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The Van Duzer Winds of Willamette Valley

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The Van Duzer Corridor is a gap in the Coast Range Mountains that lies between Corvallis and Lincoln City, Oregon. During certain times of the year, this corridor can be particularly windy due to low-pressure systems moving along the Pacific from Alaska. These winds are known as “Van Duzer Winds” and they can reach up to 50 mph at their peak! 

The Willamette Valley is one of the premier wine-producing regions in Oregon and home to some of the best Pinot Noir in the world. But what makes these wines so special? The answer may lie with a unique wind phenomenon known as “Van Duzer Winds” that occurs during certain times of the year. These winds, which can reach speeds up to 50 mph, are believed to be an important factor in the quality and character of grapes grown in this region.

How the Van Duzer Winds Help Grapes Grow in Willamette Valley

The Van Duzer Winds help grapes grown in Willamette Valley taste special because they bring cool air and dryness to the region. The wind brings with it a “Diurnal Temperature Difference” (DTD) which is when temperatures drop lower at night than during the day. This helps grapes mature slowly and evenly, leading to increased flavor complexity. Additionally, these winds also create a protective layer of fog that keeps vines safe from temperature extremes. As a result, grapes are able to ripen longer and develop better flavors without being damaged by extreme heat or cold. 

The Van Duzer Winds have been occurring for many centuries, with records of their activity going back to the 1800s. It is believed that these winds were first observed by fur traders traveling along the Oregon coast. The wind corridor itself has also been present in the region for thousands of years, with evidence suggesting that it formed when the Coast Range Mountains were pushed up by tectonic activity. 

van duzer corridor map
Map of the Van Duzer Corridor AVA courtesy of the Oregon Wine Board

Though they are seasonal in nature, the Van Duzer Winds generally occur from mid-August to mid-October and can reach peak speeds of up to 50 mph. The winds can be quite powerful and have been known to blow away light objects such as umbrellas or plastic cups.

How Do the Van Duzer Winds Protect the Vines Against Frost

The Van Duzer Winds create a protective layer of fog that keeps the vines safe from extreme temperatures, including frost. The winds also bring in cool air and dryness, which helps grapes to mature slowly and evenly without being damaged by extreme cold or heat. The misty veil created by the Van Duzer Winds helps to insulate the vines against frost damage, allowing them to ripen longer with more complex flavors. The breeze prevents temperatures from getting too low at night which is critical for helping grapes reach their full flavor potential without suffering from frost damage.

Analyzing the Effects of Climate Change on These Winds in Recent Years

Climate change has had a major impact on the Van Duzer Winds in recent years. Warmer temperatures have caused these winds to become more frequent and intense, with higher peak speeds reaching up to 60 mph. Due to this increased intensity, the winds are now blowing more frequently, leading to drier and warmer conditions throughout the Willamette Valley region, further exacerbating drought conditions. 

The increased intensity of the Van Duzer Winds has also caused them to extend beyond their normal seasonal duration. In some areas, these winds can start as early as July and continue through December. This extended season causes vines to mature too quickly which leads to a reduction in flavor complexity and decreased quality in wines produced from these grapes. 

Climate change has not only increased the intensity of the Van Duzer Winds but it has also changed their direction. Scientists have reported that oceanic warming is shifting wind patterns away from traditional northwest-to-southeast directions towards a northeasterly trajectory. This shift affects grape cultivators by reducing cold air drainage from higher elevations into lower ones which could lead to delayed frost protection for vineyards located at lower elevations. 

The effects of climate change on the Van Duzer Winds have been felt even further due to an increase in dry lightning strikes and larger wildfires occurring during recent years. These phenomena disrupt wind patterns even further and can cause destructive storms of high winds that can damage vineyards or ruin entire crops if they occur during harvest season. 

What Impact Will Climate Change Have on the Van Duzer Winds If It Keeps Getting Worse?

If climate change continues at its current rate, the Van Duzer Winds will suffer further disruptions such as longer seasonal durations which could lead to grapes ripening too quickly and reduced flavor complexity. 

If climate change continues to worsen, certain American Viticultural Areas (AVA) located in the Willamette Valley will be most affected by the changing Van Duzer Winds. These AVAs include the Dundee Hills, Yamhill Carlton, and Chehalem Mountains as their lower-lying vineyards are prone to frost damage and reduced cold air drainage. This means that these AVAs may struggle with grape ripening too quickly due to extended seasonal durations of the winds leading to reduced flavor complexity in the finished wines.

In addition, increased intensity of the Van Duzer Winds has also been noted, with peak speeds reaching up to 60 miles per hour. This can cause destructive storms of high winds that can damage vineyards or ruin entire crops if they occur during harvest season. Furthermore, shifts in wind patterns away from traditional northwest-to-southeast directions towards a northeasterly trajectory could lead to delayed frost protection for vineyards located at lower elevations which would further put these AVAs at risk for decreased quality wines. 

What Other Areas Are Similar Winds Prevalent?

Maritime effects like the Van Duzer Winds are present in a number of different areas across the Pacific Northwest region, including Puget Sound in Washington, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the San Juan Islands. These winds are particularly prevalent in coastal areas due to the unique geography of the region. The steep terrain allows for the air to move quickly and efficiently as it passes over mountains and valleys. 

Similar wind effects have also been observed in California’s North Coast AVA, an area that includes Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and Mendocino County. This area is often affected by winds due to its coastal proximity and mountainous topography. The wind corridor is notable for its wide range of temperatures, with an average temperature difference of 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit between night and daytime temperatures. 

By providing ideal growing conditions for vines across a number of different areas throughout the Pacific Northwest region, these winds help ensure that wines produced from these grapes are capable of reaching their full flavor potential.

Final Thoughts on the Van Duzers

The Van Duzer Winds have a major impact on the quality of wines produced in the Willamette Valley region. By providing ideal growing conditions for vines across multiple areas, these winds help ensure that grapes can reach their full flavor potential and produce high-quality wines. However, climate change has had an adverse effect on these winds by increasing their intensity, extending seasonal durations, shifting wind patterns away from traditional directions, and causing destructive storms of high winds during harvest season. As such, it is important to monitor how climate change will continue to affect this phenomenon so winemakers are able to adapt accordingly and protect their crops against frost damage or decreased cold air drainage.

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Go Deeper into Oregon Geology? Try these books!

Cataclysms on the Columbia- The Great Missoula Floods (OpenBook) Bretz's Flood- The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World's Greatest Flood

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