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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011

Willamette Valley harvest pushes ahead, not in Southern Oregon

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Much of the Oregon wine industry continues to reap the rewards of the 2011 "miracle harvest," but consecutive nights of below freezing temperatures in the Southern Oregon appellation took its toll on growers.

"Two weeks ago, we were literally in the bottom of the ninth inning, two runs behind with two out," Sam Tannahill, chairman of the Oregon Wine Board and a founder of A to Z Wineworks, said in a news release today. “Then things changed 180 degrees, the weather patterns shifted and the sun came out. Truly, this is a miracle harvest.”

With mostly dry and sunny weather in the forecast, many winemakers and growers plan to leave grapes on the vine and continue to harvest well into November.

This situation, however, is different in the southern part of the state.

“Last night was the coldest here,” noted Pat Spangler of Spangler Vineyards in Roseburg. “The season is pretty much over down this way."

On Tuesday, the low was 34 degrees Fahrenheit at his vineyard in the Umpqua Valley. Wednesday, it was 32. Thursday, it fell to 33.

“I was all over southern Oregon (Wednesday), checking most of the vineyards I buy from,” Spangler added. “There is significant damage in all the normal low, cool spots. They are pretty much toasted.

“Then I came in this morning (Thursday) to find my vineyard almost completely frosted — and I'm a warm spot," he continued. "Three straight days of frost. Not good. Anything low or even remotely sensitive is likely done for the year. Everything is being picked now, no matter how ripe is was.”

Charles Humble, director of communications for the OWB, reported no frost so far in the Willamette Valley or the Columbia Gorge.

“We had faith that we would have this window,” said Robert Morus, president of Phelps Creek Vineyards near Hood River. “We just needed a little more sun in October to finish it off. We're taking everything now because we don't see a lot of heat in the forecast.”

Tannahill likened this year’s late, but long finish, to the harvest to 1999, considered one of Oregon's stellar vintages.

"There are tons of pitfalls and challenges remaining," he warned, "but all the makings are there for a very good year."