ROSEBURG — The Umpqua Valley wine grape harvest has been busy, noisy and productive — far different from last year’s low output.
“Last year was a practical disaster,” said Greg Cramer, owner of MarshAnne Landing outside Oakland. “I’m very pleased with the fruit that came in this year. We’re about three weeks ahead of last year.”
In a long dry spell, no rain has fallen in central Douglas County since July 20, and sunny days have allowed grapes to ripen.
Clear skies also have meant the risk of an early frost, prompting wineries to fire up commercial fans to keep the fruit from freezing at night. The predawn sound has drawn numerous noise complaints to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. When the sun rises, temperatures have held firm in the 70s throughout the month.
Sheriff’s Lt. Chris Merrifield said neighbors will have to live with the noise until harvesting is over. Because most of the county’s wineries are outside city limits, there is not a noise ordinance to enforce, he said.
Wineries started plucking grapes in early October, and the picking likely will continue through the end of the month.
“The best part about this harvest season is that we’ve had this nice, warm weather,” said Chris Lake, director of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute at Umpqua Community College.
Lake said sun-soaked grapes grow rich in sugars, which ferments into alcohol.
Cooler temperatures can do the reverse, stunting growth and diminishing flavor. Rain can further dilute the taste, he said.
Growers endured back-to-back below-average yields in 2010 and 2011, which had two of the cooler summers in the past half century. Temperatures were 5 to 6 degrees below average, Oregon State Extension Service horticulturist Steve Renquist said.
To compensate for a lack of sun, winery owners trimmed vines to concentrate the plants’ limited energy on fewer grapes.
The Umpqua Valley typically yields 2.7 to 2.9 tons of grapes a year. Renquist said 2010 and 2011 yields were 1.2 tons and 1.5 tons, respectively.
Renquist predicted yields this year should be back to typical numbers and could possibly reach 3 tons.
“This year, we’ve had quite the inverse,” he said. “We’ve had a lovely growing season.”
Henry Estate Winery founder Scott Henry said Tuesday his winery was already halfway through its harvest. Grapes at the 40-year-old Umpqua winery are maturing quickly and look great, he said.
“I’d say this is going to be one of our better years,” he said. “We have a super year every seven to 10 years, and this looks like it’s going to be one of them.”
Henry said the winery is experiencing a problem, a good one.
“We’re having to pick them faster than normal,” he said.
Terri Delfino of Delfino Vineyards said the color and size of the grapes look prime for producing quality wine.
“It’s going to be a great year,” she said last week. “The fruit is ripening all at once. We had a great pick yesterday.”
The past two years, the harvest was delayed for several weeks to give grapes more time to grow, she said.
She said doing so cost the winery thousands of dollars to keep birds at bay until the fruit could be picked.
“Prayer is the only answer,” she said. “There’s not much we could have done. You’re really at the mercy of the weather.”
Southern Oregon University climatologist Greg Jones said grape growers should expect poor growing seasons at least once every 10 years. Jones attributed consecutive poor years to bad luck rather than a long-term cooling trend in the valley.
“You are going to have some years that are cooler and some years that are warmer,” he said.
Lake said occasional bad years shouldn’t put a winery out of business.
“You have to think like a farmer,” he said. “There could be one in 10 years where you get nothing. If you can’t sustain that, you shouldn’t be growing grapes.”