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A Note About The 2020 Vintage


At the beginning of September 2020, the vintage looked to be an almost perfect growing season with very small open clusters and a lot of excitement about the quality of the upcoming harvest.  Then, the fires began in the Santiam Canyon west of Salem on 9/5/20. They were unusual in intensity, size, and devastation. Located 20-35 miles from our vineyard sites, the actual fires were not close to vineyards, like in Sonoma and Australia. However, a significant amount of smoke blew east from the Santiam Canyon into the Willamette Valley, especially for the first 4-5 days. Then, the winds resumed their normal pattern of blowing off the Pacific Ocean from the west. This largely cleared the Valley of smoke by the 10th.
At that time, there was little research about how to test for smoke taint, and only general advice on treatment if you knew you had a smoke problem in the wine. The problem was: did we? We did know that treatments for smoke taint essentially stripped the wine of most of its character. Because only a shadow of the original wine was left, treated wines would be declassified with a price reduction.
As we did not detect smoke in the grapes or the fermenters, I picked the grapes, made the wines, and observed for signs of smoke taint. We found none, even after a year in barrel, so after 17 months of aging, we decided to bottle the wines as vineyard designates.
Two years later, I have decided that the 2020 Pinot noirs will only sell at the winery at a significantly reduced price. 
Why? Recent research suggests that some smoke compounds can be present in a non-aromatic state – “glycosylated”- or hooked to a glucose molecule. Over some time, even years, those compounds can shed their glucose and become smoky, even if they are lovely now.  So, they may not be age-worthy. You trust the wines I sell to be top quality, whether you drink them now or in a decade. So, every bottle will be marked with a fire/smoke graphic and have a QR code link to a full explanation. You can easily recognize the 2020 Pinot noirs and make an informed decision about when to drink.
Also, a taster’s sensitivity to smoke taint varies widely.  Some tasters might hate wines with even a minimal smoke signature. We were not 100% certain about Temperance Hill Vineyard 6 months ago. It is now clear that Temperance Hill has smoke taint. 
What about the other three 2020 Pinot noirs? After assessing these wines in a series of blind tastings with senior staff, the 2020 Pinot noir, Shea Vineyard is one of our top three wines when tasting all the 2019, 2020, and 2021 wines. It is in the Spring 2024 WineClub at less than half price. Please try it now. If you like it, buy more. And drink it over the next year. I am concerned about longer-term aging. Enjoy this with foods that have bold flavors, like Indian curries, barbecue, Sloppy Joes, etc.
If you have any additional questions about the 2020 vintage, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Thank you for your support, 
Mark Vlossak, Winemaker