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Vintage Notes

Tyrus Evan

Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir Vintage Notes

The 2015 Vintage
2015 was the warmest year in Oregon’s recorded history; records have been kept throughout the valley since 1924. This level of heat was initially a concern for us hoping that we would not see the vines struggling at the end of the season from drought induced stress. In fact, what we saw at the season’s end were vines with a lush and vibrant canopy. The nutrition-based farming that we have practiced for so many years, really showed its value at the end of the growing season. Rather than achieving high sugar levels through water stressed dehydration, the vines were still fully physiologically active. There was very little senescence (yellowing of the leaves) at harvest. This is a testament of the hard work and focus of our vineyard team; Mark, Seth and Taylor.

The 2014 Vintage
2014 was one of the warmest, driest and most beautiful years of weather in memory. It started early in the spring which led to a very early bud-break. Unlike many other years in Oregon, June was completely summerlike which gave us early flowering as well. The concern we have in a very warm year is that the plant (Pinot noir) might race to ripeness and not have enough hang time required for the development of detail in aroma, flavor and texture. Pinot noir is the earliest ripening red wine variety and this normally necessitates weather conditions that prevent accelerated development. In a year that we were worried about abnormally quick development the increased crop was our friend. We had a very bountiful crop in 2014. The work required of the vine to ripen this increased crop level put the brakes on the plants. Our year was extended by leaving the natural level of fruit and increasing the hang time. 2014 provided an abundance of perfectly ripe Pinot noir. The wine exhibits great depth of color, intense and complex aroma and flavor. The textural profile is lush and balanced. Very beautiful……….…very fun.

The 2013 Vintage
2013 had one of the earliest starts that I can recall. Development during the spring was boosted by a 10 day stretch of weather between May 2nd and May 11th that had an average high temperature of 78.2 degrees F. A real example of our incredible early development was borne out by a single vine in Abbott Claim vineyard. Mark Gould has been tracking the shoot growth by date for this vine for a number of years. On May 18th of 2011, the shoot growth (measured on a piece of vertical lath) was 4 inches. In 2012, the exact same shoot position on the same vine, on the same date, was 12 inches. In 2013, the exact same shoot position on the same vine, on the same date, was 22 inches! Wow! We were way ahead in development compared to a normal growing season and we remained ahead for the remainder of the year.
      Come September, the weather became less stable and we experienced several systems that came through the region. Fortunately, we have the ability to remove rainfall so the diluting effects of any precipitation were easily corrected. Mother Nature did not rain on our parade.

The 2012 Vintage
After thirty-five year of winemaking experience in Oregon and California, I can count the truly great year on three fingers. 1979 in California’s Monterey County, 1990 in the Willamette Valley and, yes, 2012 in the Willamette Valley as well. We have an amazing team with terrific depth of experience that gives us the ability to produce wine that delivers a very pleasurable bottle from the challenging vintages. But there are years when we simply sit in awe as Mother Nature hands us remarkable fruit that only requires that we respect the gift we have received. 2012 is such a year.
      The intensity of color, aroma and flavor is inspiring. The onus has been on us to protect those qualities at all costs. We know how special this vintage is and that this kind of opportunity is rare. My promise to you is that we cared for the fruit from each of our sites as if it was the last great vintage we would experience. I do of course hope this is not true as I expect several decades more of active winemaking. But you never know. I may be dragged out of the winery by my Red Wing boots at eighty without seeing another year like this.

The 2011 Vintage
2011 was the coolest vintage experienced at Ken Wright Cellars. In a normal vintage there is an average of 100 days from bloom to harvest. In 2011 we averaged 115 days, the longest hang time anyone alive can remember. That extra time on the vine provides complexities of flavor and aroma that a shorter, hotter vintage cannot deliver. 2011 delivers beautiful high end aromatics and acidity that will give long life and delineated textural qualities.

The 2010 Vintage
What a weather year 2010 was! We had a very cool and wet spring, followed by an early wet June that saw our vineyard manager Seth’s wife, Kay, lose her car to flowing on the John Day River when it rose ten feet in one day! Totaled.
      The birds were voracious. In all my years I had never seen anything like it. Our belief is that their natural fruit sources were unavailable. The blackberries that year rotted before they were ripe, which left the grapes as the only offering on the menu. Most of our sites came in with reasonable crop levels though Canary Hill had but one ton per acre. Over all we were down almost 30% crop load from 2009. A number of our sites, particularly Canary Hill and Shea, were in short supply this year.
      As we pressed off the fruit this year we were happily stunned at the intensity of color and depth of aroma and flavor that we were seeing. Brilliant laser-like cherry aromas were the dominant theme. Violets, cola, coffee and licorice add further dimension to the aromatic profiles. It is a great testimony to the efforts of Mark, Seth, and Taylor (our vineyard management team) that we could succeed like this with all the hurdles and that Mother Nature provided. We had the benefit of over 110 days of hang-time which also played a role in aroma and flavor development.

The 2009 Vintage
Unlike 2008 we had a rapid start to the 2009 vintage and remained about three weeks ahead of "normal" through most of the summer. Other crops, such as wheat, were paralleling our pattern and maturing early as well. That all changed with the last week of July. We saw record heat levels averaging over 100 degrees and peaking at 107. The response by the vines was to shut down physiologically to conserve moisture. They went into a stall that lingered for several weeks then ramped up again in mid August.
      Labor Day weekend brought a weather system through that resulted in an inch of rainfall. The berries bloated slightly but splitting was minor. This was immediately followed by two days of "Santa Ana like" drying winds. The slightly bloated berries reversed direction and desiccated significantly. In thirty three years I have never seen shriveling of that magnitude or that early in the season. The physical look, or morphology, of the fruit was worrisome. We were concerned that the fruit would have over ripe aromas and flavors in the spectrum of raisin or prune. There was a strong temptation to pick early and avoid any further tests from mother nature. Instead, we decided to trust our instincts and wait for the attributes that we always look to in determining true maturity. Seed color, juice color, the separation of the seed from the pulp, the separation of the pulp from the skin and most importantly the depth of flavor when tasting in the field. So we waited... and waited. Once the stars aligned and all of the aforementioned qualities were in place we moved quickly to bring the fruit in house and out of harms way.
      We were more than a little anxious as we brought the first fermenters to the press. To our delight the new wine possessed no over ripe qualities at all. The aromatic profiles were of fresh and lively fruit and the wine, now six months in barrel, continues to display those fresh fruit qualities. The lesson learned is that what you see is not necessarily what you get.

The 2008 Vintage
This vintage started out cool and remained cool throughout the year. In fact, we had one of the coldest winters and the latest spring snowfall in Oregons recorded history. We were well behind entering September and concerned that we would ever get enough heat to bring the fruit to physiological ripeness.
      After the sixth of October the mild wet pattern we had been experiencing broke and gave way to over 20 straight days of clear warm weather. Fall colors were the most vivid any of us have seen in Oregon. The prolonged dry spell gave all of our sites the opportunity to ripen slowly and evenly. 2008 has natural levels of acidity comparable to 1999 and like that vintage should age effortlessly.

The 2007 Vintage
This vintage is our greatest accomplishment given the potentially disastrous curve balls thrown by mother nature. The biggest, one that Sandy Koufax couldn’t possibly match, was an eight day period beginning in late September over which we received five inches of rain. This weather event began just before our earliest vineyards were achieving ripeness so there was not an option to pick prior to the deluge.
      Fortunately, the same period had very cool temperatures so disease was held in check. Once the skies cleared we sampled each site daily and harvested as each achieved ripeness though each was still diluted by the excessive rainfall. Using technology that we almost never employ we were able to remove the excess rainfall and return the fruit to the levels of concentration that we had previously had. Terrific farming by our team and a little science produced terrific wines of balance and density. Mindful of 1991 which turned out to be the real surprise of the 1990’s.

The 2006 Vintage
An exceptionally warm and dry vintage. With attentive and detailed winemaking we produced lush palate pleasing wines. These are in your face, love me tonight wines about which no one will be saying “this just needs a little time”.
      Be aware that when 1992 (warmer year than 2003 or 2006) developed quickly we alerted our customers to the fact that 1992 possibly would not age terribly long. I have had two of those bottlings from the cellars of friends over the last year that were outstanding. Nonetheless, be prepared for 2006 to have a shorter life span (please refer to the aging chart).

The 2005 Vintage
A very balanced vintage given to us by mother nature that needed zero winemaking intervention. 2005 was a year of “moderation”. Moderate acidity, alcohol, intensity and color have combined to produce a complex vintage that will age well.
      This reminds us of the outstanding 1988, 2000 and 2002 vintages.

The 2004 Vintage
An awesome Spring that had us three weeks ahead of normal gave way to cool and wet weather in the first week of June. This inclement weather coincided with flowering in most of our vineyard sites. As a result, natural crop levels averaged a microscopic 0.8 tons per acre.
      The combination of a small crop and the great spring weather gave us an early harvest which began on the 9th of September. The wines are expressive, balanced, elegant and age-worthy

The 2003 Vintage
A very cool and wet spring was reason for concern until we saw an incredible turnaround in the first week of June. Reliable statistical weather data has been kept since 1924. In 2003 the months of June, July, August and September were the hottest ever recorded with the exception of one year, 1967.
      The record levels of heat produced fruit with exceptionally high sugar levels and resulting alcohol. The wines are broad shouldered, concentrated and dark as a moonless night.

The 2002 Vintage
A particularly warm and beautiful growing season produced fruit with the highest sugar concentrations we had experienced to date. The '02 vintage has the potential to be on par with 1990, our favorite. Across the board the wines are rich, balanced and detailed. These are big wines for the variety but are not overblown.

The 2001 Vintage
The vintage produced complex, fragrant and textural wines. Our aggressive cutting-edge techniques in the vineyard allowed all of our sites to fully ripen prior to any fall rains. The harvest of Oregon vineyards prior to eventual fall rain is the most significant test we face each year.

The 2000 Vintage
Warmer than average growing season gave us opulent fruit that has resulted in forward, lush wines. All of our sites display focused and vibrant aromatics and flavors. These are wines to be enjoyed near and mid-term.

The 1999 Vintage
One of the finest vintages in Oregon’s winegrowing history. We had clear sunny days though the end of October without excessive heat. This gave us tremendous hang time without the loss of acidity. Across the board, the wines are extremely ripe w/ excellent structure and layers of texture.

The 1998 Vintage
Extremely low crop levels in the Dundee Hills & Yamhill Foothills, and normal crop levels in the Eola Hills. Very ripe fruit from all sites w/ slightly lower than usual acidity levels. These will be pleasing wines in their youth & they should all have moderate ability to age.

The 1997 Vintage
Very high natural crop levels required heavy thinning. Wines from the Yamhill Foothill Area are quite ripe. Those from the volcanic sites tend to be more feminine: pretty aromas & subtle textures. This vintage contains higher than usual amounts of sediment. Decanting is recommended.

The 1996 Vintage
Higher acids than usual in this vintage. Aromas have been rather subdued because of the acidity levels; i.e. tight. Many are just now beginning to open up. These should generally be long-lived wines.

The 1995 Vintage
Significant rainfall at harvest caused some dilution and a percentage of rot. Intensive sorting helped us to create clean and pleasant wines. They are not intense, but are currently showing a measure of elegance and finesse.

The 1994 Vintage
Poor weather at bloom gave extremely reduced crop levels. Temperatures soared at harvest, which caused a rapid rise in sugars. The wines are quite ripe, but have little acidity. These are plush wines though not terribly complex.