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Recent Willamette Valley Vintages: General Summaries

“There is a personality to each vintage, a pedigree made of weather and terroir that is both intellectually and hedonistically interesting.”
Harry Peterson-Nedry, Chehalem Wines


According to Greg Jones of the University of Southern Oregon, 2011 was between the 9th and 11th warmest year on record. Spring and early to mid summer were very cool and wet. More than 250 minimum temperature records were broke during that period and over 400 precipitation records were exceeded. Bloom in the Willamette Valley was in July!

The crop was huge but it was feared that it would not ripen. The season turned around in September, which was one of the top three warmest Septembers on record in Oregon. September was also relatively dry so the fruit did ripen, and it was termed a “miracle harvest.” Most grapes were brought in under warm, sunny skies and there were only modest issues with birds and botrytis. Many vineyards were picked as late as the first week of November.

Alcohols were generally low and about the same as in 2010, but the grapes had a surprising level of color and depth of flavor.

The total harvest was 25% larger than 2010 and a new record for Oregon.


January and February were the warmest on record. Spring was very cool and wet. Greg Jones reported that from July through September and early October, temperatures were near normal to slightly cooler with fewer than normal heat spikes and normal rainfall totals. The season was similar to 2008 in cumulative growing degree day values. Most vineyards had to drop fruit to insure fruit ripening. Bird issues were a serious problem and began earlier than usual with some crops decimated. Harvest was delayed 2-3 weeks.

The resultant wines had full flavors at lower Brix with brighter acidity although less color.

Yields were reduced and overall production decreased by 22%, the lowest level since 2005.


A warm and sunny growing season that was warmer than 2008. There were some cool conditions in late September and early October, but most of the fruit came in at or near full ripeness. The ideal harvest wrapped up by the third week of October.

The wines turned out fleshy but had better balance and freshness than the hot 2006 and 2003 vintages. The overall quality was superb and the wines were intensely fruited, showy, and somewhat forward. Very ripe fruit flavors are not uncommon. Alcohols were higher, with more acidity than in 2006.

Plentiful yields.


The most perfect growing season ever in the Willamette Valley. Spring was late and cool, summer was cool, but the sun came out in early September and 7 weeks of sun ensued.

The resultant wines are considered the best overall vintage ever for Oregon. They have impeccable balance, great structure, and impressive age ability. The wines are not easily approachable, even now, but those that are more forward are crazy good. Every pinotphile should have at least a few cases of the 2008 vintage in their cellar.


Wet, cool start to the growing season led to disease pressure. Good weather during set led to a fairly large crop. Rains started in late September which continued into October. Successful harvest was dependent on being able to pick between the major rains and thinning for a smaller crop.

The wines were initially written off by many in the wine press. There were more large berries so more juice per ton and the resultant wines were less extracted than usual. Initially the wines were lean, but have taken on weight and complexity over time. Currently they are elegant and will age several more years. Generous yields.

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service (,

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