Spring Frost. For the past few years, vineyard Spring frost and other grape damaging weather has been a recurrent topic in the wine world as well as in the wine industry news. Although Spring frosts have always existed, climate change and an increase in earlier vine development has many winemakers experiencing a raised level of worry as Spring arrives in the vineyard.
Again this year, wine industry news platforms in regions around the world and here in the United States have been filled with headlines like these:
“Apocalyptic” hail storms in French wine regions”, that decimated whole chunks of French vineyards at Whitsun have dashed the hopes of winegrowers who had aimed to fully replenish stocks of grapes and wine after last year’s void. From Vitisphere
California North Coast wine grape season off to wild-weather start amid frost, water concerns, from North Bay Business Journal.
Late-Spring Frost Imperils Oregon and California Vineyards, from Wine Spectator.
In the Willamette Valley, severe frost hit on April 14th and 15th as temperatures plunged into the 20s throughout the valley. This was yet another setback for growers in the Willamette Valley, which experienced smoke taint in 2020 from extensive wildfires in the region.
Of all of the devastating headlines in April, it was this headline Willamette Valley could lose half its grape crop after frost hits Oregon vineyards, from the Oregonian that caused a lot of stir in the Oregon wine community.
On a trip to the Willamette Valley earlier this month, I spoke with a few winegrowers to get a better perspective of the severity of the damage and hear how they felt the frost would affect this year’s crop. As a wine writer and enthusiast, I find that the vast affects weather and environmental factors have on viticulture and the creativity winegrowers implement to mitigate many of these conditions an interesting topic. I hope you’ll find the perspectives of the winegrowers that I talked with just as interesting.
What I heard a lot about was the grape bud contains three potential growing points, known as primary, secondary and tertiary buds, each of which is progressively less fruitful, the Willamette Valley wine world has been waiting and watching to see what grows. Many of the growers I spoke with didn’t see any destruction in their vineyards, but most of them have friends and colleagues that suffered devastating losses.
Photo: Lenné Estate Vineyard
Here are some of comments about the effect that this year’s Spring frost had on their Willamette Valley vineyards from the growers and winemakers themselves.
When I asked about this year’s weather compared to previous years, Steve Lutz, owner and winemaker at Lenné Estate in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA told me, “Right now, we have about the same amount of growth that we had in 2011, which was the coldest vintage ever here. So this year in comparison is going to be interesting.” Steve did add that “The wines in 2011 were so acidic and they are taking a long time to come around but it is an interesting and long-lived vintage.”
Aside from the frost the regions cooler than average temperature has slowed things down in the vineyards this Spring. Steve shared, “This was a really bizarre year, we should have 2 to 2 ½ feet of growth right now but it is very stunted, but we’ll see what we get. It should be interesting and if we get a warm summer, we should be fine, so we’re going to keep our fingers crossed.”
While touring his vineyard Steve pointed out examples of the primary and secondary shoots saying, “Things are really different this year, you can see that what we’re doing is we’re leaving some of these shoots coming out of the top of the trunk here, which normally we just leave the fruiting cane and the shoots that come out of the shooting cane. This year we’re really hedging our bets because we still have a lot of what looks like primary shoots coming out, we have some secondary shoots too, so we’ve got fruit and we’ll see what we set.”
I asked Steve about multiple picking passes in the vineyard collecting the grapes from both primary and secondary clusters and he replies, “I don’t know how that would work. For the fruit you would have to have a really discerning eye, to have a crew go through and pick primary fruit versus secondary fruit will just not work. Unless, it was a crew of winemakers going through to make it work.”
While taking a morning drive through the Youngberg Hill’s Vineyards in the McMinnville AVA, owner and winemaker Wayne Bailey spoke about how they fortunately were not affected by the frost this year.
Wayne Bailey inspecting the vineyard.
“We have all primary shots, we did not get affected by the frost. We’re high enough and close enough to the ocean that we didn’t have any freeze issues at all. We had just on the very last day about 2 hours that got below 32 degrees but it wasn’t impactful at all. Because of our altitude what you found was the cold pockets were in the swales and things like that, my understanding is it got up to about 400 feet and we don’t have anything below 500 feet. We were very fortunate in that regard, and everything looks great.”
Wayne went on to express that “unfortunately a lot of our neighbors didn’t fare as well. In fact, Robert Brittan (of Brittan Vineyards) who is five miles down lost all of his chardonnay as a result, because the chardonnay was farther along. I don’t know if he has secondaries coming up yet or not.”
Wayne also added that the cooler weather for him is actually a good thing, “I like the cool wet springs and I like the timing that we are getting into because it means we will be ripening in October instead of in September.”
A stop at Bells Up Winery to spend some time with owners Dave and Sara Specter was another opportunity to talk about the April frost this year and how it affected their vineyard just outside of the town of Newberg in the Chehalem Mountains AVA .
As we walked through the vineyard, I asked Dave if at this point he could tell if he was going to have more primary or secondary buds? Here’s what he told me;
“I can’t tell right now but I think it is going to be mostly primary, because we weren’t pushing that much when we had the frost.” He went on to add, “we have seen some pictures however, that our friends whose site is just a couple of mile away, sent us pictures of his place, he got hit hard. There was primary bud death where it was just crispy, what had pushed just turned browned and it had snapped. We did not see any of that here, so I am reasonably optimistic that were going to be okay.”
“What we’re hearing is that there is a lot of resilience out there.”
Dave went on to say, “Some around the valley have experienced much worse. Chardonnay has been hard hit, as well as pinot. But what we’re hearing is that there is a lot of resilience out there. Also, if you got secondaries the fruitfulness of those is going to be much much less but they will at least give you something. The last couple of years they have just been crazy weather wise.”
More information about Bells Up Winery can be found on my post THE BELLS ARE IN THE AIR AT BELLS UP WINERY.
The sun made a welcome appearance for the first time during my trip when I arrived at Elk Cove Vineyards to chat with Anna Campbell, daughter of Pat and Joe Campbell, the founders of Elk Cove. As we toured the grounds and vineyard, I could see that their vines although somewhat short looked extremely healthy and unaffected by the frost. When I asked Anna about this she shared, “This location here we are high enough up that we didn’t have any frost. We are just a little behind because of the cooler weather. Once we get heat the vines and grapes will catch up but probably not to what has become the normal in looking at the last few years of harvest in early September.”
The article in Oregonian that stated “the Willamette Valley could lose half its grape crop after frost hits Oregon vineyards” came up during our time in the vineyard. I asked Anna what she thought of such a drastic headline and she said, “There are just some people that when anything goes wrong in a season they just say, ‘it’s a disaster’.” She went on to say that her brother, Adam, head winemaker for Elk Cove, “is definitely more chill, he is just like you know there’s nothing we haven’t seen before, Mother Nature always throws something at us.”
Case in point, Anna added was that her parents “made wine when Mount St Helens erupted and we had a half inch of ash in 1980, that slowed down ripening. So, we don’t like to judge a season until the vintage is made.”
A first time stop to taste some wines and talk with Bill and Sandy Sanchez owners of Potter’s Vineyard and Vino Vasai Wines near Newberg, was yet another chance to hear how their vineyards were doing this year. Bill briefed me on the favorable state of the vineyard, which is located in the Laurelwood District AVA, noting that they had been affected by the spring frost and that different harvesting procedures may have to occur this year. Bill stated, “We want to get some fruit from the secondary buds this year, but if you have delayed ripening then are we going to have two picks. Normally that is hard to do so this year we will most likely pick more as a family because we tend to pick the fruit for the family and rosé wine club first.” This type of forethought is what will help many of the small wineries bring in a crop this year instead of writing the year off as a complete loss.
Going through hard times is one of the things that can create even stronger bonds between people in such a tight knit community like the Willamette Valley. Especially when something like this brutal frost hasn’t happened in a long time in the valley.
Bill went on to say, “This is the first time that I have seen this and many of my colleagues in thirty years have ever seen it. They said 1985, so thirty some years ago was the last time many of them had seen a spring frost like this that damaged the crops so extensively.”
Areas of the Willamette Valley can sometimes be deceiving when it comes to determining elevation by sight alone and higher elevations don’t always mean you are safe from frost. Before stopping in on a cold rainy day to reconnect with Brad McLeroy, owner and winemaker of Ayres Vineyard, I had thought that being “up high” in the Ribbon Ridge AVA they would have escaped the frost this April. Sadly, that was not the case. Since rain prevented a walk in the vineyard we talked about the effects of the frost while sampling some of Ayres’ exceptional Pinot Noir.
As he poured his Pinot Brad told me, “The frost got us even at 500-foot elevation, to what extent, it is still to early too know exactly. There is definitely damage so we’ll be down in production. But, one of the vineyards I lease are in the foothills at 600-foot elevation and they had nothing, they were fine.”
Ayres vineyard was the first one that I had heard about that sat at 500 feet elevation and had still suffered losses from the frost this year. Brad expressed some optimism by stating, “Regardless we will be making wine much later this year, with the cooler weather the vineyards are about a month behind. Hopefully we have some ‘second summer’ days that help along the ripening.”
To achieve this Brad added, “We might need to keep the secondary shoot this year, if we do, we’ll have to go plant to plant and make those decisions. What that could mean because doing multiple pass throughs is labor intensive is doing less tastings and closing the doors a little more to spend more time in the vineyard myself. For example, three days a week we might need to get out there more and pay a little more attention to a particular block to see what’s really going on.”
If you are interested in learning more about Ayres Vineyard you can read my post A VISIT TO AYRES VINEYARD & WINERY
How the grapevines will fare following this historic frost in April is still to be determined. One thing that was reinforced in my conversations with each of these individuals is that Oregon winegrowers are incredibly resilient. It is in their nature to change and adapt to this season’s challenges, like they have others in the past.
If you enjoyed this update of Willamette Valley vineyards, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it, or if you have news to share from another winery affected by the frost this year.
I will be sharing more about my trip to the Willamette Valley in a series of articles over the next few weeks, starting with my tour and tasting with Steve Lutz at Lenné Estate coming later this week. Until then Cheers and thanks for reading.
Images and content © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.
The best wine experiences cultivate memories unifying the art of food and drink, and the best way to discover tantalizing new wines is to explore them while attending lively and entertaining tasting events. For many wine enthusiasts there’s nothing better. Each experience is different, and every event you attend expands your knowledge, and love for wine. Not only does this type of event help to broaden your palate, but also your perspective as you get to meet new people who share similar interests as you!
Earlier this month I attended an exciting food and wine tasting event held in Seattle at Bourbon Steak that literally transported me to the heart of Sonoma County, DrinkWell: Zinfandel presented by Dry Creek Valley. This unique event was an incredible opportunity to not only taste wines from Dry Creek Valley’s signature grape, Zinfandel, but to also enjoy other specially selected wines from the region paired perfectly with delicious one-of-a-kind bites from Bourbon Steak Seattle.
Before I dive into more about the DrinkWell: Zinfandel Seattle event, I wanted to share that there is still one more DrinkWell event in Denver on November 13, 2022. You can find more information on the Dry Creek Valley Sonoma Wine Country Website.
During the event, Seattle area wine lovers and those who were just curious to learn more about the wines produced in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, were given the opportunity to taste wines from 13 wineries pouring more than 50 top-rated Zinfandel and other wines.
This special walk-around style celebration of Zinfandel gave attendees the time to chat with the winemakers one on one and find out more about individual styles, other grapes grown in Dry Creek Valley and how the vintages can change from year to year.
Having the winemakers or winery representatives pouring the wine is always a pleasurable and memorable way to learn the story behind the bottle.
DrinkWell: Zinfandel’s festive atmosphere was made even better with wine-and-food-pairing from Bourbon Steak Seattle, Chef Michael Mina’s new warm and inviting restaurant.
The Dry Creek Valley wines were poured alongside a generous selection of passed hors d’oeuvres and buffet bites prepared by the Bourbon Steak culinary team, including options for omnivores and vegetarians alike.
Selections included char-grilled lamb chops with harissa chimichurri, sesame shrimp toast with ginger and honey aioli, beef skewers with sweet chili sauce, and more! I have to share that these small bites were some of the best hors d’oeuvres that I have had.
This Seattle wine event offered an exciting way to enjoy thirteen Dry Creek Valley wineries Zinfandels along with some of their other acclaimed wines. Here are some highlights and fun facts about a few of the wineries that were bringing smiles to many people’s faces with each pour of their wines.
Discover more about Ridge Vineyards and their fascinating history on their website.
Learn about Dry Creek Vineyard and their current releases on their website.
There is much more to learn about this family owned winery on their website, Wilson of Dry Creek.
When I asked Jack Seifrick during the event about his ‘Don’t Judge Me’ White Zinfandel he shared that “essentially the White Zinfandel Estate Vineyard wine came about because when we were taking guests through the winery for tastings we shared a taste of this wine because it is the base for our Sparkling Brut Rosé and so many them said, ‘I would buy that’. So the next year we held some of the base back and produced 25 cases. It has kind of become a little thing that we are doing and It is an interesting way to highlight a White Zinfandel. I also think that it helps us explain more about the Sparkling.”
There is more to discover about Cast Wines and their selection of wines on their Website.
I had the pleasure of sitting across from these two fantastic guys from F. Teldeschi Winery, Dan Teldeschi and Bobby Terran at the luncheon that took place before the DrinkWell walk around event. (More about the Winemakers Luncheon at Bourbon Steak Seattle below)
We had an interesting and lively conversation about growing Zinfandel grapes in Dry Creek Valley, the wines of F. Teldeschi as well as how they both came to be in the wine business. I can’t wait to visit Dan and Bobby in Sonoma someday.
Visit their website to read more about F. Teldeschi Winery and Finch’s Crest.
These are just a few of the wineries who made DrinkWell such a fantastic event. I’ve included a list with links to all of the DrinkWell event attending wineries. Take some time to explore and if your near Denver in November take the opportunity to see some of them first hand.
In Dry Creek Valley they have a saying, “Wine Paired With Life”.
Visit and follow Dry Creek Valley Wines and follow them on Instagram @drycreekvalleywines
Being a big fan of RN74 restaurant in Seattle and it’s award winning Chef Michael Mina, I was saddened when it officially closed for good during the pandemic. When I was invited though, to attend a Zinfandel pairing luncheon at Chef Mina’s new restaurant, Bourbon Steak Seattle in the same location, I couldn’t wait to see what the culinary crew was going to prepare for this one of a kind luncheon.
At the Winemakers Luncheon, an elevated four-course menu was designed highlighting PNW cuisine by Bourbon Steak, to perfectly pair with a selection of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel wines. The array of wines chosen showcased the versatility of the region’s Zinfandels and just how incredibly food friendly they are. Representatives, Owners, Grape Growers and Winemakers from various Dry Creek Valley wineries who specialize in Zinfandel production each offered some background information about their wineries and answered questions throughout the meal.
Photo 1-Susie Selby, winemaker and owner of Selby Winery. Photo 2- Orsi Family Vineyards owner Bernie Orsi (Front Right). Photo 3-F. Teldeschi Winery owner Dan Teldeschi
With a festive atmosphere and excellent table company, the luncheon began with a lovely little bite of goodness. An Amuse Bouche of Caviar Biscuit with Crème Fraiche, relished with a refreshing glass of CAST Wines 2019 Sparkling Rosé of Zinfandel (Presented by Jack and Ann Seifrick)
The CAST Sparkling Rosé of Zinfandel with it’s luminous cool pink hue and exudes delicate aromas of strawberry, white peaches and floral notes I was instantly drawn to this glass of bubbles. Zests of citrus join in as the sparkling wine makes its way through your taste buds. With it’s lovely crisp, dry finish this is a solid sparkling rosé for any occasion. Absolutely perfect with the caviar biscuit amuse bouche.
There were a lot of “Oohs and Ahhs” as we were served this lovely phyllo wrapped scallop with pea espuma, smoked trout roe and melted leeks. It might well have been one of the best scallop dishes I have eaten in Seattle.
Paired with the phyllo wrapped scallop we enjoyed two Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels.
A Dry Creek Vineyard 2019 Historic Blocks Zinfandel (Presented by Sara Rathbun). This was an impeccable expression of a Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel. A really well-structured wine which is blended with 19% Petite Sirah, that opens with tangy red fruit and an intriguing mix of baking spice and dried-herb on the nose. Its full-bodied and rich texture offers a taste sensation of the mentioned aromas along with plum and soft notes of tobacco. An enchanting sip.
We also sipped a F. Teldeschi Winery 2013 Finch’s Crest Zinfandel (Presented by Dan Teldeschi) This handcrafted Zinfandel combines a small percentage of Petite Sirah, Carignane, Valdique and Alacante Bouchet, all co-fermented. The union of these varietals brings a rich wild berry and dark cherry aroma with a whisper of smoky toasty oak and vanilla. Amazing jammy fruit packed flavor with soft integrated tannins and a pleasing long finish, this wine is loaded with the ‘essence’ of Dry Creek Valley Zin.
The second course was a mouthwatering Yemenite spiced wagyu striploin with saffron poached potato and a matbucha sauce. The wagyu literally melted in my mouth and the addition of the matbucha sauce delivering some Moroccan flavors was definitely a combination first for me. I can’t wait to have this steak again on my next visit to Bourbon Steak.
During the Main Course we were poured two wines, the Orsi Family Vineyards 2019 Orsi Primitivo (Presented by Mark Orsi) and the Ridge Vineyards 2019 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel (Presented by Ryan Johnson & Christina Donely).
The 2019 Orsi Primativo, what can I say. While I don’t like picking favorites especially with such a wonderful selection of wines samples, this was my “Wow” wine during the meal and the glass that I would not let be taken away until it was empty. I was hooked by the elevated spice aromatics and bold rich flavors of spice-laced dark fruit that enticed me with the first sip and lovely mocha notes that drew me even further into the glass. As well, this wine was a crowd pleaser with those around me.
The deeply concentrated 2019 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel which is blended with 16% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignan and 2% Mataro has such a great structure to it. This Zin was subtle on the nose, but don’t let that fool you. On the palate you are rewarded with a complex melody of berries that evolve into a velvety and well balanced sip. This is a wine that I can see pairing well with a multitude of different dishes.
The third course of the evening was a showstopper. What was worded as a Chocolate Molten Cake on the menu dazzled everyone at our table when it came out looking like a pot of gold. All around me spoons were cracking the gold leaf decorated wafer to dig into the reimaged Chocolate Molten Cake dessert. Would it be bad to say that I really wanted to lick the bowl clean? It was absolutely delicious!
What really elevated the desert was the pairing with Selby Winery’s 2019 Selby Bobcat Zinfandel (Presented by Susie Selby). The aromas and flavors of slightly sweetened brandied cherries, vanilla and baking spices come together in this Zin and dance around your tongue before they slip away on a smooth silky finish. Great tasting wine and an ideal companion for such a bold chocolate flavored dessert. Fantastic way to end an incredible meal.
Dry Creek Valley expresses a lot of diversity in their Zinfandels, there’s a certain energetic spirit to these wines that is just hard to replicate. You can drink them alone or if you get your hands on some Dry Creek Valley Zin, try your own special pairing at home. I do recommend trying some that are on the young side to drink and then choose a few to age so that you can experience how these wines evolve over time.
When visiting Seattle make sure to save yourself a table at Bourbon Steak which is located in the iconic Joshua Green Building at 1433 Fourth Avenue, downtown. Look for them on Instagram at @bourbonsteakseattle
Right now, getting on a plane to make that trip you’ve been dreaming about to Sonoma wine country may still not be possible for everyone. However, we can all take advantage of special wine tasting events like DrinkWell: Zinfandel to transport us there, hassle-free while enjoying good conversation and sipping notable wines.
I hope that you enjoyed reading about DrinkWell: Zinfandel and Dry Creek Valley wines, I would love to hear about wine adventures that you have had in the Dry Creek Valley region of Sonoma County. Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation about your favorite wineries and wines from Dry Creek Valley.
As always, thanks for reading! Cheers!
This post is sponsored by Wine Growers of Dry Creek Valley and I was hosted by them at these two events. While it has not influenced this article or the wine reviews, as a writer I believe in full disclosure.
Images and content © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.