Weather delays Oregon wine grape harvest by 2 weeks to a month

Monday, September 20, 2010

Weather pushes back Oregon wine grape harvest

PORTLAND, Ore. — A cool spring followed by a summer with only a scattering of hot days has delayed the Oregon wine grape harvest by at least two weeks and possibly up to a month.

Growers are trying different ways to speed up ripening before fall rains arrive, including pulling leaves to expose grapes to the sun.

If the weather is not warm and sunny enough until the harvest is complete, the grapes could fall victim to drowning rains and botrytis, a moldy fungus that thrives in damp, humid conditions.

“At this point, it’s a nail-biter,” said Dick Shea, founder of Shea Wine Cellars & Vineyard in Yamhill. “Frankly, it could still be everything from excellent to terrible. It has everyone pretty anxious.”

Late harvests are always a risk in the $1 billion Oregon wine industry. But a number of innovations over the past decade or so have helped buffer winemakers from late-harvest rains.

The list includes grafting more climatically suited clones and the use of root stocks that can ripen grapes anywhere from 10 days to two weeks earlier than their earlier counterparts.

There no guarantees, however, that wine grapes can always attain the right balance of sugar and acid to be pronounced ready to pick.

Some Willamette Valley vineyard owners may be wishing they’d hedged their bets by purchasing crop insurance.

Others, such as Rollin Soles, winemaker at Argyle Winery in Dundee, are insuring their crop in a different way.

“We’re dropping lots of fruit,” he said. “And while every cluster you drop onto the ground prior to harvest means you are economically taking a hit, we’re ensuring that what remains will be ripe and ready to pick when the time comes.”

Soles, like many Oregon wine veterans, has seen other years like this, including 2008 and 1999 as prime examples.

Vintners elsewhere in the state report similarly late ripening trends, but say they don’t expect anywhere near the crop failures looming in the northern Willamette Valley.

“It’s not a great year, but the right varietals on the right sites will be fine,” said Earl Jones of Abacela in Roseburg.

At Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River, co-owner Jane Kossuth is equally optimistic.

“Our heavier reds are going to be close to four weeks late,” she said. “But we’re expecting a great harvest. A little more sun, a little more heat, and we’ll be on our way.”

Kim Kinderman, general manager at Agate Ridge Vineyard near Eagle Point in the Rogue Valley, is banking on no frost until after harvest.

“That could put a damper on everything,” she said. “Otherwise, concentration of fruits we’re seeing could make this a fabulous vintage.”

Information from: The Oregonian,

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