Oregon wineries concerned about heavy rain

Wine grape season began well but turned sideways



EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon’s wine grape season started warm and dry but is ending wet, threatening a soggy harvest and raising questions about the quality and quantity of this year’s vintages.

“It just starts going sideways a bit when you have this adverse weather,” says Robin Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Winery near Junction City, Ore.

In the southern Willamette Valley, with heavy precipitation the past two weeks, September rainfall is more than four times the local average, The Register-Guard reported.

That threatens grapes with mildew, rot, dilution and splitting. Cold days and nights shut some vines down for the winter, causing leaves to turn orange and vines to begin leaching sugars from the grapes.

The conditions are especially tough on Oregon’s prized but finicky pinot noir grapes.

“Most other grapes don’t change as rapidly, but the pinot has a lot thinner skin,” said Pfeiffer. “Cabernet has a skin that’s much thicker and tougher. Pinot absorbs more water when it rains (and) starts to get a little weaker.”

Steve Girard, owner of Benton-Lane Winery, told the paper he normally doesn’t start harvesting until early October but has begun rushing to get the last of his 145 acres of pinot varietals off the vines as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, at King Estate Winery in Lorane, Ore., workers hand-picked about 25 percent of their 465 acres so far, but owner Ed King told The Register-Guard he’s waiting out the rain to pick his fruit at optimum ripeness — and monitoring his clusters in the meantime to make sure they stay healthy.

Gregory Jones, a wine climatologist at Southern Oregon University, said the heavy rain that the Eugene area has encountered this past week could cause this year’s crop to be variable, but he emphasized the waiting game.

“You never know exactly what each vintage gives you until the wines come out in a few months to a year,” Jones said.