Southern Oregon vintners were champs in many ways during the past year.
Accolades and reviews kept the highlight reel rolling for local wineries. But just like sports franchises, there comes a time to move on to the next season.
The early clues about where the Southern Oregon wine industry is headed arrived in the 2016 Oregon Harvest Report compiled by the Portland-based Oregon Wine Board.
"There's been a lot of awareness and press coverage saying: 'Hey, Southern Oregon is making great wine,'" said Oregon Wine Board spokesperson Michelle Kaufmann. "And a lot of people are still responding, 'Southern Oregon makes wine?' "
The annual report is an accumulation of anecdotal reports from the vineyards, and there's plenty of good news both here and in other parts of the state.
The early harvest, which isn't completely in for some growers, created different approaches and opportunities.
"Similar to the last two vintages, the 2016 growing season continued to push the envelope for defining the new normal in Oregon," the report stated.
A warm spring, moderate summer and a mild fall provided even growing conditions through véraison, the onset of ripening.
"Though it was an intense growing season due to the early start, the fruit produced throughout the state resulted in wonderful concentration and complexity with characteristic natural acidity," the report stated.
An early bud break was followed by a summer that produced fewer heat spikes than in 2015 and 2014. Smaller berries ripened earlier. There were few signs of disease, pests or bird affects, while cooler temperatures in September and October limited the growing days along the lines of 2013 and 2014.
The relatively stress-free vintage resulted in average yields and high-quality fruit statewide, Southern Oregon University environmental science and policy professor Greg Jones said.
Foris Winery and Vineyards winemaker Bryan Wilson said 2016 can be summed up in one word: early.
"Adapting to the third straight year of early and warm vintages, we initiated night harvesting, which allowed us to deliver cold fruit to the winery and wrap up picking by 10:30 a.m. daily, a real saving grace," Wilson said. "Overall quality looks to be quite good to exceptional. The pinot noirs are quite forward, with dark fruit and well- ripened tannins retaining very good natural acidity. The late-ripening reds had the opportunity to develop dark purple/black color, mature tannins and dense, concentrated flavors with great structure."
That said, he anticipates an exceptional Gewürztraminer vintage.
Dancin Vineyards owner Dan Marca said cooler average summer temperatures were advantageous, providing the opportunity for much longer hang times than in recent years, resulting in richer flavors.
"It's also important to note that our average start date for irrigation was the third week in July versus the first week of July during the past three years," Marca said. "Our yields were within 5 percent of average, and the quality of the crop has been amazing."
The early arrival didn't bother the 35 wineries around the state crushing 28 varieties of grapes from the 300 acres grown by Don and Traute Moore at Quail Run Vineyards.
"All of our winemakers were very happy," Traute Moore said. "We've received a lot of recognition this year, but I think with the quality we have here that will remain pretty steady."
While most growers were pleased to hang up their trimmers a few weeks earlier this year, a few grapes remain on the vine at Serra Vineyards.
"We're hoping to do a port for the first time this year," said assistant winemaker Liz Wan. "We have very nice frost protection on the estate, and coupled with that we've had mild weather. It's been sunny every day in the Applegate for the past week. So we're not thinking that it's an issue to pick until we get the last couple of brix."
Wan is also an industry consultant, who visits trade shows, festivals and tasting rooms, along with wine writers.
"I've never seen so many out-of-state and international guests come through our valley," Wan said. "The majority were referencing the hype and press."
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.