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Southern Oregon vineyards looking at good quality harvest, lower yield

Southern Oregon wine-grape growers are in the midst of their harvest, and so far it looks like fruit quality will be on the better side, but yields may be below normal.

“I haven’t heard any type of negative information with regard to fruit quality for the region. Fruit quality is really excellent,” said Ross Allen of 2Hawk Vineyard & Winery and president of Rogue Valley Vintners.

There was a little bit of rain during bloom and a cool spring and early summer, but then the dry, warmer months helped the crop, Allen said.

“We are seeing some low yields. This is a nontypical narrative with regard to yield,” said Eric Weisinger, owner of Weisinger Family Winery in Ashland. “We are seeing reductions of yield from 20% to 40%. Agricultural yield fluctuates year to year. There are highs to lows.”

Depending on variety, yield usually runs from two to five tons per acre, with three to four tons being typical. But overall yield will likely be lower this year, said Weisinger.

Harvest had been a bit ahead of schedule, but now a more usual pace is expected, said Weisinger.

As of Sept. 22, Weisinger had harvested 42% of its crop and expects to be harvesting into late October. Chardonnay, pinot noir, tempranillo and rose grapes have all been mostly picked.

“We are seeing an accumulation of sugar rather quickly with the warmer weather we had and the lower yield,” said Weisinger. “The sort of upside to a low yield is that, even though you get accelerated sugar ripeness, if the weather plays to your favor, what you are able to get is incredibly flavorful fruit.”

Warmer summers with accelerated sugar ripeness is a trend since 2012, said Weisinger. The last cool vintage came from 2011’s harvest.

“The fruit is reminiscent of ’17 and ’18. The chemistry is right on, ripeness level is where we need it to be. We are very excited about what the 2020 yield has available,” said Allen.

This week harvesting at 2Hawks will include more chardonnay, followed by viognier, a white grape that had faded but has come back, said Allen. Rogue Valley wineries initially had a lot of viognier and tempranillo, he said.

Yield is “spot on’ for 2Hawk, said Allen. The vineyard does a lot of thinning as the endgame is producing premium fruit that translates into premium wine, he said.

In the Applegate Valley, Joe Ginet of Plaisance Ranch was just beginning his harvest Sept. 23. The fruit in the Applegate doesn’t ripen as early as it does in the Rogue Valley, and he will be harvesting into the first week of November at his Williams vineyard.

“Overall, it’s been a good year. I think it’s going to be a good vintage. Yield may be a little under average,” said Ginet, who is president of the Applegate Vintners Association. Other Applegate vineyards are seeing similar results, he said.

Smoke will not impact this year’s crop, Allen and Weisinger said. Smoke from fires created hazardous air quality in the Rogue Valley beginning Sept. 10, and lasted for more than a week. Before then wildfire smoke had only appeared a couple times.

“It’s really a non-issue because of the duration and time of year it has happened,” said Weisinger. Smoke would have to be present for over a month to make an impact, he said.

Smoke during 2017 and 2018 had a little impact on some growers, said Weisinger. During those years grapes were sent to labs to be checked for critical markers, but those never exceeded 20%, which is considered a threshold level. Even if the level is reached, processing techniques can reduce the impact, said Weisinger. He notes that some of the markers are naturally found in good syrah grapes.

In the event a nearby fire left ash on the fruit skin, that would be washed off prior to harvest. Weisinger saw that practice used successfully in Australia when fires occurred during a year he was there.

“In the bigger scheme of things, the type of smoke is a factor, the age, the concentration, the type of fuel,” said Allen “We don’t see anything coming down the pike as far as a lasting impact.”

Thin-skinned grapes can be more susceptible to impact, said Allen, and that includes pinot noir.

“Most of the pinot was off before the smoke made a mess. We are not anticipating any issues related to it,” said Allen. The winery started its picking with some chardonnay, then moved to sauvignon blanc.

A challenge for this year’s harvest has been getting pickers, said Weisinger. Workers lost homes in the Almeda fire, and that has made it more difficult to get help.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwrtier@gmail.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Ross Allen checks grapes at 2 Hawk Winery in Medford.