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2011 Harvest Report - September 29th Edition

Thursday, September 29, 2011

After a long wait, the 2011 harvest is underway in Washington State. Over the coming weeks, I will provide periodic updates on what is picked, where, and when as well as thoughts on the growing season from the state’s growers and winemakers.

9/29 Update:
Harvest began for many this year about September 14th, roughly two weeks or so behind the “norm.” However, to truly understand the 2011 growing season, we need to look back to 2010.

The big story last year was the exceptionally cool vintage – the coolest the state had seen since 1999. While there was much concern about the potential for an early frost, it was a late November freeze that became one of the year’s defining moments. But not for the 2010 vintage - for the 2011 vintage.

The frost came on Thanksgiving week on November 23rd. Temperatures dipped down as low as 10 degrees below zero. Fruit was already off most of the vines. However, due to the late growing season, many of the vines had not gone dormant. This made them particularly susceptible to frost.

Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, which is usually protected from cold weather due to its proximity to the Columbia River, and the southern section of the Walla Walla Valley AVA – always exposed when temperatures get cold – were the worst affected. It is, however, worth noting that some vineyards in these areas were not affected at all.

Vineyards in other areas showed sporadic damage based on factors such as location, varietal, vine age, and watering regimen. Estimations from earlier this year were that the 2011 crop could be down 15% or more based on the effects of the freeze, although final numbers will not be available until early next year.

2010 looked to be an anomalous, cold year – until 2011 proved to be similarly cool. Growing Degree Days, a measure of heat accumulation, tracked at or below 2010 levels for much of this year. The result was that bud break, bloom, and veraison were even later this year than last year. By June some growers were reporting they were as much as two weeks behind last year’s pace. In contrast to 2010, however, bloom and veraison were more even with good set.

As Mother Nature is wont to do, things turned around the middle of July when temperatures increased across Washington and maturation accelerated. Though temperatures warmed, the state still did not see the highs common in the summer, with eastern Washington seeing far fewer 100 degree-plus days than in previous years.

Many, however, saw this as a boon. Vines shut down in extreme heat. Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars says, “Best August and September I have seen as a winemaker. August never over 95 degrees and never under 85 for a high. Just even and perfect ripening weather.” Busch notes, however, that the good weather will need to continue to help cooler sites ripen.

There were consequences to 2011’s cool weather. Temperatures did not go high enough to kill mold in the vineyard throughout much of the growing season. As a result, many saw mold pressure as high as any year in recent memory. “It’s a good year to have stock in chemical companies,” one grower noted wryly.

By mid-September when harvest started, Washington was a pastiche of growing conditions. Some report being several days ahead of last year’s pace. Many report being five to seven days behind last year. Some report being as much as fourteen days behind last year and still awaiting veraison. Growing Degree Days have, however, caught up with 2010 as of earlier this month according to WSU.

Winemaker Mike Januik, who makes wines for both Januik Winery and Novelty Hill, brought in his first grapes on Monday – one day earlier than his first pick last year. In many years he has brought in fruit by late August.

Januik notes that it’s been another interesting, late year in Washington. “The last two harvests, I’ve had all my weekends off in September and in 28 years these are the only times that this has happened,” Januik says.

Kent Waliser of Sagemoor Vineyards agrees that it is another interesting growing season in Washington. Waliser has harvested Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling and Barbera in the last two days, though he notes that Sagemoor is a warmer site and the vineyard sells to producers making a variety of different styles.

While one of the big stories last year was high acids, acidity seems to be more in check this year. Mike Januik says, “The one concern that one might have in a cool year (like 2011) is that acidity levels remain too high, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. So far, grapes seem to be quite nicely balanced.”

2011 looks to be another compressed harvest season for Washington’s growers and winemakers, with the majority of fruit coming in during a shortened period. Long Shadows winemaker Gilles Nicault says, “This growing season will be challenging for anyone…who does not have a lot of tank capacity as the harvest season will be fast and furious.”

There are still numerous potential hazards to navigate. Some growers have started to see botrytis in the vineyard. The weather over the next month will determine how significant an issue this becomes.

Meteorologist Cliff Mass notes that Washington will be transitioning to a cooler weather pattern this weekend that will bring a significant chance of rain in eastern Washington next week. Time will tell if this presents any issues.

Winemaker Brian Rudin of Cadaretta summarizes the feelings of many, writing, “The 2011 vintage in Washington State is like the 800-page novel you can’t put down. It starts slowly, leaving you unsure of where it is going. Halfway through, you think you maybe start to understand it, and its showing promise. By page 687, you realize it’s maybe the best book you’ve ever read in your life, and you can’t wait to see how it is going to end.”

Note: Punchdown picture courtesy of Betz Family Winery.

See information on the Washington State Growing Degree Days here.

Monthly forecast for Yakima, Walla Walla, and Mattawa.

* * *

The information in the table below is aggregated from personal correspondence with growers and winemakers, as well as information posted on Twitter and Facebook. It is not intended to be comprehensive but rather is intended as a snapshot of what is going on around the state. If you wish to send data for your grapes or vineyards (or correct any of the information below), please email me at wawinereport@gmail.com, leave a comment here, or leave a comment on the WWR Facebook page.

Winery

Grape

Vineyard

Date

Notes

Columbia Valley

--

Sauvignon Blanc

Sagemoor

9/14

First fruit of 2011. 3 days earlier than 2010.

Rasa Vineyards

Riesling

Bacchus

9/25

First fruit of 2011

--

Pinot Gris

Art Den Hoed

9/26


Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chardonnay

Cold Creek

9/26


Januik

Chardonnay

Cold Creek

9/27

First fruit of 2011

Rasa

Riesling

Dionysus

9/28


Long Shadows

Merlot

Dionysus

9/29


Yakima Valley

Cote Bonneville

Chardonnay

DuBrul

9/28


Sleight of Hand

Chardonnay

French Creek

9/29


Long Shadows

Merlot

Candy Mountain

9/29


Red Mountain

Betz

Merlot

Ciel du Cheval

9/23


L’Ecole No 41

Sauvignon Blanc

Klipsun

9/26

First fruit of 2011

Hedges

Merlot

Estate

9/26

First fruit of 2011

DeLille

Merlot

Ciel du Cheval

9/27


Covington

Sauvignon Blanc

Klipsun

9/27

First fruit of 2011

Soos Creek

Merlot

Ciel du Cheval

9/27

First fruit of 2011

Guardian

Sauvignon Blanc

Klipsun

9/28


Walla Walla Valley

Woodward Canyon

Chardonnay

Estate

9/26


--

Merlot

Seven Hills

9/30


Wahluke Slope

--

Merlot

Clifton

9/27


Brian Carter

Merlot

StoneTree

9/27


Brian Carter

Malbec

StoneTree

9/27


Brian Carter

Tempranillo

StoneTree

9/27


Steppe

Merlot

StoneTree

9/28


Desert Wind

Gewürztraminer

Desert Wind

9/28

First fruit of 2011

Waters

Malbec

StoneTree

9/28


Kerloo

Tempranillo

StoneTree

9/28


Horse Heaven Hills

Forgeron

Roussanne

Mercer

9/29


Robert Karl

Sauvignon Blanc

McKinley Springs

9/28


Snipes Mountain

--

Sauvignon Blanc

Snipes

9/19

First fruit of 2011. Syrah and Temp expected by end of week or early next.

--

Merlot

Snipes

9/30


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2 comments

  1. PaulG Says:
  2. Nice summation! Weather in Walla Walla has turned cool and damp - not good. Some vineyards are still dropping fruit in a last-ditch effort to ripen something. Yields waaay down in most places. The weather is expected to remain cool and cloudy over the next few days, with the possibility of the first freeze as soon as October 9 or 10. Ouch!

     
  3. Paul, ouch indeed! Time to cross the toes too.

     

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