I’ve been asked the same question a lot lately. “So, how are the 2012 wines coming along….. are they really as amazing as everyone is saying?” This is a good question. The thing that is weird though is that people have been asking me how great the 2012’s are since the berries first entered the building last September. The wines aren’t even finished yet, some aren’t even through their secondary fermentations and still these wines seem pre-ordained for greatness. I feel as if the first 100 point Oregon vintage score has already been awarded to 2012 and nobody has tasted a single 2012 wine in bottle yet.
Now normally I am one of the first people to jump on the bandwagon of a coming vintage. I love to foreshadow to consumers and critics and sommeliers and random people on the street about how exciting the recent vintage will perform in their glasses and cellars. And I consider all vintages to be exciting, so that is important to remember about me. But I do not consider all vintages to be great and I definitely do not consider all vintages to be equal. and I also believe that from where I see a vintage and how the average consumer sees a vintage are two very different points of view. As well, it is important to say that I can only tell you about a vintage through the Bergstrom Wines lens. When it comes to things as personal as stylistic choices on farming, yields, picking decisions, fermentation techniques etc…. I choose to only comment on what we are responsible for.
For me, a vintage is the culmination of a year’s-worth of hard work in the fields, the sigh of relief that our crop was harvested by hand under inclement or arid conditions and brought to safety under the eaves of our winery building and above all else, a celebration that I no longer have to watch the four weather stations and their forecasts three times a day for at least another 4 months. Hot or cold, long or slow…. vintages are exciting. And the good news for wine lovers is that every year we have something new to be excited about. Another opportunity to rediscover all of our favorite wines that were crafted under new and different conditions. Every year is a renaissance for our love of wine.
2012, my 16th vintage in Oregon, Is indeed a very exciting vintage. But I feel that I need to put it into perspective.
In 2010, we had the latest and coolest vintage that we had ever seen in Oregon to date. We had very low yields of beautiful fruit that had to sit through one of the most miserable springs and summers I have ever seen…. and I grew up in Portland Oregon, so I am used to bad weather. When we finally felt as if the nail biting and hair pulling over the weather had perhaps come to an end and the season might turn out alright, we experienced “the birds”: Hitchcockian flocks of hungry winged beasts from the North descended into our vineyards and decimated our fruit. We yelled at them, we shot at them, we threw rocks at them, we prayed for larger birds to come eat the smaller birds but in the end, they won the fight and we had to harvest even smaller yields in late October. Personally Bergstrom Wines lost 70% of our Chardonnay and 40% of our Pinot Noir to the birds and the weather. But the resulting wines are gorgeous. And I will always remember 2010.
In 2011, we started off the year by saying; “well now that 2010 is over and there is no possible way on earth that a vintage so stressful could ever happen again in this lifetime”…we finished off the year crying in our soup. 2011 was even later than 2010 and Mother Nature added insult to injury by providing a bumper crop for us to have to drop on the ground. After a recession and the birds, I can tell you that dropping that much fruit on the ground was sad and painful, but it was necessary. The spring never came. The summer never came and all of a sudden it was fall and the fruit was not ripe. I even travelled to Burgundy and worked harvest there, came home and waited a whole month before we started picking our fruit. The harvest went deep into the month of November and we worried at every step of the way that the birds would return and the rains would fall like toads from the sky bringing with them the apocalypse and ultimate demise of an industry that had worked so hard for 48 years to get a foothold. But when the fruit came in and the tanks were emptied into barrel, I couldn’t help but smile. The resulting wines are gorgeous. And I will always remember 2011.
Now 2012 arrives after two years where we saw very little sunshine. Two years where the wines smell and taste of the beauty of trial and tribulation and sacrifice. Two years of nearly broken human spirit, but gorgeously intriguing wines that will unfold as slowly as their growing seasons did. And 2012 arrives with the same gloom and doom in the early spring and we all think…..”ok, time to move… Oregon weather officially sucks!” But then, miraculously the sky clears and the rest of the year is sunshine with a capital S. As if Mother Nature showed up at our front door with our fraternity pin as if to say: “congratulations brother, you survived initiation and all of the hazing I could throw at you.” A glorious late spring and a warm, dry summer ensued with very few bumps in the road from July 4th until harvest time in late September. In fact, we saw over 95 straight days of sunshine and no precipitation during the key time of our growing season. We were able to harvest at will, when we wanted to and how we wanted to which is always a welcome blessing. 2012 came with no bumps, no bruises, no sleepless nights, no pondering how to petition the Federal Government for emergency funds on a lost crop…. No, 2012 was dare I say it…. easy. And the resulting wines are gorgeous. But I will probably not always remember 2012 for the same reasons I will remember 2010 and 2011.
As in many vintages, the wines of 2012 taste like the season; soaked in sunshine and happiness. And the wines are indeed delicious. They are monumental in fact. These are big, fruity, purple, extract-rich Pinot Noirs with aromas of ripe blueberry pie, black currant and ripe dark cherry liqueur and they could easily be confused for Northern Rhone Syrah if they didn’t have that outstanding and unmistakeable deft-defying balancing act that hangs on the tip of your tongue which only Pinot Noir can achieve. The 2012’s contrast brooding with bright and They exude opulence and embody hedonism but it is again the balance and mouthwatering acidities that keep these wines real and honest. And yes, you should be excited about this vintage in the same way that 2000 was exciting in Bordeaux and 2001 was exciting in Germany and 2005 was exciting in Burgundy and 2010 was exciting in the Rhone Valley….. get my drift? They are kind of a big deal.
I can’t help thinking about 2010, 2011 and 2012 in a couple of different ways. Especially when people ask me about how the 2012’s taste, I can’t help but think about how, in today’s wine world, everybody wants the next best thing. What is the newest technology? What is the next 100 point vintage? No, forget that, when is the next 103 point vintage? Who is the new garagiste and are they starting a cult I can convert to? What is that rare corsican native wine varietal you can’t pronounce that is only fermented in clay amphoras and can only pair perfectly with a near extinct bird that needs to be roasted alive? There are so many extremes and so much to be excited about these days. The Wine world just gets bigger and bigger and is evolving at the same furious pace that our societies are and sometimes I gaze upon a new and curious bottle of wine with the same look of fear and trepidation that I give to my i-phone. “What is this strange creature?”
Then vintages like 2010 and 2011 come along and remind us of how wine used to taste. And they remind us of how we used to appreciate wines. When you finally come to understand them, they hit you hard, like that random memory of a distant summer when you were young…. and you have a visceral reaction remembering a song that you loved back then or the first motorcycle you ever rode, or your first kiss, and a floral perfume that you caught on the afternoon breeze and memorized and stored away in your brain for some future moment. These are powerful wines and they are important wines. And when I smell them and taste them I remember so much.
These great vintages forged a clear path for 2012 to be enjoyed unencumbered by stories of stress or rain or worry. 2010 and 2011 carried the heavy load on their backs for 2012 like proud parents carrying the burden of child rearing. Like an older generation, the 2010’s and the 2011’s had a work ethic and a struggle that gives them unmistakeable character. The kind of character and personality that you don’t see as much anymore. The kind of character that the press and the average consumer will usually miss or dismiss as “elegant”, or “food friendly.” And, like an older generation, these wines will develop with age into treasures that you wish you had more of and wish you could keep around just a little bit longer to listen to and learn from.
Their successor on the other hand….. that rowdy and boisterous 2012 almost seems entitled. So much decadence and showmanship for such a youngster. As if he didn’t work as hard to get to where he is now but is still enjoying all of the spoils the world has to offer believing he was destined for it all. And he is getting swept up in the revolution of bigger, faster, NOW!!! The stage is calling. Will he ever appreciate all of the praise being showered upon him? Only time will tell how he grows and matures and develops. But he shows such promise. And he comes from good stock. 2012 is a worth seeking out and coveting. But not at the expense of skipping over 2010 and 2011. You can’t understand one without the others.
My second thought about 2012 is a simple and more humble one: “Thank the powers that be above for sweet, sweet sunshine!” After having lived in Oregon all of my 37 years you would think that I and all other Oregonians are immune to the bad weather that gives tourism in our state during 9 months out of the year a bad rap. But I can honestly say that after 2010 and 2011 I worshipped the sun of 2012 like no other year. I spent every waking hour outside, in the vineyards, on my back porch, barbecuing, driving through wine country with the windows down, kissing my freckled and sunbathed wife and children…. I loved it. I soaked it up. The 2012 wines remind me of those blue skied days and so I love these wines. And so should you, if only for the selfish reason of remembering one of the greatest summers we have ever had in this great green State of Oregon.
2010 and 2011 will drink well after 2 years in the bottle but will really start to shine between 5 and 8 years in the bottle and some will continue to evolve and change and get even better for 15 to 20+ years. And the greatest wines of the 2010 and 2011 from Oregon will live for decades and will hopefully come to define a generation of winegrowers who, after 45 years of hard work have finally honed their craft and re-energized the wine world with some very memorable efforts from a very unique corner of the world.
2012 on the other hand is everything that I have said above and more….except for one very important fact: 2012 has yet to be bottled. And so, it is yet to be written into the annals of Oregon wine history. So hey, take it easy out there and cool your jets….. While you wait for the 2012’s to go to bottle and eventually show their true colors, bask in the glory of two vintages that are not to miss. You won’t regret it.