When it comes to Pinot Noir, California's most peripatetic red grape, vintage is important yet rarely matters. The reasons are many. Summers are warm and generally sunny, and harvests are usually complete by the time autumn rains loom — which they rarely do in this drought-stricken state. Lately it's been rare that even the coolest vintages result in anything but optimum ripeness.
In Oregon, in 2013, things weren't so certain. The vintage cycle is later there; vines break buds and flower later in the spring; fruit turns color and sugars up a full month to six weeks after California. October rains can curtail or disrupt the final ripening sequence, but when October rains come in September, as they did in 2013, when 6 inches fell in the last week of the month, you were faced with some very critical decisions.
If you chose to harvest before late September the fruit was pristine but perhaps not quite as ripe as you may have liked. If you harvested after, you risked burst berries, split skins, swelling, rot. The month of October was dry and sunny, and some vines returned to an uneasy equilibrium. But taken as a whole, the wines don't have the consistency of a California vintage — which is, in its way, a virtue, since that's what "vintage" is all about. Here are three from the 2013 vintage:
Adelsheim Winery Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir
Winemaker Dave Paige has lately been a proponent of earlier harvests, opting for energy over opulence in most of his near-dozen pinot bottlings. "The Lizzie" (as it's known in the winery) is a reserve blend from multiple sources, about two-thirds of which was harvested before the rains. The 2013 Lizzie is lithe and racy in its raspberry-inflected flavors, but the lasting impression is one of momentum, driven by a lively acidity. About $55. Available at Hi-Time Wine Cellars (hitimewine.net) and Total Wine & More (totalwine.com).
Cristom Eola Amity Hills Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir
Winemaker Steve Doerner works with several small estate vineyard blocks at multiple elevations, and the rains seemed to affect each differently. Marjorie, with some of the winery's oldest vines, was harvested before and after the rains. The older vines may have weathered the rains better than adolescents would; lean, tea-like, with a haunting spice, this wine is focused and concentrated on the palate, retaining a freshness despite the challenges of the vintage. About $60. Available at K&L Wine Merchant (klwine.com) and the Wine Country (thewinecountry.com).
Brooks Pinot Noir
This winery chose to wait out the rains, completing its ripeness cycle in the warm and dry October that followed. In the glass this wine is pristine, bright and almost translucent in its lightness, with aromas to match: light, high-toned and savory. In the texture one senses the breadth that results from that extra time on the vine, with broad cherry flavors and an amplitude that feels satisfying and plush but not heavy. About $28. Available at Lou Wine Shop (louwineshop.com) and the Wine House (winehouse.com).