2011, though challenging in many ways, appears to be a year of above average-fruit quality. The vines bore a lot of fruit, and with the late season it became worrisome that all the fruit would ripen, so measures needed to be taken. In a late year like 2010 and 2011, we really ride the razor’s edge, waiting with bated breath to see how ripe the fruit can get before the rainy season begins. In an effort to ensure that fruit fully ripens, it is often necessary to cluster thin, dropping clusters of otherwise perfect grapes in order to ensure that fewer clusters fully ripen and develop concentrated flavors. Often cluster thinning enhances the character and concentration of flavors in the remaining grapes since the vines are stressed and have less fruit to focus their energy on. In the end, the harvest at our 470 acre certified organic vineyard at King Estate can be characterized as a year of lower than typical yields but high quality. It is always a difficult decision to drop so much fruit on the ground, and it comes at a great economic expense, but it is also the only decision if you want to improve quality, harvest good fruit, and ultimately make the best wine possible in a challenging year. The goal is to overcome whatever obstacles are presented to make the best wine we can.
Years of lower yields are especially challenging for us at King Estate since we continue to grow by double digits year over year and are still challenged to increase our production when our vineyards and all of our grower’s vineyards produce less tons per acre than anticipated. This leaves us to go out and find additional acreage to put under contract. It does have a beneficial effect on the economy as additional funds are expended. Ed King says, “Years like this challenge us because the ever-increasing demand for our wines never hits the ‘pause button.’ Even now we are entering new markets like Australia while still growing our established business in the US.”
As of November 11th, we have already processed over 2,400 tons of grapes and more than 400,000 gallons and we still have a ways to go. Each and every year we continue to set a record for our facility. In 2009, despite the harsh economic climate, King Estate bucked the industry norm and once again grew sales by double digits. In 2010, we experienced our biggest spike in the history of the company, and sales continue to trend upwards for 2011 as we enter the busy holiday shopping season.
The Capital Press had it right in their article from October 31st, titled “Oregon wine grape harvest goes better than expected.” In which they state, “After a long, cold spring and a crop late to ripen, generally sunny weather in October is helping Oregon growers bring in their wine grapes in good shape. ” That sunny weather late in the season makes all the difference in the world, ripening fruit and building sugars to the levels necessary to craft a well-balanced wine. Given the poor expectations expressed by some growers earlier in the year, the chairman of the Oregon Wine Board, Sam Tannahill, is calling it “a miracle harvest”.