Oregon 2012 – A (Limited) Vintage of a Lifetime

Evesham Wood vineyard

Evesham Wood in Willamette Valley

No major US wine growing region sees more variable vintage conditions than Oregon’s Willamette Valley. We think almost every Oregon vintage has its own unique charms, even if some, like 2007, are slow to reveal them. But fans of lush vintages like 2006 or 2009 are often surprised by the light, supple, elegant wines from years like 2010 or 2004.

The 2012 harvest joins 2008 as the rare vintage that will satisfy fans of almost every style of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Problems with flowering kept the crop small, but the weather remained wonderfully moderate throughout the growing season. Dry, sunny, days and cool, crisp nights in September and October let ripening complete while retaining vibrant acids and allowed winegrowers to harvest at whatever point and rate they preferred.

Weighing in on 2012. So – how good is the vintage? I’ve now heard a dozen or so winemakers echo Willamette Valley legend Ken Wright’s take on the harvest:

“After thirty-five years of winemaking experience in Oregon and California, I can count the truly great years on three fingers. 1979 in California’s Monterey County, 1990 in the Willamette Valley and, yes, 2012 in the Willamette Valley as well. … [T]here 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…I may be dragged out of the winery by my Red Wing boots at eighty without seeing another year like this.”

Notably absent from Ken’s recitation of “truly great years” is the benchmark 2008 harvest. The farther we get from 2008, the more it’s clear that this year’s greatness is taking its own sweet time to emerge. More than a few critics have joined David Schildknecht in his Wine Advocate assessment:

“The obvious point of comparison for growers has been 2008. But having tasted many of the young [2008s] in barrel, I’m not entirely surprised that they have – thus far, at least – remained rather simply fruity; whereas the young 2012s – while lusciously ripe – display more energy, vivacity and interest than the 2008s did at a comparable juncture. The sole drawback looks likely to be 2012’s relatively small crop, conditioned not only by reticent flowering but by the vine’s natural reaction to the abundant set of 2011.”

When I first started encountering 2012 Pinots from Oregon, I was a bit on the fence. The nervy, high-acid 2011s really sung for me and the early-release 2012s seemed a bit too ripe and even heavy next to the tangy 2011s. But the more ‘12s I taste, the more impressed I get. And, the more impressed I get, the more frustrated I become.

Lower Yields, Higher Prices. With yields down 20-40 percent in 2012, there was always going to be a bit of competition for the top wines. But, strong demand for 2012s, lagging sell-through of 2011s, and a challenging set of 2013s waiting in the wings have all led wineries to both limit access to the 2012s and drive price a bit. In virtually every case, “front line” prices are up 5-15 percent over 2010/2011. And the multi-case deals that help us bring you big value bargains by buying in quantity are few and far between.

So, it’s a great vintage that every Oregon Pinot Noir lover is going to want to own and drink, but one that will require you to move quickly and be prepared to spend a bit more than in the past. We’re working hard to find you more opportunities like Evesham Wood Pinot Noir La Grive Bleue 2012, and we’re optimistic that at least a few fine deals will emerge this fall. When you see them, don’t delay!

If you’re a collector or fan who wants to be sure you don’t miss your favorites, just ask to be added to our Oregon 2012 Collectors List. You’ll learn about the best 2012 Pinots as they arrive – and before they’re all gone! To join, call 703.356.6500, email us at wineteam@chainbridgecellars.com, or stop by the store.

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