Oregon Wine Symposium Part Two: Climatology
Held every year, the Oregon Wine Symposium is marked as "the premier educational event and trade show for the Northwest wine community." This was the first year that I had the pleasure to attend and following this past harvest, I was looking forward to lectures on some pretty hot topics in the Willamette Valley during the 2015 season. For locals you might have picked up on my pun there, but for the uninitiated, let's just say that year after year the Willamette Valley never ceases to surprise with the forecast. We'll get to that in just a moment, but first, an overview.
The two day event is organized by the Oregon Winegrowers Association and is held at hte Oregon Convention Center in Portland. It features more than 200 exhibitors on the trade show floor and pulls in guest speakers at the top of their fields, from local icons to world renowned professionals. And perhaps one of the coolest components is that at any point during the symposium you might just bump into on eof said icons, personal wine heroes, or the like.
This year, the lineup of speakers ranged from Patrick Criteser, CEO of Tillamook Country Creamery, to Rich DeScenzo, Group Leader of Microbiology at ETS Laboratories - essentially big picture business to DNA fingerprinting yeast cells in a winery...you get the idea. To say that there is something for every sector of this industry represented at the Symposium is an understatement. That said, there seemed to be one topic that transcended every niche of the wine business because it affects us all - climatology reports.
Dr. Greg Jones, Professor and Research Climatologist at Southern Oregon University, returned this year to provide a wrape-up of the 2015 growing season and some projections for what's ahead in 2016. Slide after slide of his presentation showed us that last year was one for the record books - not just Portland experiencing the most 90 degree days in a calendar year, but 2015 taking the cake as the hottest year in history. With much of the Northwest being victim to an El Niño pattern, we've seen the temperature of the ocen increase, which is even more drastic than land heating. The Arctic Sea ice extent is at its lowest level ever and the temperature gradient between the poles and the equator has dropped, resulting in the jet stream becoming more pronounced. Add to that a statistic like a record breaking accumulation of rainfall in Oregon between December 2015 and February 2016, it's no surprise to see meteorologists, viticulturists, winemakers, and even hospitality managers scratching their heads and wondering what lies ahead.
Queue the projections for 2016: To put it simply, Dr. Jones says to expect more of the current trend. Anywhere from 2012 to 2015 heat or beyond. With California already seeing bud break, I can't imagine we'll be far behind. Karen Peterson, Viticulturists at REX HILL & A to Z Wineworks, reported this morning that we are already seeing wooly bud stage in some vineyards! Will it be another early harvest in 2016? Will the rain let up and tourist season kick off early in the Valley? I guess we'll just have to wait and see. One thing is for certain, we can look forward to another year of surprises and I suspect another seminar full of coverage of what went down at next year's Oregon Wine Symposium.