993 by Ted Casteel, Bethel Heights Vineyard

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