Focus on Oregon Pinot Noir

For the third consecutive year, Oregon’s pinot noir growers were challenged by an array of climatic obstacles in 2005. Following almost non-existent winter precipitation, there was an early bud-break in the middle of March, followed by cold, rainy weather through much of April and May. Cool conditions persisted through the spring and into summer, resulting in a small fruit set with meager clusters. The rest of the summer was dry and quite cool, but September 30 saw the arrival of rain that lingered into the first week of October (1.6 inches fell between September 30 and October 2). According to some growers it was almost impossible to pick in 2005 under dry conditions, unless one waited until the second week of October (or harvested before the arrival of the storms, of course). Luisa Ponzi says that “windows of dryness dictated picking” and that 2005 was “a vintage for diligent vineyard management and experienced winemaking.”

Nonetheless, many of the wines from 2005 demonstrate intriguing restraint and focus (though detractors may call some of these wines malnourished, or even dilute) that will appeal to fans of leaner, lighter pinot noir. There was a dry, leafy quality to many of the 2005s I tasted, and I suspect that fans of the new wave of California pinot noirs, with their often extroverted, fruit-dominant personalities, will find vintage 2005 wanting here. But then Oregon may not be their bag even in the best years.

It should be noted that 2005 is not without its fans. Jim Anderson, co-owner of Patricia Green Cellars, says that “2005 may be our best vintage ever. Perhaps 1999 could rival it but I feel that you will find Oregon 2005s to be superior to that vintage on the whole.” Josh Bergstrom reports that the fruit in 2005 had “amazing vibrancy, purity and physiological ripeness. Seeds and stems were lignified throughout our vineyards, acids were correct and potential alcohols were sound at 12.9% to 13.5%.” Said Melissa Burr, winemaker at Stoller Vineyards: “the hallmark of 2005 is elegance, with moderate alcohol levels and bright natural acidity.”

As I mentioned last year, a chilly, wet spring in 2004 followed by an erratic fruit set ensured a very small crop in this vintage as well. But in 2004, summer conditions were mostly benign, with occasional heat spikes, until mid-September, when unwelcome rain and hail arrived, creating grower angst that was alleviated somewhat by a breezy, warm close to the month. The resulting pinot noirs from this short crop are dense and concentrated, broad-shouldered and seriously structured. The best of them are balanced and elegant, and built for at least mid-term aging. In general, though, I’d err on the conservative side and enjoy most of these wines over the next three to five years, while their fruit remains vibrant.