COMMENTARY

The Locals’ Vintage

By Boris Wiedenfeld

The year 2007 was a terrible vintage for Oregon Pinot Noir, right? After all, that’s what the press has been unified in telling us. From Parker and the Speculator to Tanzer and the Enthusiast, the vintage was slammed. I remember one reviewer going as far to say something along the lines of “you would have to be delusional to expect anything but mediocre wines at best” from this vintage.

So, when I first ‘came out of the closet’ and went on the record as saying that 2007 was one of my top three favorite vintages in recent history, I caught a lot of flack. People have accused me of being Pollyannaish or obviously sitting on too much ’07 inventory. And then, slowly but surely, more and more folks came out in my defense. And more and more of them had last names appearing on some of Oregon’s most sought-after wines. Yet, the national wine press paid almost no attention.

What happened in 2007? In short: Rain at the wrong time.

Growing conditions had been close to ideal throughout the spring and summer, all the way into late September, when it started to rain; and it kept raining until late October. It made for a challenging and tough harvest, but the nights were quite cool and kept botrytis and other harmful organisms in check.

Is 2007 a uniformly great vintage? Absolutely not.  

Some of the worst wines I have tried over the past few years have been from the 2007 vintage, but so were some of the greatest wines I have tasted. This vintage was certainly one that separated the boys from the men, both in terms of winemaking and especially in terms of viticulture. Meticulous farming techniques, canopy- and crop-management and picking decisions were absolutely essential, as were sorting and winemaking procedures.  

Some producers panicked and tried to bring in fruit that was not mature before the rains. Some didn’t manage their vineyards well enough and ended up with fruit that was starting to be affected by rot before it could fully ripen. And some just had plain bad luck with their sites. But a great number of producers were ready for this, having developed better and better ways to manage their vineyards over the past few decades.

I remember Ken Wright telling me that 20 years ago, “this vintage would have been a disaster,” but our industry has matured and those winemakers who knew what they were doing ended up with fruit that was low in sugar, high in acidity but in balance and with great flavors.

The resulting wines can be gorgeous, ethereal examples of Pinot Noir.  Light on their feet, with low alcohol, great acidity and a seductive, subtle complexity of aromas and flavors.  

I wish I could jump forward in time five years to see how they will develop. Oregon’s winegrowers and winemakers did what they are best at: They acted as a conduit to let a vintage and terroir express itself, rather than trying to squeeze it into a box. Let’s face it, if we just wanted reliable consistency, we’d be in Lodi, making Zinfandel.

Apparently, what the press likes to see and many customers—especially on the East Coast—have come to expect, are big, fruit-forward bombs. This still seems to be an ongoing trend in the national media, where the only wines worthy of 95-plus-point scores are inky, over-oaked monsters with 16-percent alcohol. So, if 2003, and to an extent 2006, are your ideals in Oregon Pinot, it begs the question: Why do you drink Oregon Pinot? There are other regions that probably suit your palate better.

Having said that, the diversity of Oregon Pinot Noir is, in my opinion, one of its greatest strengths. Having salmon tonight? There’s a Pinot for that. A hearty lamb-stew? There’s a Pinot for that. Blue cheese and figs? There’s a Pinot for that, too.

Finally, the 2007 vintage makes me proud of our industry and how far it has come over the years. It would have been an achievement to stand up to these challenging conditions and produce something decent. But so many wineries far exceeded this and embraced the qualities of the vintage instead of fighting them and ended up with some of the most charming and interesting wines in recent memory.

Next time you hear people say, “Oh, I heard that 2007 was a terrible vintage,” don’t just roll your eyes but try and educate them a little, or, better yet, pour them a glass. 

Boris Wiedenfeld is the general manager at Oregon Wine Merchants & Sundance Wine Cellars in Eugene.

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