Look out for Willamette Valley 2017s
As Alder reported previously, there is a lot of excitement about the 2017 vintage in the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s principal wine region.
The 2017 harvest comes after three hot vintages in a row – 2014 through 2016 – for the Willamette Valley. The vintage was characterised by several key factors. Spring was cold, and quite wet. Cooler temperatures delayed the start of the growing season. Wet conditions, however, sped growth once it started while also delaying farmers’ ability to get into the vineyards to keep up with the growth. By early summer, conditions settled into warm and dry weather with good diurnal temperature variation to retain acidity, colour and phenolic potential. A few heat spikes did hit during the growing season but, unusually, smoke from the wildfires that hit the Pacific Northwest in summer 2017 provided an unexpected beneficial filter but no reported instances of smoke taint.
Harvest in Willamette started almost simultaneously with the fires that devastated California’s North Coast in October. For producers in Oregon, concern for their southern colleagues exacerbated the challenges of harvest. For producers in co-operative facilities this created unique challenges where space was shared with California-based vintners. Thomas Savre of Larry Stone’s Lingua Franca winery in the Eola-Amity Hills described how producers simply helped each other, stepping in if a winemaker had to return to California during the fires. Logistical winery needs such as lab work, bottling supplies and more were also affected in some cases since California’s North Coast serves as the epicentre for much of North America’s wine business. The California fires meant that many winery suppliers and shippers could not access the North Coast and were unable to fulfill orders until after the fires were under control. This served as a powerful reminder of how interconnected the wine world turns out to be, regardless of state boundaries.
Yields were incredibly abundant throughout the Willamette Valley, with some vineyards even leaving fruit on the vine thanks to good fruit set and abundant early growth. At the same time, the last several years have included a significant increase in planting new sites throughout the region. Many of those new vineyards came online in 2017, adding to the increase in fruit availability.
Overall, 2017 looks to be a structured vintage for the wines of the Willamette Valley. Wines I tasted from barrel – both in the very early stages during a visit in December, and then, more revealingly, as wines were finishing in March – were promising. The wines generally have good colour and ample tannin with no shortage of flavour. The wines I tasted from barrel showed …
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