Here comes the rain again


By Michele Francisco

Despite copious amounts of Vitamin D supplements, I continue struggling with this year’s endless wet weather. While I write this in mid-June, it’s raining… again. Often a cliché, the weather remains all anyone can talk about these days. Of course, conversations between grape growers and winemakers are much more in-depth than those between people waiting in line at the grocery store.

Because I can’t stop talking about the weather, I reached out to Greg Jones, wine climatologist and Abacela’s CEO, to learn more about the wet spring in many parts of Oregon. With Portland experiencing the wettest late spring season in nearly 80 years and rivers flooding, including the Columbia, I asked Jones what he saw for the Willamette Valley. He said, “As for the spring precipitation, we have clearly turned the corner from what appeared to be an extreme summer drought to plenty of spring rains.” His wise observation proved the optimistic, “silver lining, glass half full” perspective I needed to hear.

The spring I moved to Oregon in 2010, was wet– quite possibly the most rain I’d ever lived through. Jones ran the numbers and shared that the spatial average precipitation in the Willamette Valley during March, April and May 2010 was 18.9 inches. Compared with the same period this year, the total is astonishingly close, at 19.1 inches. In fact, the average Willamette Valley rainfall in 2012, over the same period, measured a whopping 23.4 inches. (Surprisingly, I don’t recall the spring of 2012 as particularly wet. Perhaps my mind cleverly blocked those traumatic, waterlogged memories?)

By comparison, last year’s average was just 6.1 inches. Again, the same three-month span measured across the Willamette Valley. Jones also examined the precipitation between the years 1895-2022 (same time frame, same location), a measly 13.7-inch average. I asked Jones for the 2011 total– a soggy 22.24 inches.

What does all this mean? As Jones mentioned, we’re out of any drought-like conditions– at least in the upper western part of the state. Many Willamette Valley grape growers and winemakers experienced similar, uber-soggy spring months and still created stunning wines from those vintages. If you’re ever enjoyed an aged Pinot Noir from 2010, 2011 and 2012, you’ve tasted what I’m talking about.

Lest we forget, the critics predicted 2011 as a year to disregard. The vintage was widely misunderstood by consumers and critics.

In 2013, while working at a winery as a marketer, I vividly recall sitting with the assistant winemaker and tasting through our 2011 Pinot Noirs before dispatching them to various wine critics and publications for scores. After thoughtful discussion, we chose to submit a single Pinot from that vintage, recognizing all the other wines needed more time to mature. We worried they wouldn’t show well to those less familiar with an “Oregon-style” Pinot Noir. Like us, many wineries feared poor scores. Our industry’s shared hunch proved astute, and selling that vintage proved tough.

The same year, after tasting 250 Pinots from our 2011 vintage, Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman wrote, “… if you want consistency, clearly delineated flavors and a sense of presence, you might be disappointed.” He continued frankly, “All but the very best 2011s, however, lack the depth and intensity of a great vintage. The lighter-is-better crowd may not admit it, but a larger percentage than usual whiffed on the vintage and made thin, boring wines. This does not happen in a great vintage.” Ouch.

Yet, certain others in the know dismissed the critics’ dire proclamations and instead stocked up. Winemakers counted their blessings with each bottle sold. Today, the wines from the 2011 vintage– along with 2010 and 2012– have really hit their stride. Whether a prophet or simply fortuitous, if you’ve got any in your cellar, consider yourself lucky and drink up.

After speaking with Jones, I wondered how I will remember this wet spring a decade from now? Will I erase the months of endless rain from my memory, in favor of the hedonistic feelings experienced drinking an outstanding glass of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir? Or will I recall the collective drenching suffered by many as ultimately paying significant dividends in the form of Pinot Noir worth coveting? I suppose only time will tell.

Those with patience might just reap the greatest rewards.

Visit to read Jones’ monthly reports and research.

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