Despite being racked by record high weather temperatures in previous years, wineries in the famous Willamette Valley of Oregon are able to showcase wines from the cooler 2019 vintage at the 6th Annual Willamette Pinot Noir Auction on August 5 this week.
“The purists are going to love 2019,” said Brent Stone, COO and Winemaker at King Estate. “They are lower alcohol wines; very elegant, very pretty.”
The 2019 growing season had cooler temperatures and much more rain than other years, especially compared to the very hot 2020 vintage ravaged by wildfires. According to a 2019 vintage report by Dr. Greg Jones, renown wine climatologist and CEO of Abacela Winery, the season average temperatures were 59.3°F during 2019, which was 1.4°F cooler than 2018.
Because of the cooler climate in the Willamette Valley in 2019 the 92 lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay featured at the auction are described as more ‘classic Oregon.’ The pinot noirs are fresh and elegant with high acidity and notes of red cherry, cranberry, earth and black tea. They are reminiscent of earlier Oregon vintages from the 1970s and 80s, and show more of an old world Burgundian style.
According to Joe Wright, Director of Winemaking and Viticulture at Left Coast Estate, the vintage was “a far cry from the ’18 Vintage – 2019 was relatively mild and cool throughout August then the weather dynamics changed to cold and rainy in September. The cool season has presented wines with ample color, concentration, brilliant acidity, low alcohol and great purity.”
Shannon Gustafson, Winemaker at Raptor Ridge agrees. “ The mild temperatures during the growing season allowed us to maintain natural acidity, highlighting the more floral aspect of Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.”
The Whiplash Weather Patterns of Global Warming
Yet with the cool 2019 vintage in Oregon, there is some concern that people will not believe that climate change is real. This is worrying to Dr. Greg Jones. In his report on the New Climate Normals, he explains that climate normal periods are based on 30 year of data and set by the World Meteorological Organization. The latest tracks weather patterns from 1990 to 2020.
Experts “are concerned,” Jones reports, “that the 1990-2020 normals were so warm that if the coming days, weeks, months, or years are not warmer than those in the new normals period, then the public will think that climate change is not happening. Or in other words, by using the new normals we may be normalizing away climate change.”
In a phone interview Jones explains, “Global warming not only changes averages, but variability in the climate. Modeling evidence for the western US points to greater likelihood of whiplashing from multiple hot/dry years to wetter years in the future.”
Global warming can be detrimental to agriculture crops such as wine grapes, because they are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature. This is especially true of pinot noir, which is considered to be one of the most delicate of red grapes. It truly reflects the vintage. Too much heat, and its delicate skin can be sunburned. Too little sun and it expresses green herbal flavors.
However, in terms of wine quality, the cooler 2019 weather in Oregon, may have been ideal. It allowed winemakers to craft more of a classical style of pinot noir and chardonnay, designed to age well in the bottle.
Willamette Valley Auction Benefits Association and Charities
This year’s Willamette Valley Wine Auction will be held on Thursday, August 5 in a hybrid format. The 92 special lots can only be bid upon by professional members of the wine trade who purchase wine for retails shops, restaurants, and other venues. Participants can elect to bid online, or attend in person at WillaKenzie Estate.
The auction, which raised $503,000 last year, is part of an effort to provide marketing and education efforts for the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, as well as to raise money for a charitable partner. Last year they donated $100,000 to the James Beard Foundation Food & Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous American.