Growing Pinot Noir in Oregon’s Willamette Valley
2013 has been a relatively good growing season so far for Oregon Pinot Noir. We had an early spring in terms of warmer temperatures and drier weather in April and May. Budbreak and bloom were on time or slightly ahead and we just concluded fruit set. The clusters are very full and berry size is even. We will be counting clusters and weighing clusters in the next couple of weeks to determine how much fruit to cut off to maximize quality.
We have raised catch wires to the top of the posts and hedged the vines. We have also removed leaves on the east side of the vines to open up the canopy and expose the fruit to cool morning sunlight. We are cutting and plowing under more cover crop to eliminate competition for water, as we are having a few more hotter days than normal and drier ground water. In fact, our number of hours hotter than 50 degrees is similar to California’s Sonoma County so far this year. We have had a few more days of higher than normal humidity, as well, that increases propensity for mildew pressure. Therefore, we have been more diligent in our spray program to ensure the vines are protected. The drier than normal conditions have made this easier to manage.
The growth of the vines has slowed down, so less time is being spent on raising wires and shoot positioning, but it seems that we are still constantly working in the vineyard doing one thing or another. The clusters are starting to fill in and are about half the size of the final berry size. They will begin to come to size at the end of August when veraison starts to take place. Veraison is the ripening stage of the grapes as they change color and begin to develop sugar content, decrease in acids, and begin to develop flavor. After veraison, the grapes continue to ripen to maturity. Maturity of the fruit is determined by physiological characteristics such as seed color, pulp consistency, skin tannins, and flavor profile; we will observe changes in these areas while continuing to measure the sugar and acid levels in the grapes until they acheive the balanced combination of characteristics that is ideal for harvest. Waiting for the physiological ripening of the fruit is most important for harvesting the highest quality fruit possible.
Presently it’s mid-July and all is well for Oregon Pinot Noir, but we are looking forward to the unique impressions that August and September will leave on the grapes. Every vintage is different, and that is one of the things that makes growing Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley so fascinating!