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09.30.2013  
 

Record Rains Drench Oregon Vineyards

Willamette Valley growers scrambled to bring in fruit before deluge

 
by Peter Mitham
 
 
Oregon rain
 
Jesse Lange, general manager and winemaker at Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards, shared a peek of the “calm before the storm” at his property near Dundeee, Ore., which received several inches of rain this weekend.
Dundee, Ore.—Remnants of tropical storm Pabuk felled rainfall records set more than a century ago in Oregon’s Willamette Valley as the storm swept east across the Pacific this past weekend to drench the Pacific Northwest.

This morning, the National Weather Service reported that single-day rainfall in McMinnville, Ore., yesterday totalled 1.67 inches, breaking the previous record of 0.98 inches set in 1898.

Eugene reported 1.9 inches of rain while Salem reported 1.63 inches, breaking records set in 1994 and 1951, respectively.

Eugene and Salem also set all-time rainfall records for September. The valley usually sees between 1 and 2 inches of rain each September, but Eugene has logged 6.16 inches for the month (“and counting,” according to the National Weather Service), washing away the September 1927 record of 5.21 inches.

Salem posted figures similar to Eugene, topping its 1927 record, while McMinnville has recorded its second-greatest rainfall for the month with 5.58 inches—2 inches less than fell in September 1996.

Effects on wine
But down the road at Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards near Dundee, general manager and winemaker Jesse Lange told Wines & Vines that what he’s tasted to date most closely resembles 2010—a year he considers stellar for Willamette Valley whites.

With a solid growing season with steady heat units behind him, and the vines taking up relatively little of the precipitation that’s fallen, Lange said he is pleased with the relative balance of flavors.

“The flavors are pretty phenomenal, at pretty low Brix levels,” he said. “The whites remind me of 2010, which I think were some of the best white wines that the valley has ever produced.”

Lange expects to receive approximately 300 tons of fruit this year, and as of Sept. 27, before the rains hit, more than half of that was picked. Crews worked to bring in 80 tons of grapes Friday, leaving the harvested vineyards looking like a muddy battleground as picking crews fought to keep ahead of the rains.

Nearby Argyle Winery is also halfway through harvest, but vineyard manager Alan Holstein was more cautious regarding the impact of the rains.

An inch of rain delivers 27,000 gallons per acre, and an acre of vineyard yields 450 gallons of wine, he explained. With grapes continuing to mature despite the deluge, and a lot of water falling in the canopy, on the clusters and dripping down the trunks of the vines, he says it would be unwise to think the precipitation won’t dilute the wines.

He’s reserving judgment until the wines are made, but he said Argyle is still in the game.

The grapes aren’t rotting faster than they’re ripening, and Holstein expects clear weather and 70ºF temperatures later this week to help dry things off. “We made it through a 30-year event and we’re still standing, so things are looking pretty good,” he said.

Lange, for his part, is also looking ahead. “We’re just going to ride it out and start picking again this weekend,” he said.

Academic viewpoint
Weather guru Greg Jones, a professor and research climatologist at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., remarked this morning that the sudden shift in the forecast blindsided everyone.

“This was one of those times where Mother Nature threw us all for a loop,” he told Wines & Vines this morning. “Our best tools and minds just did not fully see the possibility of the event until it was bearing down on us.”

On the plus side, he said it could have been much worse, and some areas received less rainfall than others.

Southern Oregon saw cumulative totals of between 0.5-2 inches, while the Columbia and Walla Walla valleys each reported no more than 0.6 inches.

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