Chateau Latour

Springtime in Oregon is always a welcome sign! The rain starts to let up a little, flowers bloom all over, and a lush blanket of green overpowers the grayness Oregonians are used to living with during the rainy winters. Outside of Mother Nature showing off its beauty, it is also a time to start exploring new vintages of wine popping up throughout the Valley.

Wineries are starting to release their 2021 vintages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is a welcome sign for consumers and producers since the wildfires tainted the 2020 vintage. Many wineries did not release any 2020 Pinot Noirs resulting in a reduction of library wines. These wines were used to keep sales afloat, and customers/club members delighted. Everyone was ready to put 2020 behind them and move forward. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was still in complete control by providing a few anxiety-filled moments throughout the year.

The fires of 2020 were devastating. I am beyond grateful I was not personally in danger of the fires. However, the epic ice storm on February 15th was a horse of a different color. I have incredibly tall evergreen trees in my backyard. I remember trying to sleep at night with several nights without power hearing huge limbs of trees crashing to the ground. My backyard was a complete mess filled with limbs that could have easily crushed the roof of my house. I was fortunate, but some neighbors were not.

Luckily, it was winter, and the ice didn’t affect the vines. Overall, bud break occurred a few weeks prior compared to previous years happening in the Valley the first part of April. Rain in mid-June knocked flowers off the vine, reducing the crop, but it was a blessing in disguise for a couple of reasons. The first was a “Heat Dome” occurring at the end of June, reaching temperatures of 119 degrees marking the hottest day recorded in Oregon history. The other is 95 days with no rain.

Fortunately, during the “Heat Dome,” the vines shut down, and unirrigated vines survived. Some fruit was scorched from the direct sunlight while others with canopies shielding the fruit were unharmed. Mid-August the temperatures started to cool down a bit, and early September provided more relief with refreshing rains.

It’s always more interesting to hear what winemakers throughout the state thought of the vintage.

Andy Lytle - Lytle-Barnett Vintage Sparkling Wines 
“I’m very excited to say that 2021 ended up being a perfect season. Coming off 2019 being a little cool, and the smoke of 2020, we really needed a good harvest, and we got it. Flower happened just at the end of the heat dome, so it did not negatively impact the fruit. We did notice an odd phenomenon we called “vine to vine variability,” where we had 10 perfect vines and then 1 or 2 with low yield shatter type fruit set, which made it tough to determine weights mid-season. Overall, we expected that quality would be high, but the yield could be low. After a warm summer and almost no traceable rain over the final 100 days, both the quality and the yield came in just perfect. We picked fruit about 10 days earlier than last year, with our final picks at the end of September, just before the rains arrived.”

Jackson Holstein - Granville Wines 
Once we enter September, I usually begin taking notice of a few quality indicators. Some of which are a bit more rudimentary but amazingly accurate in retrospect. The first is how cold Ayla gets at night with our windows wide open. If she needs extra blankets, the odds are that the acid levels in the grapes and resulting wines will be great. In fact, I think I could almost draw a numerical reference chart at this point. Secondly, the level of mud that gets tracked into the winery every morning after we sample the vineyard usually indicates a wet versus dry harvest. The wetter it is, the more mud I end up cleaning off the floor every day with noticeable levels of anxiety. This year Ayla needed a few extra blankets, and the mud was kept to a minimum! A win for this winemaker!

Kelley Fox - Kelley Fox Wines 
After another very hot, droughty year here and the heat dome of June, I was more than a little anxious that a repeat of 2020 was looming. Summer was tense for me. But somehow, and I don’t know how, the fruit ended up being the most delicious-smelling during fermentation across the board that I can remember. Delicious-tasting, too. No hot vintage character is present, either. Very balanced and nice acidity. Bracing in some cases. I don’t need to understand why or how that happened. What a gift the fruit this year is!

Harry Peterson Nedry - RR Wines 
Based on full-ripeness AND generally very good acidity, 2021 may resemble 2018, especially in concentration, as well as notably warm vintages like 2014-17 or early century 2003 and 2006. Winemaking decisions will determine the finesse and grace with which the size is carried. Whether a problem for growers last year or not, without the specter of climate change burning brightly in neighboring counties, 2021 seemed to be an ‘easy, wait-until-they’re ripe vintage with a welcome splash of rain just to prove we’re Oregonians’.

Hearing all about the weather conditions and what the winemakers have to say is nice, but how does this translate to the wine? Here are a handful of 2021 wines I have explored so far.

2021 Guerrilla Wine Co. Chehalem-Mountains AVA Pinot Noir
My first sniffy sniff of this wine, I knew I was in for a treat! There is an abundance of fruit to take in and savor on the nose, including bright red fruit, and I won’t even begin to how long I smelled this wine before I took a sip. An hour later, it is still smelling off the charts delicious! All of the fruit from the nose greets you with open arms for a mid-palate gushing with red fruits giving wonder of what to expect on the finish, but we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves too much. For some Pinots, the fruits slowly dither away, but holy Toledo Batman, this fruit refuses to give up. For this finish, you are presented with the first possibility of an integrated tannin, and those fruits linger forever in every crevice of the palate. Wow!

2021 Arabilis Columbia Gorge Dampier Vineyard Chardonnay 
Look at that golden hue in the glass! Trying this Chardonnay at different temperatures is a fun expedition to examine. I enjoyed this after sitting at room temperature for about 40 minutes. The tumultuous and racy mid-palate ravenously engages your mid-palate so much when swirling it from side to side that you only want to escape into a far away bliss. At some point, returning to reality, the realization of great acidity reassures us how this bottle was made to age. One last sigh before saying farewell to this sip, the finish continues to tease all of your senses with an everlasting wild and tumultuous finish!

2021 Walter Scott X Novo Vineyard Pinot Noir 
There’s a reason why I am holding onto almost all of my Walter Scott bottles, and this wine exemplifies my logic. Excellent dark fruit on the nose, entry, and mid-palate. On the mid-palate, you need to pay attention to this wine. There is a decadent flavor profile I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s there, and it’s lovely, and I want more. This unique distinction continues onward to a stunning long lingering finish.

2021 Lavinea Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir
It’s time to start getting to know the 2021 Vintage, and what better place to start than a Pinot from the Eola-Amity Hills! In the glass, lovely dark deep tones of red with a lighter color rim bring an excellent expression of darker fruit on the nose. On entry reminds me of magically being escorted to my table in a busy Michelin-star restaurant and feeling like I am on the VIP list. On the mid-palate, my VIP feelings are acknowledged with a soft silkiness of fruit, reminding me of an overlapping of dark and light red fruit intersecting to create a perfect Venn diagram bringing out a slight forest floor and a long, succulent finish full of fruit, spice and everything nice!

2021 Niew Vineyards Chardonnay  
This is delicious! In the glass, the pale yellow color shows signs of its youth. The nose is light, giving slight floral whisps, reminding me of a cool, crisp Oregon Spring morning. On the mid-palate, it is full of acidity, showing signs of aging way past any teenage awkwardness. The finish starts lightly but comes in pleasurable waves of intensity.

Reflecting on the 2021 Vintage 

Chateau Latour

Spring is always an exciting time in Oregon for the weather and to explore a new vintage. Even though Mother Nature delivered a few tricks to producers in 2021, ultimately, we can enjoy some spectacular wines to share with friends and family.

Reflecting on the 2021 vintage reminds me of the humbleness and gratitude throughout the Oregon Wine Community. In closing, here is a quote from Jackson Holstein, winemaker at Granville Wines, on what wines changed his life.

I was asked a few weeks back what wines have changed my life. I stuttered because that just isn’t how I view wine. I remember the dinners, the people, the conversation. I remember the genuineness, the thought-provoking topics, and erupting laughter. The wine then becomes the perfect connector, not the showpiece or the status symbol, but the symbol of our intention to embrace one another in that moment.

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