Wineries weary of fall weather in the valley

On Monday, vineyard consultant Stirling Fox offered a quick snapshot of the Yamhill Valley’s prospective 2008 harvest.

“The 1 to 1 1/2 inches of rain we got over the last few days was just enough to be of value to the ripening crop,” he said. “It’s been a real plus, in that everything was quite dry from the warm spell in late September. The vines have been able to fully absorb the moisture and there hasn’t been any berry splitting.

“But if we get much more rain, it could be a problem. There’s the risk of botrytis mold. A little botrytis has already been found in some places, and growers have applied an organic spray to combat it.”

Fox is in an excellent position to assess the situation.

His company, Stirling Wine Grapes, manages vineyards for more than 20 clients. They are spread across the six Yamhill Valley AVAs – Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton District.

He estimates only 5 percent of Northwestern Oregon’s winegrapes have been harvested so far. Even vintners whose grapes are otherwise ready will be waiting a day or two for the vines to dry out from the recent rain before beginning to pick again.

“Younger vines will be ready,” Fox said. “But growers who crop low yields in mature vineyards are still waiting for complete physiological ripening.”

In other words, the flavors aren’t quite where premium pinot noir producers want them yet. And assuming the current long-range weather forecast proves correct, that will take another week to 10 days

“I’ve been following and the National Oceanic website,” he said. “A warming trend is predicted over the next week, with no significant downturn until about the 18th of October.”

In some instances, however, holding off long enough to achieve optimum flavor maturity could collide with the onset of bad weather later in the month.

“Timing will be important,” Fox said. “I’m sure we’ll all be scrambling to get everything in over the next couple of weeks. Some of those who push it too far might find themselves picking in the rain.”

On balance, though, he is very optimistic.

“Despite the slow start, we had a really nice growing season,” he said. “We got slow, consistent ripening, then warm weather without any big heat spikes. Quality is high at all sites.”