Focus on Oregon Pinot Noir

Fans of bright, focused pinot noir are going to find plenty to like from the 2010 vintage, especially following the richer, heftier 2009s and powerful, structured 2008s.  The hallmarks of the vintage are sweet red fruits, bright floral character and lively acidity.  The best wines are balanced to age but also offer vivacious character that will allow most of them to be enjoyed in their youth. 

But as in 2010 in California, it was a nail-biting growing season.  A warm January raised hopes for an early start to the season--along with fears about potential frost problems if things got going too early--but the weather cooled down and budbreak began in the third week of April, about a week behind normal.  Conditions remained cold through June and the flowering didn't occur until the very end of the month, almost three weeks behind schedule.  With the season now delayed so significantly, the seeds of panic were planted in the minds of many growers.  The rest of the summer was warm but not so warm that vine growth could make up for those lost early weeks. 

Veraison began to occur at the beginning of September, which was still almost three weeks behind schedule, and growers and winemakers began praying for a warm and dry fall, which they got, but not before enduring a cool September.  It was essential to wait until temperatures warmed up in mid-October to get properly ripe fruit, and fruit that was harvested before then was often not fully mature.  This was a vintage for the patient, which is often the case in Oregon, 2007 being a notable example.  Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem made the point that it was the coolest growing season ever recorded in the Willamette Valley.  "The wines have very low pHs and bright acidity, and will age well on their energy and balance, not their power or weight." 

In fact, I found myself mentally comparing the 2010s to the '07s on numerous occasions during my spring tastings, but the best '10s have greater intensity and sweetness of fruit than most wines from the earlier vintage.  There's a measure of succulence to them that bodes well for both early and mid-term drinking and I suspect that fans of the brighter school of pinot, such as most Burgundy lovers, will find much to like from the vintage.

It was interesting to contrast the 2010s with the late-released 2009s I saw this year, as their personalities tended to be strikingly different.  The wines of the earlier vintage are mostly still open for business and offer plenty of ripe dark fruit character, with supple textures and occasionally some warmth.  I remain convinced that this is a vintage to keep a close eye on and that most of the wines are built to drink over the next five to seven years.  In contrast, the raciness of the 2010s suggests to me that these wines will be good mid-term agers, but without demanding the patience that the structured, still youthful and often inscrutable (at this stage) 2008s require.