special guest- Josh Bergstrom – October 2011

One of our best and brightest Oregon winemakers joins us here to talk about the 2011 vintage of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  While Josh is already an accomplished wine-maker and not at all without recognition for his wines, what many may not know is that Josh has never stopped gaining knowledge and appreciation of the best of the wine world at large, and applying his evolving insights to his own craft. So, here is Josh Bergstrom – in his own write….

If you follow West Coast winemaking news, you have probably heard by now that 2011 is the prelude to the Apocalypse……right? Oh, ye of little faith.  In my humble opinion, 2011 could turn out to be one of the more interesting vintages in Oregon’s recent history, and could quite possibly change how we feel about late, cool and wet harvests vis-à-vis Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Or even change your mind about how you feel about cool climate wine regions.  Sure, not every vineyard in the Willamette Valley will ripen its fruit to 23 degrees Brix, and the Pinot Noirs may not be a deep hue of purple when they are released in 18 months to two years, but is that so bad? Remember 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 1999 etc….?

On my recent trip to Burgundy, where I worked harvest at some of my favorite Chardonnay producers in Puligny, Chassagne and Meursault, I was eager to find out how excited they all were about their much hyped and warm 2009 vintage that every collector in the world is dying to purchase.  “Sure the wines are impressive” they all agreed, “but they are not as acid-driven, or balanced as the 2008’s.”   WHAT?!?

And then I remembered where I was….. I was in a cool climate, just like back home.   Like all cool climate winemakers, the Burgundians, just like Oregonians, love the ease that comes with selling a warmer vintage, but thrive off of the challenge of a cooler, more challenging vintage.   It is in these cooler years where acids remain energetic, fruit flavors and aromas retain their freshness, alcohol levels stay low and there is the greatest possibility for balanced wines that will drink well young and potentially age for a decade or two.  I also believe that there is a greater possibility for crafting the most memorable wines from these types of vintages.  Especially when you are considering Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

One month ago if you had asked me how Oregon’s 2011 vintage was going to shape up, I would have said something like; “Hey look over there, is that a bear!!!” And I would have run in the other direction, trying to avoid a very difficult question about the threat of a potentially very difficult vintage.  But my how things have changed in one month.  Oregon is now looking a beautiful vintage straight in the eyes.  I’m sticking around for this conversation.

Fruit flavors are lovely and in the red fruit spectrum, with some fruit tasting of dark cherry and black raspberry already.  Acids are high but falling into balance quickly, seeds are browning nicely, stems and stalks are lignified, and believe it or not, we are seeing some vineyards arrive at 22-23+ degrees brix.   Everything I have seen so far from the lower elevation, well farmed sites is very promising.  In fact, everything that I have seen in the past week, I did not predict I would see this year.  I was preparing for the worst.

Now, I won’t completely sugarcoat the 2011 vintage from Oregon either.  There are some vineyards in Oregon which are sitting at high elevations, or with larger than normal yields, which will simply struggle to ripen this year.  They may still ripen, given the very positive long-term weather forecast calling for continued high pressure around the Pacific Northwest, but it will be a challenge for sure.    Also, we are wrestling with the birds whose migratory patterns bring them, and their ravenous hunger, directly over the Willamette Valley on their way south for the winter.  The starlings and the robins love our grapes.  And if we can keep botrytis at bay, frost from freezing, locusts from swarming and frogs from falling from the heavens…… we will be okay…. we may even be great.  Stay tuned for positive results from Oregon in 2011.  

Josh & team at the outset of vintage 2011

 Thank you Josh, and special thanks to photographer Carolyn Wells Kramer