The Incredibly Intense Wines from 2021

From tEr1, February 5th, 2023

Most of us in the Oregon Wine Industry remember the summer of 2021 by one seemingly catastrophic event: the “Heat Dome” of June when temperatures rose to highs never even contemplated in this part of the world.

Much as we were taken by surprise and consternation with the “heat dome”, its timing set us up for an epic vintage. That is because the intense heat came on the heals of a perfect bloom in the vineyard where the “set” was almost perfect.

The berries were about the size of bbs when the heat dome occurred. After the intense heat event, there was not enough water moving in the vascular system of the vine to allow the berries to increase to their normal size (of course I am speaking about non-irrigated vines where drying out the surface layers of the soil affects moisture movement for a time). It is at this brief stage in the life of the developing grape cluster that hormones in the skin cells (gibberellins) allow the skin cells to elongate and accommodate the hydrostatic pressure (turgor pressure) that causes the berry size to increase. When turgor pressure is reduced, as in 2021, this brief window for berry enlargement passes without the berries fully enlarging.  As a result berry sizes and cluster weights were very small.

While that means that the 2021 harvest was very small (which is a problem in economic terms), the small berries, which were allowed perfectly ripen, produced a wine of great intensity.  This is because all of the color and flavors come from the skins and small berries have a larger skin to juice ratio.  As a result, the wines from 2021 are developing into amazingly intense full-bodied wines!

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