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2010 Oregon Pinot Noir: Wines Endowed with Romance, Depth & Ostentation


First the bad news for the 2010 vintage in the Willamette Valley. January and February were the warmest on record. Spring was very cool and wet, and until July, growing degree days were behind every vintage dating back to 1999. Temperatures from July through September and early October were near normal to slightly cooler. Vineyards had to drop fruit to insure fruit ripening leading to a reduction in yields of 22% ( average Pinot Noir yield per harvested acre was 1.66 according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service), resulting in the lowest production level since 2005. Ravenous birds descended on vineyards earlier than usual, refused to be deterred by any of the usual effective means, resulting in devastation of some crops. Harvest was delayed by 2 to 3 weeks when the threat of rain loomed.

Now the good news. The 2010 vintage turned out to be one of the best vintages for Pinot Noir ever in the Willamette Valley, rivaling the greatest years of 1993, 1999 and 2002: “Ten is Zen.” The extended hang times and low yields led to wines displaying lush, ripe fruit with great depth of flavor at lower alcohol levels with perfectly matched acidity and modest tannins. Sure, there are exceptions and some wines are lacking in color and flavor intensity attributable to under ripe fruit, but the majority are clearly ostentatious. The 2010 Pinot Noirs are also very user friendly upon release, and in keeping with previous cooler vintages in Oregon, they should age extremely well.

Perhaps Maggie Harrison, winemaker and one of the proprietors of Antica Terra, summarized the 2010 vintage best. “As we sat across from our accountant, a 30-year veteran of the industry and self-proclaimed Oregon wine visionary, he leaned comfortably back in his chair, cracked his knuckles, and with almost a gleam in his eye predicted 2010 would be a “bloodbath” for the Oregon wine industry. This moment and its surreal, cinematic quality captures the apocalyptic mood that attended our experience with the 2010 vintage. Yields were very low. Poor fruit set, combined with draconian thinning and the tariff exacted by birds, left us with less than half the wine to offer compared with previous years. But the wine that we have is exquisite. The 2010 wines share the concentration of 2008, but are slightly less tannic and about a half-degree lower in alcohol. This slight dip in alcohol translates into wines of perfect pitch that resonate more clearly than anything we have produced before. The experience of making these wines has shown us the beauty that can emerge when the weather pushes us and our vines further than we thought possible.”

You might ask why I omitted 2008 in pointing out the greatest vintages in Oregon. The 2008 vintage offered the perfect growing season in the Willamette Valley, and many consider this vintage the best overall ever for Oregon. The wines do have impeccable balance, great structure and impressive age ability. However, they were not easily approachable on release, and even now, remain closed down and monolithic. They have softened, but still not expressive aromatically. Only time will tell.

A number of 2010 vintage Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs were favorably reviewed in May 2012 in the PinotFile (www.princeofpinot.com/article/1217/). Since then, I have had the opportunity to sample a number of other 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs and my excitement over this vintage has not wavered. After attending the International Pinot Noir Celebration in July 2012, I spent a week in the Willamette Valley visiting wineries and tasting 2010 Pinot Noirs from bottle. In addition I tasted barrel samples of the equally promising 2011 vintage. My full report follows.

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