The 2017 vintage in the Pacific Northwest
As usual the 2017 vintage was unlike any other. The season started relatively late with cold temperatures and with most regions reporting bud break two weeks behind “normal”. The growing degree days through bloom followed the long-term average and after bloom the season was still about two weeks behind normal. One important feature this year was the high level of soil moisture from the very wet winter: Portland had the longest rainy season on record with 145 days in a row with precipitation for a total of 45.5 inches of rain during the winter. High soil moisture lead to happy vines creating large canopies across the Northwest which promoted disease pressure and demanded lots of vineyard work to avoid canopy congestion.
Post bloom the weather got seriously warm with several 100 degree days triggering some sunburn on exposed fruit. The heat stayed on until mid-September though it was moderated across the Northwest by smoke cover from the many forest fires in the Cascade Range and in the Columbia Gorge. I remember a day where the high temperature forecast was for 103F but the temperature only got to 88F due to the smoke cover. While there are some regions reporting some smoke taint, we have not seen any in any of our wines so far. The combination of hot days (photosynthesis stops above 95F as vines close their stomata to preserve water) and smoke cover likely did not help the vine “catch up” and consequently harvest did not really start until early to mid-September in Washington and early October in Oregon.
Starting mid-September, the outside temperatures dropped (see the flattening of the GDD curve above) but the precipitations were minimal allowing for a timely harvest. Eastern Washington was probably a little easier to manage due to the lack of rain and the small yields though we had a few cold night toward the end of October. Western Oregon had to navigate high yields and frequent rain events which made for a trickier harvest. The harvest was longer than usual finishing the week of the 6th of November.
In Washington, the conditions were perfect for bad Botrytis, sunburn and small yields. Overall, we have picked the whites early to minimize rot and maximize what we thought would be a low acid vintage. The Rieslings are beautiful across the board; the reds waited as much as possible and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular came in very late and we are happy with the quality of the wines and amazed by the soft tannins. I would rate Washington 2017 as a very good vintage though quantities were smaller than usual.
In Oregon, the conditions were much more difficult due to what will likely be historically high yields. The fruit was very tired by harvest with high botrytis pressure and some sunburn. The whites are good to very good with excellent flavor development (Pinot Gris will be delish). The Pinot Noirs are a little weak right now and we will need to see how they clean up and age in the next 6 months – for sure this will be a more delicate vintage than 2016 or 2015.
Our first 2017 to be bottled from Oregon will be the 2017 Pinot Gris which will be released in early January 2018. Our first 2017 from Washington to be bottled will be the 2017 Ramos vineyard Gewurztraminer in mid February. I hope you will enjoy this vintage that taste more like a cool vintage despite what the growing degree days would suggest.