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Weather challenges Oregon wine industry

By Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Heavy rain at picking time made Oregon's 2013 wine grape harvest "not for the faint of heart."

The final word on Oregon’s 2013 wine grape harvest? “Definitely not for the faint of heart.”

An annual report compiled by the Oregon Wine Board in Portland says the “high drama” brought on by heavy rain in late September may have resulted in some “virtuoso” winemaking and the state yield may top 2012’s record of 50,000 tons by up to 20 percent.

Wine quality could be surprising, as good as ever or great, depending on which wine maker you’re talking to. All three views are reflected in the report issued at year’s end by the wine board, a semi-independent state agency that handles marketing, education and research for the industry.

Some of the harvest observations have been reported previously in the Capital Press, but the annual report lays out in greater detail some of the year’s challenges.

The vintage began with an early bud break and a long, warm summer. Some vineyards began harvesting grapes by the first week of September, the earliest start in several years. But the last week of September brought record rain, up to 5 inches within a few days in some areas.

What happened next varied from vineyard to vineyard. Some rushed to pick; others gambled and were rewarded by October weather that once again turned warm and sunny.

Either way seems to have worked out, for the most part, but wine makers were put to the test.

According to the wine board report, some winemakers speculate the extended warm summer resulted in grapes being further along and riper than expected by the time the rain hit, and so retained quality. In other cases, waiting out the rain may have provided additional “hang time” in the sunny October weather that followed, and produced “brilliant fruit,” according to the report.

The main complications included managing rot and mildew in the wet grapes and calculating picking times, according to the report, which is based on information provided by growers and winemakers. The wet conditions forced careful sorting in the field and at the wineries, according to the report, and “close attention throughout fermentation.”

Grapes are Oregon’s 13th most valuable commodity, with a 2012 farmgate value of $94.3 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The state is best known for its Pinot Noir wine, which is rated among the best internationally.


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