Owners Dan and Helen Dusschee planted the iconic Freedom Hill Vineyard in 1981. Their son, Dustin, has recently taken over the farming responsibility in yet another generation of sustainable stewardship, maintaining the family legacy. Freedom Hill Vineyard is tucked into the coast range on a gentle southeast slope. Protected from the Van Duzer coastal winds, this vineyard has a warmer climate than those of the neighboring Eola-Amity Hills. The soils here are a sedimentary, uplifted seabed and are thought to be among the oldest in the region. These ancient soils, combined with the vineyard’s microclimate are now recognized as part of a new sub-appellation within the Willamette Valley called Mt. Pisgah.
Vineyard: 100% Freedom Hill Vineyard, Mt. Pisgah, Willamette Valley AVA
The weather patterns in the Willamette Valley are truly some of the varied and impactful influences that contribute to making this an amazing and challenging region in which to grow wine grapes. There is no doubt that we have extreme weather events due to climate change, but our overall growing conditions moderate these spikes compared to cool climate regions from around the globe. The 2019 vintage drove that point home with obvious reminders that we are truly still a cool climate region.
The winter of 2018 started off generally mild, then finished cold and wet as we transitioned into early 2019. The spring was wet as is typical in the Willamette Valley, but a warmer than usual in April and we saw a warmer than average start to the growing season following bud break. As in 2018, we once again aimed for lower yields in all of our sites through aggressive shoot thinning to ensure the vines concentrated on developing the fruit we intended to harvest.
The summer began with moderately warm weather in late May and June, allowing for consistent flowering followed by near-record rain in late June and July. Basically, we were in the midst of possibly the highest mildew pressure vintage any grower in this valley had ever experienced. That said, the vines, as Kevin Chambers from Koosah Farm observed, “were very happy!” Why? The answer is that there were no heat spikes in 2019, giving us an old school Oregon cool summer.
August brought warmer temps, but none of the real heat waves we have come to expect throughout late summer. Pinot noir and Chardonnay like more consistent temperatures and got exactly what they wanted in 2019. Our growers made one last pass at veraison to drop any damaged fruit and fine tuned the crop even further to ensure the vines had an optimum chance to ripen their fruit.
As we moved into September, the mildew pressure began to threaten the grapes in the valley. Luckily, in the Eola-Amity hills, we receive assistance from the powerful Van Duzer winds to help fight off botrytis and mildew, which keep the vines happy and mostly dry. By the numbers, September saw the lowest heat accumulation since 2007, but as we had lower yields in all of our sites at the outset of harvest through intentional shoot thinning, the vines were in balance and delivered beautiful, ripe fruit.
There is no denying that 2019 was challenging. Just over 5 inches of rain fell in September, but that was over the entire month following a dry August, allowing the dry earth to absorb much of the moisture. We danced with and around the rain events, picking our sites when we had a good window and the fruit was ready.
We spoke with a fellow winemaker at a tasting event in November following harvest whose first vintage was 2014 and he said, “I thought this (winemaking) was easy”. We’ve had it pretty easy from 2014-2018 for sure. You really have to look back at 2007, 1996 or 1995 for a vintage to compare with 2019, where patience was the name of the game.
While Walter Scott produced significantly less wine in 2019 due to yields, we could not be happier with the result. We are so excited for you to experience this vintage through our wines!