By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Faulty forecast puts Yamhill Valley winegrowers under pressure

Mother Nature brings unexpected storms, ending a leisurely harvest schedule

David Polite, owner/winemaker of Carlton Hill Vineyard, was one of the local growers who scrambled to get their grapes picked Friday before heavy rains hit the valley.Photo by Tara Bloom
Bins of grapes were covered at Carlton Hill Vineyard as they waited for the arrival of trucks -- there was a shortage of vehicles as many winegrowers gave short notice of Friday harvesting.Photo by Tara Bloom
Bins of pinot noir grapes were put under cover at Carlton Hill as protection from rain while waiting for trucks to arrive.Photo by Tara Bloom

Mother Nature unexpectedly turned the area wine industry on its head the end of this week.

Last week it looked as if northwestern Oregon vineyards would be harvested in a fairly calm and collected manner over the succeeding three weeks or so. Medium range weather forecasts of intermittent showers mixed with clearing made winegrowers feel confident they could wait and pick during dry periods, ensuring optimum flavor profiles.

But new weather forcasts on Friday changed all that for many area wineries. A Pacific system that was not foreseen, much less forecast the previous week, hit the Oregon coast and surged inland.

Reporting Friday, Dr. Gregory Jones, Southern Oregon University's noted climatological expert, said, "What a difference 3-4 days have made in the model guidance. This was not expected at all!"

He went on to explain that the approaching wet and windy weather may not have happened were it not for the remnants of Typhoon Pabuk in the western Pacific.

Between Sept 24 and Sept. 26, Pabuk battered the eastern coastlines of Japan, Taiwan and the northern Philippines with torrential rain and winds up to 105 miles per hour.

"The entrainment of tropical moisture into the jet stream flow in the last couple of days has been dramatic," Jones explained.

"They are even calling this an unprecedented atmospheric river of moisture for any time of year, let alone September. This is already being referred to as a 30-year event."

Winegrowers across the Yamhill Valley scrambled to get in as much fruit as possible picked on Friday, regardless of sugar and acid levels. Smaller growers were particularly hard pressed to get full crews on such short notice.

Owner/winemaker David Polite was happy to see a full crew mid-morning Friday at Carlton Hill Vineyard west of Carlton, but a shortage of large bins and delays with trucks created problems that forced him to leave a few acres of pinot noir grapes on the vines. "We were lucky to get as much picked as we did today,” said Polite. “We have clean, ripe fruit ... it should be an excellent vintage.”

For many, it appears that final picking will have to wait until the next window of opportunity, which is predicted to arrive no sooner than Thursday, Oct. 3. In the meantime, growers are keeping their fingers crossed that the grapes still hanging won't contract black rot or, if rain persists long enough and hard enough, splitting skins.

At NW Wine Company, Laurent Montalieu said, "We have all been through this sort of thing before and come through just fine. We have brix readings from 21 to 25, and some of the lower levels may make the best wines."

He wanted to remind everyone that this is just the end of September, and that picking began three weeks early. "Our vineyards are about 45 percent picked as this point, and early October is often when we begin harvest."

Positive input from such a veteran of Oregon's annual cool climate challenge puts the weekend’s weather surprise into the longer-term perspective, and most Oregon wine industry observers expect that 2013 will turn out to be an outstanding vintage.


Don Dix

A faulty weather forecast? Seriously? Exactly why would that be a surprise? Gee, there are those who seem to think they can forecast the mood of Mother Nature in 50 - 100 years -- they just never learn (or don't want to).

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