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Pinot Noir 2002: 'The Quality is Superb'
By Gregory S. Walter

MANY OF THE GENERAL REPORTS SO FAR about the 2002 harvest, particularly in California, have focused on the down economy and an oversupply of grapes which have caused a percentage of grapes to go unharvested this year. This situation has been less of a problem with Pinot Noir, since Pinot's supply/demand equation is more in balance. From the results of our surveys, 2002 in California and Oregon looks to be one of the best years in recent memory.

In both California and Oregon the story is more or less the same. 2002 was a long, cool growing season with plenty of sunshine and a few heat spikes giving the wines the best of both worlds: very ripe flavors with great acidity. One of the most common comments we've seen from winemakers and growers was the incredible hang time the weather conditions allowed this year. Oregon's grape crop is expected to be up 2 percent over last year, at a record 23,300 tons, according to the Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service.

We asked winemakers and growers up and down the West Coast for a progress report on their 2002 harvest. We also wanted to hear any interesting harvest stories as well as an update on how their 2001 Pinots are shaping up. We also asked them to give us a feel for the culture of the harvest—what do they drink, what do they eat—what gets them through this busy, stressful and incredible time. I'm reminded of a time at least a dozen years ago when I was traveling in Portugal during the harvest up in the Douro Valley. The harvest there is, as everywhere, a lot of hard work, but it's also a festival—a celebration of each day's success. Big, hearty meals, aching muscles, lots of dancing and great wine and port at night makes for a life event that's hard to beat for its impact.

Here are some of the harvest reports and interesting stories from the winemakers and growers we surveyed, starting with two from Oregon. We don't have reports from all regions yet, but will bring you those in subsequent issues.

According to Veronique Drouhin, of Domaine Drouhin Oregon in the Willamette Valley, "So far 2002 is looking excellent. [As of Oct. 10] we have brought in 50 percent of the fruit. At that point we stop the harvest until next Monday [Oct 14]. It's probably a little risky but we take the risk! The first cuvée shows beautiful color, lovely fruit but rather low acids. We expect the next part of the crop to be higher in acid and slightly lower in sugar."

"We do [the harvest] the French way," Drouhin said. "We have great meals every day for lunch. No picnic or sandwiches but lovely meals prepared by local restaurants and then once a week by our dear and talented friend Anya! It is for us a good occasion to try Oregon Pinot Noir from all our friends."

A short distance to the northwest at Willakenzie Estate, Winemaker Laurent Montalieu posted this report on their website. "We started picking the Pinot Noir blocks on Sept. 27 and as of Oct. 10 we had more then 80 percent of our Pinot Noir grapes gently fermenting at the winery. The season so far has been exceptional for us. After a long dry summer during which we irrigated the vines a few times to keep them producing good sugars and tannins, we made the risky decision (yes, there is weather in Oregon, like in Burgundy!) to wait for full flavor development. The result for the Pinot Noir is great concentration, great balance between sugars, acidity and tannins. It looks like we have another winner with the 2002 vintage! That will be five in a row and counting!"

Moving south to California, Eugenia Keegan of Keegan Cellars told us that "harvest is the time when I hope to take off the 10 pounds I gain when on the road selling and eating!"

Keegan goes on to describe her harvest in the Russian River Valley: "What a great year this has been! [It's been] very smooth and without the problems of weather, scheduling or anything for that matter. Yields were down, perhaps 20 percent with my Pinot vineyards coming in between 1.6 and 2.5 tons an acre. The wines are dark and concentrated and I am expecting great things from them."

Also in the Russian River Valley, Merry Edwards of Merry Edwards Wines reports: "We have completed our harvest. Actually we harvested our last lot of Pinot on Sept. 26. We are in the process of pressing off and barreling down earlier lots," she said. "The wines are looking lovely—packed with fruit. Everything came in fully ripe. Some vineyards were quite short [on quantity], and some very much so. Klopp Ranch had extremely poor set and at harvest was off by 50 percent. The wines are going to be concentrated and fabulous! Our other vineyards were about 20 percent short. The Meredith Estate vineyard continues to show great promise. I was fortunate to get more grapes from Windsor Gardens this year so I will be able to produce nearly 500 cases."

Margi Williams of Brogan Cellars reports: "I am still up to my neck in grapes as the coastal grapes are still coming in. [2002 is] perhaps one of the best years since 1994 for the Russian River Valley and coastal grapes," Williams said. "We had a number of folks fly out here from Arizona and work with us for a week. We had many too many late nights filled with wine and food."

"The winery harvest dinner included a tasting of 2000 Pinot Noirs and a four-course meal cooked by friend Mike Matson," Williams said. "We had many great wines but I do remember one that blew my mind, well two. The 1982 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was still incredible—20 years later. The 1980 Zinfandel my father [Burt Williams] made in his cellar tasted as if it was made a couple years ago, with incredible fruit and body left. We also had a 1990 Richebourg from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and that was also an incredible wine."

From his vantage point in the westernmost reaches of the Carneros region in the Sonoma Valley, Walter Schug of Schug Carneros Estate Winery filed this report. "Our Pinot Noir harvest is complete. The quantity was less than expected, good for the industry in general, not so good for the individual vineyard owners. We did have to buy extra fruit. The bunch count was there but the bunch weight was low. There was some cold weather during bloom which caused poor pollination. The good news is that there seems to be good concentration of fruit. The warm weather during harvest had the Pinot Noir competing [for space] with the Chardonnay harvest."

In Monterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands, Dan Lee of Morgan Winery is enthusiastic about his 2002 harvest. "We have 75 percent of our Pinot Noir in the barn right now and we'll finish by Oct. 15 or so. Vintage 2002 has the hallmarks of a great year," Lee said. "The growing season was very cool, the crop is painfully shy but the quality is superb. Veraison was two to three weeks later this year but picking dates were only a few days later probably due to the small crop. The weather has been beautiful—cool nights and clear, cool days that have allowed the Pinot to hang comfortably for further flavor development. We're cruisin' in the Santa Lucia Highlands!"

For Dan Lee, survival is the key to harvest meals. "During harvest, it's not soul food or comfort food, it's survival food. It's about plenty of fast food, pizza, Mexican food, and vast quantities of beer to wash it down," he said. "But I did make it over to The Cheese Shop [in Carmel] for some Epoisses and Old Amsterdam…"

Reporting in from the Edna Valley is Stephen Ross Dooley of Stephen Ross Wines: "Most, if not all of the Pinot Noir has been harvested. Between a generally cool growing season and low yields (1.5 to 2 tons per acre) due to a cool windy spring causing shatter, we have the potential for a great vintage. Although there was a blast of heat for a few days in early September and a small rain shower later in the month, harvesting Pinot Noir was done during cool, 55-degree mornings."


"2002 has the hallmarks of a great year. The growing season was very cool, the crop is painfully shy but the quality is superb."

Dan Lee, Morgan Winery


"Most winemakers are practicing cold soaking prior to fermentation, so picking cool grapes in the morning aided this process," Dooley said. "The Stephen Ross Pinot Noirs are in barrel and at this early stage they show promise. By analysis, the wine tannin and color are moderate to high, although lower than the 2000 vintage and the 'big' 2001s."

Winemaker Christian Roguenot of Baileyana, also in Edna Valley, offered these observations: "The 2002 Pinot Noir from Edna Valley seems to contain two to three times more red pigments than other years. Fruit flavors were the typical red fruit and black cherry with fruit intensity higher than normal. All fruit was picked between 24.8 and 26.5 Brix. All of our Pinot is pressed and barreled. 2002 should be a very good year. However the crop was down around 20 percent versus early estimates," he said.

In the Santa Maria Valley, Alan Phillips of Foley Estates and LinCourt Vineyards reports that 2002 in Santa Barbara County looks to be potentially a great year. "Yields are very low; we have yet to see anything above 2 tons per acre. As of Oct. 7, we were about 70 percent completed with the Pinot harvest, with the balance probably to finish by Oct. 15," Phillips said. "Very exciting stuff!"

Brian Loring, winemaker and proprietor of Loring Wine Company, also in the Santa Maria Valley and one of the rising stars of Pinot in California, reports that "2002 is looking pretty good. Yields are a bit low this year — lower than the 2 to 2.5 tons per acre I ask my growers to crop to. I got less than 1 ton per acre at the Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard in Santa Maria and will be getting about that at Clos Pepe in Santa Rita Hills. Hopefully that translates into really good fruit."

"Given that I'm trying to also do my 'day job' of writing sonar software, right about now I'm pretty much somewhere between extreme happiness and insanity," Loring said.

Finally, we heard from Wes Hagen at Clos Pepe Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills: "2002 is definitely shaping up as a classic, if not monumental year for Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills AVA. We have some interesting and unique elements meeting to make an exceptional vintage: very long hang times, tiny crop loads, small berries and cluster size from a drought year, and fermenting and pressed wines that show moderate alcohols, excellent acidity, but unreal concentration and flavor. This should be a year that makes everyone happy: critics that love big wines and intuitive consumers who want a little less alcohol, and a bit more grip and acidity," he said. "Yields at Clos Pepe for Pinot Noir have been weighing in at a meager 1 ton per acre, roughly half of the allowed yields at a Grand Cru AOC vineyard in Burgundy."

"We've been blessed this year to have a few Peregrine falcons using the hunting perches we installed in 1996 on the edges of the hillside vineyard," Hagen continued. "We net the whole vineyard here at Clos Pepe, but some birds are able to steal an exposed berry here and there, and in a year with such small yields, we want to bring in every cluster whole and pristine. Nothing better for our organic pest management program than to have such dutiful (and free) avian employees!"

2001 Pinots: Big, Complex

WITH THE 2002 HARVEST WINDING DOWN IN MOST WEST COAST PINOT REGIONS, winemakers' attention will begin to turn to the 2001 wines, many of which will be released in the next several months. We asked several winemakers up and down the West Coast how their 2001 Pinots were shaping up:

Stephen Ross Dooley, Stephen Ross Wines, Edna Valley: "My 2001 Pinot from the Edna Ranch is a really big wine—abundant in flavor, tannin and in balance with low acidity and moderate alcohol. The wine will be bottled early next year. The Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot was bottled in September and it is wonderful. A lot of the credit goes to the new vineyard manager (at Bien Nacido), Chris Hamel. He made significant changes at Bien Nacido—mainly taking care of the small details that add up to high quality."

Brian Loring, Loring Wine Company, Santa Maria Valley: "Tough question. I like my three 2001 vintage wines (Garys' Vineyard, Clos Pepe and Rancho Ontiveros) but they're different enough from my 2000s that I'm not sure about them yet. They're definitely not as big as 2000. I think the flavors are there, but they are just SO very different than my 2000 Pinots."

Veronique Drouhin, Domaine Drouhin, Willamette Valley: "The 2001s are gently smoothing their structure. We will soon start to work on some blends."

Alan Phillips, Foley Estates, Santa Maria Valley: "We are looking at some preliminary blends now, but the (2001) wines seem similar to the 2000 vintage with moderate extraction and very pronounced cherry, raspberry and cola aromas—they'll be very nice medium-term drinkers."

Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills: 2001 is considered a serious to great vintage for Santa Barbara County in general, and for Santa Rita Hills in particular. The Clos Pepe estate 2001 Pinot Noir is much more intense and chewy than the 2000, and I suspect that glowing, ripe blueberry/strawberry aroma that defined the wine through élevage will re-emerge soon from the bottle, and it should be coming together wonderfully for a February 2003 release."

Gregory S. Walter is editor and publisher of PinotReport, the only monthly newsletter specializing on Western Pinot Noir. Walter is a 25-year veteran of wine and food publishing, highlighted by 14 years as senior editor and president of Wine Spectator. You can reach Greg by email at gswalter@pinotreport.com. For more information or to see a sample issue of PinotReport, please visit http://www.pinotreport.com or call (707) 935-0326.

[PNR]

Nov. 25, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Gregory S. Walter. All rights reserved.

Email Greg Walter: gswalter@pinotreport.com

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