It was the second week of September when Ken Kupperman called the first pick at the vineyards he oversees for Atlas Vineyard Management in Oregon. The weeks since have been a flurry of activity, as vineyard sites reached maturity at the same time and the state finished one of the quickest harvests in its history. “It’s a blur,” Ken says.
The vineyards Ken farms are primarily planted with rows of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Although white wine grape varieties are usually known for maturing faster than reds, both matured around the same time this fall.
Atlas Vineyard Management’s properties in Oregon are about 15% Chardonnay, and Ken says the variety is having a phenomenal year. That’s great news for wine drinkers, since Chardonnay is the most popular wine varietal among consumers.
Ken reports the 2013 Chardonnay is exhibiting pear and honey characteristics rather than tropical fruit flavors, with favorable vineyard conditions helping acid and pH levels find good balance.
“We had the most beautiful growing season possible,” Ken says, “and the fruit has been gorgeous.” The veteran grape grower says that Oregon often experiences rain in September, and the wine grapes made it through the 2013 fall showers in great shape.
Winemakers and weather
As in our vineyards in California, Atlas works with Oregon winemakers to decide the optimum time to harvest for wine style. Our clients in Oregon include large wineries like King Estate and Ponzi Vineyards as well as small producers such as ROCO Winery, the private wine label of famed Oregon winemaker Rollin Soles.
But unlike California, where bright sun and high temperatures lead growers to harvest at night, fall afternoons in Oregon average around 60ºF, making it possible to start harvesting around 7 a.m., when the sun is out, and deliver fruit to winery clients around 2-3 p.m.
For small boutique wineries, Atlas sometimes harvests as little as 2-3 tons of grapes. Larger deliveries often reach 12 tons and higher in the Willamette Valley.
About 85% of the vineyards Atlas farms in Oregon grow Pinot Noir. Due to the favorable conditions during this growing season, Pinot Noir clusters from high-elevation sites were able to hang longer on the vine, allowing extra time for tannins and acidity to soften.
“They had a beautiful window to get ultra richness,” Ken says. “We had an optimal growing season and a wonderful finish to an amazing year.”