2008 was a nail-biter of a year for the pinot noir grape growers of Oregon. An unusually chilly winter had stunted the growth of the grapes. As the rainy summer season approached--the time at which the grapes had to be harvested, or the rain would destroy the quality of the fruit--the farmers decided to "cut back" the vines, basically, cutting off good grapes to allow the remaining ones to draw more nourishment from the soil and grow faster. It was hoped that this culling would allow the remaining grapes to ripen before the rains arrived.
June came, but for once, rains did not come with it. In fact, the rains held off for over six weeks meaning that the grapes everyone assumed wouldn't be able to properly ripen received an unusually long growing period. That extended maturation created one of the finest crops in years, though because of the early culling, it was also one of the smallest harvests in years.
The wine created from those treasured grapes is just now just hitting the shelves (it takes over a year for Pinot Noir to mature in casks before its bottled) and most experts expect it to sell out quickly. Much of it won't even make it out of Oregon, which makes a perfect excuse for a wine tasting vacation there.
And the perfect time to take said vacation is over the USA's Memorial Day long weekend (May 28-31). That's one of two weekends a year (the other is over Thanksgiving in November) when every single winery in the state will open to visitors, even those that demand appointments for tasting room sessions at other times of the year. Many will also be offering free concerts, food, classes, transportation and other enticements. Its an exuberant celebration, set in one of the most bucolic, unpretentious, welcoming areas of the USA.
If you want to learn more about Oregon's wine country, watch out for the column I wrote for the Toronto Star, which should be appearing in about two weeks. It delves into just how affordable the wine tasting experience is in Oregon (especially compared with California), from lodging costs to meals to the reasonable price tag on bottles (which more than off-sets the customs fees you'll pay to bring the wine back to Canada).