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The 2021 vintage of wines in Oregon State brought both good news and challenges for the winemakers and wine enthusiasts. After the tumultuous 2020 vintage marked by wildfires and smoke, many in the Oregon wine industry were understandably concerned about what the new year would bring. Here's a breakdown of what was good and challenging about the 2021 vintage:
THE GOOD NEWS
Timing of the Heatwave: Oregon experienced a record-setting heatwave in 2021, with Salem reaching a scorching 117 degrees in June. However, the silver lining was that this extreme heat occurred after flowering but before veraison, a critical stage in grape development. The young grapes were still small and hard green berries, making them more resilient to the heat. This timing allowed the vines to cope better with the high temperatures.
The overall sentiment among vintners was extremely positive. The vintage presented so little impact compared to the challenges of the previous year. The grapes seemed to have weathered the heatwave well, and many were optimistic about the quality of the fruit. And the wines are some of the best I’ve tasted over the past decade in Oregon. They do not have a lot of tannin structure, but will have the ability to age for a decade with proper cellaring.
The drought conditions and smaller berries resulting from the water shortage could potentially lead to more concentrated wines. In the world of winemaking, smaller berries can often translate to higher quality as they tend to produce wines with more depth and flavor.
Unlike the previous year, the 2021 vintage was not marred by smoke. The absence of smoke-related issues was a relief for Oregon winemakers, as smoke-impacted grapes can be challenging to work with and may not yield premium wines.
Water Shortage: The persistent drought had an impact on wineries without sufficient access to irrigation. Certain areas received only a fraction of the expected water supply. This scarcity of water led to the development of notably petite berries, a factor that, while potentially advantageous for wine quality, underscored the significance of water resources in the winemaking process.
Reduced Volume: The lack of rainfall between May and early June contributed to a 20 percent decrease in volume across the board. While quality was praised, the lower yield will impact the volume and availability of Oregon wines for the 2021 vintage.
Unusual Weather Patterns: The June heatwave was unprecedented and not part of the norm for the region. While it didn't seem to cause immediate harm to the grapes, there were concerns about its potential impact on the chemistry of the fruit, which would only become apparent later. Luckily, the wines that I’ve tasted have been some of the highest-scoring wines yet from Oregon.
Senior Editor, Oregon