1997 Vintage Report
The year 1997 might be remembered by some as an extremely promising year until the skies opened up and as it has become known now to be the rain vintage of the nineties. Crop loads promised the largest harvest we had experienced in Oregon as a young winery. It really was a nice summer and the year was looking good – the fruit was nearly ripe – then, the rains came. And it rained. Unlike the previous years’ rains that came and left for post-rain ripening of the fruit, 1997 remained to be the wettest year our accomplished winemaking had endured. Botrytis pressure became particularly high threatening the large crop. The winemakers and vineyard managers around the valley who chose to pick earlier, fruit-thinned to keep crop loads relatively low, and sorted particularly judgmentally faired better. We did exactly that. Nearly the entire vintage was picked between September 23rd and October 6thpicked between 20.4° Brix and 24.4° Brix. The wines of the 1997 vintage developed very good structure and complex fruits slow to evolve in the glass that started to show off long after critics’ poor overall view of the Willamette Valley in general. Excellent producers made excellent wines that showed their best 10-12 years after being produced making many turn their heads after dismissing the vintage.
Degree days was looking good until the growing season was cut short by the late season rains. It was a good growing year temperature and weather wise, which was great for the first 5 acres of vines put into the ground at the top of our hill now known as Eileen Vineyard.
Harvest began on September 13th with 2 tons of Estate Emilia Vineyard Pinot Gris picked at 22.8° Brix and ended on October 8th with 4.4 tons of purchased Pinot Noir from Chapelton Hill harvested at 19.8° Brix.
In the nineties, Cristom was producing significantly more Chardonnay grown on the estate. Louise Vineyard once had a large planting of Chardonnay that produced an elegant and silky wine. In 1997, Louise Vineyard Chard was harvested between September 23rd at 23.9° Brix and September 25th at 23.8° Brix. We were growing more Chardonnay than ever with Dijon clone 95 in its 3rd leaf producing its first crop. Before we grafted over the majority of the Louise hillside to Pinot Noir, we grew more Dijon clones of Chard than we do now. Originally three different Dijon clones were planted, 95, 96, and 76 on two different rootstocks. Now only the 0.5 acres of Dijon clone 76 remains as what we now call Germaine Vineyard.
The estate Pinot Noir came into the building relatively rapidly starting with a crop-load-trial in the Dijon 115 of Louise Vineyard. Maybe not surprisingly the lower tonnage of 2.25 tons/acre came in at a riper 24.3° Brix than the 115 at roughly 3.0 tons per acre leaving one cluster/shoot harvested at 24.0° Brix. In 1997 Louise Vineyard produced 6.5 tons on three acres of 5h leaf Pinot Noir Pommard and 115 vines between September 24th and September 29thbrought in at an average of 23.8° Brix.
Jessie Vineyard was still in its infancy producing only its second crop ever – still not quite ready to produce a single vineyard wine. We tried a similar crop-thinning experiement in Jessie as we did in the Louise 115 – we thinned half of the vineyard to 2 tons/acre and the other half of the vineyard to one cluster per shoot which resulted in a lower tonnage/acre just under 2 tons/acre. The lower tonnage/acre once again came in at a riper 24.6° Brix than the crop thinned to 2 tons/acre harvested at 24.2° Brix. Also interestingly about the Jessie experiment, the barrels of the lower tonnage/acre were favored by Steve and made it into the winemaker’s favorite barrel blend the Reserve. The 2/ton per acre Jessie went into the 1997 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir.
By 1997 Marjorie was starting to hit her stride producing an age worthy wine that we have been recently showing side-by-side with the 2007 Marjorie and is really showing itself off as a stunning wine. We harvested Pommard clone, Wadenswil and a lesser known clone Martini all between September 29th and October 6th. Marjorie produced a little more than 14 tons of fruit coming in at 1.8 tons/acre. The three self-rooted clones of Pinot Noir harvested between 22.0° Brix and 23.2° Brix produced a lower alcohol wine began to develop more complex fruits and earthy flavors in her 14th leaf. Even though a relatively early year for us at Cristom, Marjorie still was fermented with an average of 45% wholeclusters.
We were bringing more estate fruit in than ever and purchasing less and less from fewer vineyards. Steve was starting to develop a close intimacy with the properties we had been buying fruit from since our beginnings. Every year Steve was gaining a better understanding of the individual vineyard sites we buy from, particularly Canary Hill, Freedom Hill, Temperance Hill and Seven Springs. These vineyards have all been stapes of the Mt. Jefferson Cuvee and Reserve since 1992. We also bought fruit that year from Brickhouse Vineyard, Winter’s Hill, Chapelton Hill, and Coleman Vineyard. This was the third year in a row we worked with Chapelton Hill and Winter’s Hill and the second time working with Coleman. The fruit came in toward the end of the harvest almost entirely on October and 5th and 6th at a lower sugar content than most of the estate fruit at an average of 21.0° Brix.