This was a tough, wet year for some area winemakers

  • By Jeff Wicklund Special to The Herald
  • Wednesday, November 21, 2007 2:03pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It is said that wine is bottled sunshine. What a wonderful, romantic description of an agricultural product.

But what about the inevitable off-year when that critical golden orb is in short supply and its much-needed warming glow is replaced with rain, fog, wind and soggy conditions?

Is it: (A) an off vintage; (B) an inconvenient wine; (C) a crying shame; or (D) all of the above?

“D” it is, for the 2007 vintage from Oregon’s Willamette Valley and vineyards on the west side of the Cascade Range in Washington.

“We just didn’t get the grape sugars to the levels we were hoping for due to lack of consistent warm weather,” said Randy Bonaventura, winemaker and partner at Challenger Ridge Vineyard &Cellars in Concrete, which is establishing some of our state’s only pinot noir vineyards.

In Oregon, the 2007 vintage also has been very difficult, particularly for the state’s much-heralded and coveted pinot noir.

With all of the rain in early October, winemakers were forced to make a difficult decision. The first option, pulling the fruit off earlier than desired, would result in under-ripe grapes, but could be the safest course to protect the harvest. For this to be successful, winemakers possibly would need to manipulate the wine by adding sugar, so the process of fermentation would yield appropriate alcohol levels. The other option, with higher risk but more potential reward, would be a contest between vineyard managers and Mother Nature. If they hung in there, literally, with the grapes hanging on the vine, hoping for a few more days of sun to fill the bottle, they risked dangerous fungus growth and rot.

The grape clusters can be infected by various types of rot, most notably botrytis or “noble rot,” as it is referred to with the great dessert wines made in Sauternes, France, or with eiswein (ice wine) in Germany.

However, most of the times this rot is not noble at all, and is just plain grey rot that is a blight for any fermenting tank. Either way, this will be a vintage that tests the skill of winemakers and vineyard managers dealing with finicky fruit and lousy weather.

Actually, that’s one of the great things about wine and all that goes into the production of this magical elixir. It’s like Forrest Gump’s chocolate box. You just don’t know from vintage to vintage what you’ll get, despite the concerted efforts by conglomerate refinery wineries trying to create Buck-Chuck, Yellow-Tailed, colalike McWine.

But all is not lost in Oregon or Western Washington vineyards and wineries for the 2007 vintage. It’s just one of those years that’ll add validity to the adage “The proof’s in the pudding,” only, in this case, it’s in the bottle with perhaps just a little less sunshine.

The good news for those of us hedonists requiring instant gratification of our yen for delicious, rich, ripe wines from Oregon and Western Washington, is that the two previous vintages had gobs of sunshine packed into the bottle. The 2005 wines are well into the market, and the stellar 2006 vintage is just now emerging.

Up in Concrete, Randy Bonaventura and the rest of the gang at Challenger Ridge Winery produced pinot noir that is beautifully balanced, round on the palate and bursting with ripe cherry, cranberry and raspberry fruit — and the reserve offering ramps it up with aromas of fresh-cut roses and violets with tantalizing flavors of pure red fruits, chocolate and spice … very nice!

Having a chance to delve into many 2006 vintage Oregon pinot noirs as of late, I predict that the pinot-loving public will be more than enamored. The vintage has been referred to as a “California vintage” with much of the fruit becoming super ripe with elevated sugars resulting in higher alcohol levels, but, surprisingly, the flavors are not overripe and do not taste of dried fruit, which is what you might expect.

Some of the early released, crowd-pleasing, affordable pinot noirs already on the shelf that I wholeheartedly recommend for this holiday season include wines from A to Z Winery, O’Reilly’s Sharecropper, Belle Vallee, Erath and Westrey, all about $20. A few of the higher-end pinot noirs recently released to seek out and covet from ‘06 include Sineann’s entire pinot noir portfolio, Patricia Green, Owen Roe, Bethel Heights and Brickhouse.

The 2007 vintage from the west side of Washington and Oregon’s Willamette Valley may produce a little less sunshine in the bottle because of the lack of ideal conditions (the jury is still out), but do yourself a favor and sample some of the 2005 and 2006 wines.

You might find, if you’re anything like me, the need for sunscreen.

Jeff Wicklund can be reached at 425-737-2600, 360-756-0422 or

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