Miraculous wine harvest of 2011

The drawn-out and downright scary growing season at local vineyards wasn't what winemakers had in mind for producing great grapes, but that's what some of them got.

Although most vineyards were about three weeks behind schedule with harvest, a warm and unusually dry October allowed vintners to hold their grapes on the vine long enough to fully ripen. "We were just very thrilled to have the season and the weather change the way that it did," said Robert Trottman, general manager of Weisinger's of Ashland Winery. "It was miraculous."

Additionally, fruit yield was up by an average of 30 percent across Southern Oregon's viticulture areas for the 2011 growing season, said Greg Jones, a professor and research climatologist at Southern Oregon University who is internationally known for his research into the region's wine industry.

"The fruit set was just very good this year," he said. "Even though it was three weeks to a month behind schedule, it was a very good flowering period, and it produced (grape) clusters that were just larger than normal."

Not everybody saw a 30 percent increase; some didn't see any, but others harvested 50 percent more grapes this year, Jones said.

Lee Mankin, owner of Carpenter Hill Vineyard, near Phoenix, didn't see his yield jump.

As summer continued to sputter out of a cold spring, Mankin started getting nervous in July and began thinning out the grapes from his vines, he said. "The way the weather was going, I didn't think the fruit would ripen," he said. "I think the vineyards that kept their fruit on the vine probably had some high yields."

Pallet Wine Co. in downtown Medford processed about 400 tons of grapes this year, compared with 220 last year, said its winemaker, Linda Donovan.

Regardless, Mankin plans to produce some of the best wine ever to come out of his 42-acre, family-owned vineyard.

"The syrah," he said. "I've already had feedback. "… Because the fruit ripened very slowly this year, the flavor development was just excellent."

Mankin said his July grape-thinning may have been the secret to what should be a well-balanced syrah, one that already has good sugar and acid levels to depend on.

Although most of the details are being kept a secret, Weisinger's is planning to introduce a new bottle of blended white wine from this year's grape harvest, said Trottman.

"We are known for some pretty complex, highly layered and developed white wine," he said. "This one's going to be the best."

Trottman said the new white wine will have a new name and label.

"Some of this year's white wines will be mind-blowing," he said, also citing a good balance of sugar and acid.

"Most people are extremely happy with what they got this year," said Jones. "There are so many things that can happen between harvest and putting it in a bottle "… but they think they have good wine this year."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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