Oregon winegrowers tout high-quality crop after spring frost

By GEORGE PLAVEN Capital Press Oct 26, 2022

Winegrape harvest has wrapped up at Ridgecrest Vineyards near Newberg, Ore.
Courtesy of Harry Peterson-Nedry

It has been a year of twists and turns for Oregon winemakers like Jessica Mozeico of Et Fille Wines.

Mozeico grows approximately 22 acres of winegrapes in the northern Willamette Valley. Her family’s winery in Newberg produces 2,500 cases of wine annually, including Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and Viognier.

The season got off to a slow start, Mozeico said, thanks to an unusually cool and wet spring. Then, just as some vines began emerging from dormancy in mid-April, the region experienced a hard frost that damaged buds and threatened to kneecap the 2022 vintage.

“At that time, I thought it would in particular affect the Viognier, Chardonnay and earlier ripening Pinot noir sites,” Mozeico said. “My approach was to wait and see.”

Summer brought a turn for the better, she said, with warm and dry weather extending into October allowing the fruit to ripen and develop sugars after falling behind early.

Though the badly timed frost did kill some buds, Mozeico said said her plants compensated by growing larger, heavier grape clusters. She wrapped up harvest on Oct. 21, with yields “exactly on target” compared to a normal year.

“What I learned this harvest is that a vine has a maximum potential it wants to achieve,” she said. “If there are fewer buds at play, the clusters themselves (grow) extremely large.”

Other winegrowers from across the state are reporting a similar trend.

Harry Peterson-Nedry, of Ridgecrest Vineyards in Yamhill County, said he initially anticipated a 40-60% decline in yield due to frost damage. Instead, harvest came in closer to 90% of normal.

“I’m personally very pleased at this point,” he said. “What could have been a disastrous year because of the freeze is not much different from a normal year.”

Like Mozeico, Peterson-Nedry said having an extended growing season that lasted into October was helpful after the soggy spring.

“We also started with a lot of water reserves in the soil,” he said. “That, I think, was a big thing. It definitely encouraged robust canopy growth, and the timing of bloom seemed appropriate to what we had on the vines.”

Farther south, the Umpqua and Rogue valleys had similar growing conditions.

Greg Jones, CEO of Abacela Winery south of Roseburg, said cool and wet weather from April to early June set vine growth back 2-4 weeks. Frost also damaged some buds in early ripening varieties, “but the flowering period was perfect, producing a very good fruit set this year.”

“A glorious summer with almost no rain, warm days but little heat stress, and cool nights continued through to late October allowing for a phenomenal ripening period,” Jones said. “Fruit that was harvested had higher than expected yields, with slightly lower sugar levels than average, but wonderful flavors and balance.”

Andy Myer, of Goldback Wines in Ashland, said a few of his vineyards were affected by frost — primarily Chardonnay and Pinot noir.

The persistently dry summer did have one other unintended consequence, Myer said, with bears and other wildlife coming down from the nearby mountains into the vineyards in search of food. Yields may be down this year, though Myer said the quality of winegrapes appears to be exceptional.

“There was some concern with the late start to harvest that a cooler, wet fall would pose some challenges, but thankfully we had a fantastic month of October,” he said.

George Plaven

I cover issues affecting Oregon agriculture. Have a news tip? Let me know!

Back to top button