A Year to Remember: Reflections on Oregon’s 2022 Harvest

Photo credit: Aaron Lee

It was a year of triumph for some and recovery for others across Oregon, with weather oddities that seemed to self-correct through harvest in many ways. Many winemakers reported it was a return to normal, or a classic Oregon vintage. In WineSearcher, Jim Bernau, founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards said: “It reminded me of the way it used to be…when I first started back in ’83, this was routine, those first 15 years. We didn’t start harvesting our estate Pinot noir until the second week in October. The thing that was different this year was how dry and warm the weather was up until October 21. We had days in the middle of the October that approached 80 degrees.” 

Seasoned winemakers like Ken Wright didn’t fail to see miraculous recovery this season. “We are close to our grape-growing brethren all over the world and none can recall such an incredible recovery as we saw this year in the northern Willamette Valley,” he says. “It defied all prior recorded experience. When you are working hand in hand with Mother Nature the lessons just keep coming.” 

The following are vignettes from winemakers who’ve wrapped up harvest and crush, as liquid becomes beauty in barrels across the state.

Bryan Laing at Hazelfern Cellars, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Willamette Valley 

Hazelfern Cellars, a small family winery owned by Bryan and Laura Laing, has developed a signature style of wine that’s getting critical acclaim. Both their Chardonnay and Pinot noir earned 97-point scores from James Suckling in 2022. Every year they produce 4,000 cases of Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, estate Trousseau, and estate Gamay. Hazelfern’s harvest started about three weeks later than normal on September 29 when they began to pick, receive, and process fruit. 

Bryan says, “While the frost in April did initially impact us, we are happy to report that the fruit at Hazelfern is beautiful this year. Despite frost damage to about 75% of our primary buds, the vines made up for it with a strong secondary fruit set and large cluster weights. Pinot noir yielded close to our seasonal average. The sunny days and dry weather in the first half of October made for perfect harvest conditions and extended hang time for the fruit. The fruit quality we are seeing at Hazelfern is epic with beautiful, ripe flavors, and ideal acidity.” 

Challenges in the vineyard this year were set up by a very wet and cold spring. Mildew pressure was very high throughout the summer, and they had to be diligent with vineyard sprays and canopy management, pulling leaves and hedging several times throughout the summer in order to encourage strong airflow through the vines. Bryan felt they lucked out with warm and dry fall weather conditions that helped them keep disease in check. 

Andy Myer at Goldback Wines, Rogue Valley AVA 

Andy Myer is in his 16th vintage making wine, and his 7th vintage making wine under his own label Goldback Wines, producing around 700 cases focused on red Rhone varieties (Syrah and Grenache), as well as Chenin Blanc. Myer says,” All of the wines I prefer drinking and producing are lower alcohol with plenty of fresh acidity.” 

He continues: “There were a few vineyards impacted heavily by frost, but only in early budbreak varieties like Pinot noir and Chardonnay. The season got a late start in general. We saw a very cool April and May, with rain continuing well into early June. There was some variability during flowering with these rain events.” 

Myer says his harvest season was late from start to finish with a cold and wet spring and a long, warm fall. The fruit started coming in on September 20, about ten days later than it has been in the past few years. The animal pressure, especially from bears, was unusual. There was some concern with the late start to harvest that a cooler, wet fall would pose some challenges, but thankfully, he says, “we had a fantastic month of October.” 

Greg Jones at Abacela, Umpqua Valley AVA 

Abacela, the first vineyard in Oregon to plant Tempranillo grapes, is currently growing nearly 80 acres of wine grapes, including Tempranillo, Grenache, Albariño, Syrah, Malbec, Viognier, Tannat, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Cão, and other grape varieties. 

Jones, one of the most noted climatologists in the world says of harvest: “Bud break came early after a warm and dry winter. A cool and wet April continued into May and early June; when combined with the frost in mid-April, the weather set vine growth back by 2-4 weeks. The earliest varieties and blocks saw some damage to primary buds from the frost, but the flowering period was perfect, producing a very good fruit set this year. A glorious summer with almost no rain, warm days but little heat stress, and cool nights continued through to late October allowing for a phenomenal ripening period. The fruit that was harvested had higher than expected yields, with slightly lower sugar levels than average, but wonderful flavors and balance.” 

Like other winemakers across the state, early varieties started coming in on September 26, a week to ten days behind average, and ended on October 21. “While there were some uneasy moments early in the vintage, we at Abacela are very happy with how things ended up and are looking forward to some wonderful wines from 2022,” he says. 

Steven Thompson and Kris Fade of Analemma Wines, Columbia Gorge AVA 

According to Steven at Analemma Wines in Mosier, Oregon, 2022 was another outstanding year for wine growing in The Columbia Gorge AVA. “The season started much later than normal with a very cool, wet spring. Substantial precipitation in May and June created ideal dry farming conditions which led to rapid shoot growth when the heat arrived in July. Flowering was delayed by as much as three weeks occurring in early July. The later summer’s temperatures were moderated by the Pacific maritime influence allowing sugars to develop slowly as compared to recent vintages. Harvest was once again uninhibited by weather events as temps stayed warm throughout October. This vintage granted spectacular quantity and quality. Ample ground moisture led to increased yields while the dry fall facilitated the full development of flavors.” 

Jessica Mozeico of Et Fille Wines, Willamette Valley  

Jessica Mozeico of Et Fille Wines, Fairsing Vineyard

Jessica Mozeico’s winegrowing season got off to a slow start at Et Fille’s test vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, as well as the six vineyards she sources grapes from in Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs, due to a cool and wet spring. Et Fille, her family winery in Newberg, produces 2,500 cases of wine annually, including Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Gamay, and Viognier. As vines began emerging from dormancy in mid-April, and buds started to appear, winegrowers experienced a frost that damaged buds with temperatures dipping below 28 degrees which threatened to harm the 2022 vintage. 

She recounted the frost experience to Capital Press: “At that time, I thought it would in particular affect the Viognier, Chardonnay and earlier ripening Pinot noir sites,” Mozeico said. “My approach was to wait and see.” Summer brought a turn for the better, she said, with warm and dry weather extending into October allowing the fruit to ripen and develop sugars after falling behind early. 

She wrapped up harvest on October 21 with yields similar to that of a normal Oregon year of winegrowing, yet with larger clusters. “What I learned this harvest is that a vine has a maximum potential it wants to achieve,” she said. “If there are fewer buds at play, the clusters themselves grow extremely large.” 

Ray Nuclo, Director of Viticulture, King Estate Winery, South Willamette Valley 

July and August were warm and dry, resulting in ideal growing conditions for King Estate in Lorane, Oregon.  Ray Nuclo writes, “June’s cool, wet weather meant soil moisture was much higher than normal going into this period, resulting in larger than average clusters. It did, however, create challenges due to the large amount of canopy growth. Powdery mildew pressure was very high due to the larger canopy size. Growers had to be diligent with their canopy management and integrated disease control practices.”

When crop estimates in August gave the first indication of the rebound from April’s frost, the team at King Estate saw yields at affected vineyards were estimated to be better than expected. Véraison, or color change, began in mid to late August, continuing the pattern of later-than-average development, portending a late harvest. To pull off a successful harvest in the Willamette Valley, they said, October was going to have to be cooperative.  

When Oregon experienced the warmest October on record, King Estate reported that “ripening accelerated quickly. The new challenge was trying to bring in all that ripe fruit in a compressed window. Because of the hard frost, many wineries, including King Estate, had anticipated lower yields and therefore had sourced additional fruit. With the higher than estimated yields, the new challenge was finding space for all the grapes. Cooler fall-like conditions arrived the last week of October. While the bulk of the harvest was in, the last remaining blocks and vineyards were harvested during breaks in weather over the course of the last days of October.”