After a few dry winters, the 2016-17 winter provided ample rain and snowpack statewide. The winter gave way to a relatively cool and wet spring compared to the last few years. As a result, bud break in Oregon started closer to normal in mid-April. The spring warmed up with record heat in late May that initiated flowering in most areas of the state. However, a cool down in early June slowed flowering through the second and third week of the month then was followed by a few days of record high temperatures. Growers statewide noted that flowering was very complete and produced a very good fruit set. Many also indicated that the warm conditions in 2016 set the stage for increased fruitfulness, producing more clusters per vine and larger clusters.

July ramped up the heat moving the vintage rapidly to véraison. However, August saw multiple one day records for maximum daytime temperatures with heat stress events early and late in the month. The result was that August 2017 was the warmest August on record in the state and the majority of the western US. Growers noted that the heat stress did not produce much sunburn but may have delayed ripening in some varieties. As a result of the heat, some growers noted water berry/sugar accumulation disorder (SAD) and worked to thin out clusters that exhibited symptoms. This took some training and added to labor costs for the season.

On the issue of thinning, Rollin Soles of ROCO told Wine Spectator his 2017 vintage was completely different from the previous three years, when vintners harvested their grapes earlier than normal. He explained the wet, cool spring delayed flowering for the Willamette Valley’s Pinot noir vines until late June, setting the stage for a later harvest. Hot, dry conditions prevailed throughout the summer. Fruit set was higher than average. “Guys that thinned [bunches] made incredible wines,” Soles told Wine Spectator. “There is a fresh fruit component and complexity that comes out in the wines.”

Signatures of the 2017 vintage in Oregon were the fires and smoke. A large fire in Southern Oregon named the Chetco Bar fire started by a lightning strike on July 12th and burned throughout the summer. Shifting winds brought smoke periodically throughout the Rogue Valley and even into northern Oregon. Then in early September a fire erupted in the Columbia Gorge burning through scenic areas of the gorge and produced tremendous smoke over the region. All the while, smoke from Canadian fires drifted over the PNW for a significant portion of the summer. Growers throughout the state had concerns for possible smoke taint (see regional overviews below). An additional issue that rose from the smoke could have been both a benefit and problem. With smoke in the air many growers noted that ripening temperatures were lower than areas where there was no smoke, ultimately slowing the maturation of the fruit. Growers in other areas noted that high level smoke likely lowered temperatures during the heat stress events, reducing the impacts there.

Soles reported he had sent in samples of his young wines to be tested and they all came back negative for the compounds that indicate potential smoke taint. In a late November 2017 article, Wine Spectator surveyed winemakers such as Barbara Steele, cofounder and winemaker at Cowhorn, about smoke impacts. Steele reported that she had not tasted any smoke taint characteristics in the wines from her estate in Applegate Valley. She says the smoke may have delayed grape development, but the weather was ideal during harvest. She believes the wines will be plush and soft on the palate. “I don’t think the smoke will be what we talk about in this vintage.”
A warm early September accelerated fruit development but was slowed by a cool down mid-month. Feeling that the harvest was going to be fast and furious, growers breathed a sigh of relief with the cooler conditions and proceeded to have a slow and steady harvest. From grower reports the 2017 ended up with near average to slightly higher than average sugar and acid levels with many touting beautiful flavors and well balanced fruit. Based on early reports, the 2017 vintage is set to come in at between 85,000 and 90,000 tons, up 7-13% from the 79,782 tons produced last year and up 1-6% from the record harvest of 84,949 tons in 2015.

Regional Overviews

The Columbia Gorge
The Gorge grows everything from Albariño to Zinfandel, and this past harvest season faced with high late summer temperature spikes causing some issues with berry development and haziness, a concern throughout the summer.

From Bob Morus, Owner of Phelps Creek Vineyards, Hood River, Oregon, many details of harvest are covered: We slipped into the 2017 season—literally. In January, with snow on the ground since Thanksgiving, I fell on our plowed drive and tore up my right shoulder. Thus, the one-armed Vigneron began the season cautiously. Spring brought about a good fruit set and following the harsh winter, we witnessed no significant moisture post early June.

Phelps Creek Vineyards, October 2017

Phelps Creek Vineyards, October 2017, Sara Heinrichs

The summer proceeded hot and very dry casting the entire Pacific Northwest as a tinderbox. Smoke from as far away as British Columbia placed a high altitude haze in the sky for much of the late summer. We retained some extra fruit on the vines in order to slow the progression of ripening, but still prepared for an early harvest.

In September the Eagle Creek Fire exploded about 30 miles due west of our vineyard with only a severely dry forest laying between the locations. An east wind propelled the fire 13 miles west in the first 48 hours. Knowing our precarious location, if the winds shifted to the more typically west, the Phelps Creek team began preparing our property to suppress embers. We incorporated lab sampling for smoke taint into our pre-harvest routine and noticed significant differences depending on the specific locations of vineyard blocks.

At the same time, bottling of the 2016 reds had not been completed. The fires by now were raging to the extent that Interstate 84 was closed and trucks carrying our bottles declined alternative routing. As the winds ultimately shifted, coming from the West, we prepared for evacuation. Archived wines, barrels, art and important papers were relocated. Our deepest gratitude to the local wine community who offered storage.

Finally glass arrived and we bottled a beautiful 2016 vintage, abet while wearing smokes masks when outside. Meanwhile the fire continued to proceed in our direction. We began harvest early in order to analyze fermentation’s for smoke issues. Lab results indicated strong presence of taint precursors and we employed extensive mitigation protocols. White wine grapes seemed less problematic.

Ultimately heavy rains subdued the fire after it reach within four miles of our vineyard. At this point our white wines look promising, while our Pinot Noir is unlikely to see a consumer release. The majority of our Pinot Noir grapes were never harvested.

I look forward to a less eventful 2018.

And from Dick & Christie Reed, Owners of Wy’East Vineyard, Hood River:

Bud break was a bit later than normal, as Hood River Valley had nearly 100 inches of snow which lingered in the vineyards and orchards for nearly 90 days. Pruning was a few weeks later than normal due to the harsh winter. However, we did not suffer any vine damage. Mother Nature really heated things up in the spring and the vine growth accelerated rapidly. Our high elevation Wy’East Vineyard suffered some desiccation due to the extreme summer heat. Yields were lower than the past few years. We concluded the growing season with harvest in a typical early to mid-October.

Eastern Oregon
In the fall of 2016 after harvest, the vines were able to ease into winter becoming increasingly cold hardy and really preparing them for the unusually cold temperatures that were to come. This, combined with greater-than-normal snowfall that may have acted as insulation, meant that winter bud damage was only seen in the lowest elevations where temperatures dipped as low as -12 degrees in early January. Bud break in 2017 occurred much closer to “normal” in mid-April than the very early dates we had seen in 2014-2016. The winter snow and extra spring moisture let many growers irrigate less than normal but this also set the stage for increased powdery mildew pressure that required diligent farming. A warm dry summer took off in mid-June leading to continued “normal” bloom and veraison dates. Harvest really got going in the second week of September and weather cooled significantly shortly after harvest began allowing for longer hang times that created complete phonological ripeness. Overall, higher acids and excellent color development was seen due to the cool nights and increased hang time. All of this combined with lighter-than-normal yields makes me believe 2017 is the highest quality vintage I’ve seen in my 5 years managing vineyards in the SeVein development. – Sadie Drury, Vineyard Manager, North Slope Management and Seven Hills Vineyard

The 2017 vintage in The Rocks District experienced all of the ups and downs of a boardwalk rollercoaster: extreme freeze during the winter (with temps dropping to as low as -12 degrees @ SJR Vineyard), heavy rains through the spring and heat well over 95 degrees for sustained periods in July and early August.
Bud death can be a winter reality in our growing region; effecting both yield and vine balance. To mitigate this condition, and to sustain vine balance/fruit quality with perennial wood, we developed/instituted the MHT. This Mini-Head Trained system lowers the head of each vine to ground level, creating a goblet-like training form (that we protect over winter by burying the entire head; with trellis in place to handle canopy vigor and ease of operation.

Bud-break occurred 10 days earlier than historical record at SJR Vineyard. Timing of operations was key this year. Sprays being performed at correct intervals, while switching FRAC codes, seemed to be the difference-maker in terms of mildew pressure. Despite the vast amount of water in the soil profile early in the season, vigor issues were relieved as heat increased. GDD’s at SJR were very similar to 2013, and at the time of our Syrah pick were just 1% more than 2016. We picked the Syrah in mid-September to phenolic ripeness, as is the Delmas style, and at a slightly lower pH than is typical within The Rocks District; largely due to limiting irrigations and vine age.
The Syrah went through fermentation beautifully and is currently resting in puncheons. We believe this vintage to be stellar in terms of distinctive Delmas quality. – Brooke Delmas Robertson, Director of Viticulture for SJR Vineyard

Southern Oregon
Smoke from forest fires may have led to reduced Brix at harvest in Southern Oregon. Additionally, Southern Oregon producers believe the smoke haze kept nights warmer, and this may have affected acid levels.

According to Scott Steingraber, Owner and Winemaker of Kriselle Cellars: Bud break for the Rogue Valley was around the middle of April in 2017–slightly later than we typically see, and the spring weather was very mild. The 2016/17 winter was wetter than normal and our snow pack in the mountains was better than it had been for the last couple of years. This allowed for a high water table in the vineyard soils. The vine canopy growth was aggressive and therefore required quite a bit of maintenance to remove lateral shoots and excessive vegetative growth to keep the vines in balance. Fruit set was approximately 7 to 10 days later than normal. However, August had very warm to hot temperatures and September and October were dry, which allowed fruit to hang fairly long. The average berry size was slightly reduced due to the August heat and most of the valley was harvested by the first of November. Our yields were a bit above average and the quality of the fruit is good to exceptional.

Ross Allen, co-owner of 2Hawk Cellars, had this to say: 2017 was very different from the past 3 years. 2014-2016 provided us with long, very warm, and pretty dry growing seasons. While 2017 was not even close to this it was not far from what many would call average looking back a number of years. The fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 gave us plentiful rainfall and as the spring grew to summer the rain kept coming. Temperatures remained cool much later as well. Once summer arrived things warmed up and the vines responded well. Late summer brought smoke into the Rouge Valley which stayed for 8 to 10 weeks pending location. This provided some challenges caused by the solar radiation reduction because of the shade effect of the smoke. Smoke concentrations also caused some issues in some of the harder hit areas. Fortunately here at 2Hawk our elevation off of the valley floor kept us from having any smoke taint issues. Harvest started about 2 weeks later than 2016 with exceptional fruit quality given the challenges mother nature handed us this year. Late September into October provided some really great hang time with cool temperatures allowing us to harvest many of our reds in stages giving us some truly wonderful profiles to work with when it comes time to blend. We wrapped up harvest with the third stage pick in the Malbec on November 1st. In a nut shell 2017 was a challenge to say the least but on the flip side I think the 2017 vintage will be a really great one for 2Hawk and the majority of Southern Oregon.

Willamette Valley
The Willamette Valley had lots of fruit in 2017, despite having dropped some crop to the ground in August. There were many positive early reviews of the fruit and the young wines with no serious mildew or rot, good maturity from the more normal harvest conditions. There was no impact of the smoke on Willamette Valley producers, except that the possible disadvantages of the hazy weather during early stages of ripening reduced sunlight intensity from smoke and could have caused reduced photosynthesis.

“We’re dealing with some of the highest yields we’ve ever seen,” Christine Clair, winery director at Willamette Valley Vintners Inc., told Wines & Vines in a post-harvest October 25, 2017 article. Clair estimated that her winery’s yields were 30% to 50% above expectations, with a final 300 tons on the vine awaiting harvest before a late season rain.

Also in Wines & Vines, King Estate vineyard manager Ray Nuclo said close management prevented his crops from the 465 acres he oversees south of Eugene coming in too far off the mark. It’s closer to the 2015 vintage in size, but still about 15% ahead of where it was last year. This promises more elegant, lower alcohol wines.

Gary Horner at Erath told Wine & Vines that the 2017 growing season was just 15% warmer than the long-term average, delivering fruit with a better balance of sugars, acids and other components. Harvest began three weeks later than last year, on Sept. 24, and wrapped up Oct. 19. He said: “I really prefer a vintage like we just had,” he said. “Nice acid, lower alcohols, nice acidity, abundant tannin. And there’s a lot of it; it’s not every day you have a very solid quality vintage and an abundant vintage, so we’ll take that.”

About OWB:
The Oregon Wine Board (OWB) is a semi-independent Oregon state agency managing marketing, research and education initiatives that support and advance the Oregon wine and wine grape industry. The Board works on behalf of all Oregon wineries and independent growers throughout the state’s diverse winegrowing reg