McMINNVILLE &

Conditions aren't ideal, but wine grape growers in the Yamhill Valley say they likely won't get much better so they are bringing in this year's harvest as fast as storage and fermentation capacity will allow.




Before wet and unusually cool weather in late September it looked like an outstanding year for pinot noir, but the few more sunny days needed to round out the grapes didn't come and, at this late date, probably will not.







So far, botrytis, a fungus that thrives in wet conditions, is running only about 2 percent but could increase with more rain.




Growers say they have hopes for some high-quality wines from the vintage but faced with under-ripe fruit, they may have to resort to alternatives such as adding sugar or grape concentrate to ramp up the alcohol content to its usual levels.




That can produce good wines in skilled hands, but growers say by and large the vintage won't be what consumers are used to from the region.




A week ago Tony Rynders, winemaker at Domaine Serene, summarized the situation this way: "We have taken on about 2 to — inches of rain over the past week. The forecast is for the same over the next week. Temperatures are cool, so the fruit remains healthy. But gains in maturity are slow."




He said it will take skill to deal with the curveball nature has thrown at them.




The difference, he said will lie in the skills of the winemakers.




"This will really be a winemakers vintage," he said.




Marketing Director Allan Carter said the winery will use only ripe grapes to protect their reputation even if it means a substantial loss of grapes and wine volume.




Winemaker Melissa Burr at Stoller Vineyard agreed but said Stoller is in better shape than most because younger vines ripened early, allowing for earlier picking.




"What's in is awesome. The fruit looks healthy."




You've got to wake up with one eye in the vineyard and the other on the weather forecast, Burr said. "We may pick tomorrow. Our crews are ready to go at a moments notice."




In the Coast Range foothills winemaker Tamina Momtazi also is monitoring things on a daily, even hourly, basis. She said wet weather has made ground too soft to get tractors to some of the steeper vineyards.




On the valley floor west of the Eola Hills, Dave Coelho doesn't have vineyard access problems but is wondering how he will get top-end wine from grapes with a relatively low sugar content.




"We're going to try and bring in a couple of tons every day until were done," he said.




"Since the fruit isn't quite where we want it, I'm sacrificing some juice to allow more skin contact with what's left."




Each picking is being kept as a separate fermentation lot.




"The grapes may not be getting much riper, but they're staying clean and free of rot. We've seen very little loss so far," he said.