Learn why Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from 2011, 2012, and 2013 are like Scarlett Johannson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jan Brady.
Vintage variation in Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is an exciting experience. We had always read about vintage variation, but it is different when you live in the same place with the grapes. You remember the heavy rains of 2013 because you had bad hair days for 3 weeks straight. You remember how hot August was in 2014 because you were on an un air-conditioned bus going through wine country. June in 2015 was when we threatened to go back to the South where God gave people the good sense to stay in the air conditioning when it was hot as blue blazes. Then we broke down and bought the air conditioning for the house that the realtors said we didn’t need. And we apologize. We have been explaining the vintage variation in Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to anyone who asks – strangers at restaurants, tasting rooms, in line at the grocery store. BUT we haven’t told you, our Tasting Pour friends.
So here goes… Our analogy for vintage variation in Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011, 2012, and 2013.
2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Miracle Vintage or Lanky Teenager
2011 – Known in wine circles as the “miracle vintage” and at Tasting Pour as the “lanky teenager.” In her youth she wine was all frame, no curves. She needs time to fill out and mature. But she has great bone structure and her “lankiness” will turn into a combo of lithe athletic strength and elegant grace. Better be nice to her now (read buy all you can) and check her out at the high school reunion.
The spring was perfect so there were lot of flowers on the vines setting the vineyards up to produce a large crop (50-100% more grapes than normal). A cool, cloudy summer followed that wasn’t warm enough for even a normal grape crop to ripen, let alone one this size. At one point the grapes were a whole month behind usual ripening. The vineyard managers and winemakers were biting their nails while the wine world looked on. An Indian Summer in August and September aided ripening but by October 3rd Oregon had the lowest heat accumulation in decades. It was the latest harvest on record with most wineries beginning the harvest after October 15th (over two weeks later than normal) and still picking into early Nov. If the expected fall rains had come it could have spelled disaster. Winemakers would have been forced to pick unripe or risk the mildew and disease. The miracle part is that the weather stayed dry. The grapes got a long hang time – over 100 days – to finish ripening. The result was wines of lower alcohol but more elegance, surprising color, and depth of flavor.
2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Easy Vintage or Teenage Beauty Queen
2012 – The easy vintage or at Tasting Pour the “teenage beauty queen.” She never had a pimple. She was beautiful upon arrival. Voluptuous and fresh faced. You can’t help but smile when she is around. She is the first one you would ask to a party, her pleasant demeanor guarantees a fun night. But to be completely honest, after a few dates you kind of want a deeper conversation. Like many who peak early, she may not be the hottest date at the school reunion. Enjoy her now. Bask in her sun ripened flavors. She will be beautiful for some time but she won’t improve.
2012 in the Willamette Valley was just a fairly easy vintage. It wasn’t too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. Goldilocks would have loved it. The grapes enjoyed warm days, cool nights, and a dry harvest resulting in perfectly ripe fruit and wines that are fresh, rich, and fruit-forward. These wines will remain lovely but will not improve in the bottle. Why wait?
2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
The “Winemaker’s Year” or the “Middle Child”
The 2013 vintage was a real test of the winemaker’s skills – not only in the cellar but in the vineyard as picking date played a huge role. Not quite as lush as 2012 nor as interesting as 2011, the middle child child is still figuring out who she will become. Just like any middle child, parenting is important, and she could go either way. Know your winemaker to be confident that this sibling will be off to a good start.
In 2013 a warm summer came to a quick halt with a rainy, colder September followed by a dry October. One winemaker referred to 2013 as the “prozac vintage.” Winemakers had to choose. Pick before the rain and risk underripe grapes. Pick after the rain and risk rot and mildew. No one KNEW October would be dry. You can find bottles picked early, late, and a combo of both. In the hands of the right winemaker it has worked out. So far we have enjoyed the 2013’s finding many of them to be elegant and have a pleasing floral quality.
We will be drinking in this order 2012, 2013, 2011.
And we won’t fret when the 2012s are gone. Predictions for 2014 cause us to believe we have another round of pretty wine coming – and lots of it. Dick Shea of Shea Vineyards said about 2014, “we kept waiting for something to go wrong but it was smooth sailing.” Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom Winery said, “2014 smells and tastes like sunshine.” Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner Ash Wine Cellars agreed. “I have never seen this level of quantity AND quality fruit.”
We’ll let you know what we think.