By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Virus a bitter note after upbeat wine harvest

On the heels of an overall positive harvest in 2019, Oregon’s wine industry faces a jittery 2020 — especially as the spring wine-tasting season approaches.

“Right now, the wine industry is in the same place as other industries,” said Gregory Jones, director of Linfield College’s Evenstad Center for Wine Education.

The major challenge is tourism, as “business is going to be down,” he said.

Numerous area wineries have shuttered their tasting rooms in response to the coronavirus.

“Effective immediately, we will be closing our tasting room to the public for a minimum of two weeks,” Gary Mortensen, president of Stoller Family Estate, announced Monday.

He said the Dundee winery will offer curbside delivery for orders placed through its website.

“We are taking the appropriate precautions for our guests, our employees and our community,” he said.

Other tasting rooms remain open, including Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton.

J’Aime Du Mauriee, a tasting room associate, said the tasting room remained open for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend crowds.

“I was surprised to see on Saturday that we were very, very busy,” she said.

No one knows how long the outbreak of the virus that causes the disease Covid-19 will last. It could be weeks or months.

If months, Jones said, the blow to the tourism aspects of the wine industry could be formidable. If weeks, the damage could be minimal.

“This is a time of year when things are somewhat slow,” he said. “The pruning is over, and basic vineyard work is down.”

Should global efforts to slow the pandemic prove effective, wineries might manage, Jones said.

Another reason the wine industry might recover is that the 2020 harvest remains months away. “If the pandemic clears in a month or two, the labor should be relatively stable,” Jones said.

It certainly did in 2019, he said in his annual Vintage Report delivered at Linfield College March 2. The previous year experienced harmful wildfires in Oregon, particularly in southern areas of the state.

The result was a great deal of smoke-damaged grapes.

No such damage was seen in 2019, Jones said. The only problem last year was the erratic weather, he said.

“We saw October rain in September, November temperatures in October and October temperatures in November,” he said. “We had an end of the season that was a little bit of a challenge.”

Overall, he said, Oregon experienced a positive wine harvest in 2019. “This will be a very elegant vintage, lower than average alcohol, but a very elegant vintage,” he said.

Tom Danowski, president of the Oregon Wine Board, agreed with Jones’ assessment.

“The first three weeks of September’s cool-down with some brief autumn rain in the northern parts of the state left winemakers optimistic that while the growing season was shorter and crop yields more in line with historical averages, the acids and sugars should be beautifully balanced,” Danowski said.

Yet it is hard to express much pride in the 2019 harvest at a time when the world faces a pandemic that will affect every aspect of society.

“All this is unchartered territory for everyone, including the wine industry,” Jones said.

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