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All across Washington, harvest started wrapping up this week with many winemakers reporting that they were bringing in their last fruit. For some, harvest finished right when they expected. For others, the recent cold weather put a sudden end to the growing season.

More freezing temperatures came to the eastern Washington Wednesday morning, one week after some saw the first freeze of the year. The area around Red Mountain saw the worst of it, with temperatures in Benton City getting down to 18 degrees. Some, such as Ciel du Cheval, had already finished up harvest. Others still had fruit to bring in, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

Low-lying areas of the Yakima Valley again saw cold temperatures Wednesday morning of 20-25 degrees. Paterson went down to 25. In Walla Walla, an inversion helped some areas but not others. Blue Mountain Vineyard got down to 32 degrees. However, across the valley, Windrow Vineyard saw their first freeze of the year with temperatures at 25 degrees. Meanwhile the Wahluke Slope remained warmer at 34.5 degrees.

For some, this put a punctuation mark on the sentence that started with last week’s freeze. Winemaker Nicolas Quille of Pacific Rim says, “Many sites in low lying areas were affected last week, no damage on clusters but canopies were either completely fried or just the outer leaves.” Quille says, for him, areas in the Horse Heaven Hills and Yakima Valley were the most affected. Quille says that the last week has been a triage, prioritizing defoliating vineyards before the berries fall to the ground.

Most winemakers who have not already brought in the last of their fruit expect to do so in the next week.

* * *

One of the hallmarks of the 2011 growing season and harvest has been lower sugar levels and a decreased crop load. However, it’s important to remember that there are always variations across the state. Winemaker Jon Martinez of Maison Bleue says, “You would think that for a cool vintage you wouldn’t have the level of ripeness that I have gotten. All reds are 24-25.7 Brix.” Martinez, who is happy with the quality of the fruit, says one element was key this year. “I think the one thing I learned about this vintage was patience,” he says. “Patience for me paid off.”

Jay Dewitt of Minnick Hills Vineyard and Dumas Station is pleased with the crop yields. “Yields are slightly higher than originally anticipated, but still below what we saw in 2010,” Dewitt says. “The initial color extraction is good, and flavors are advanced beyond what would be expected for lower than average brix numbers.” Dewitt believes that there will be a good deal of high quality wine from the vintage.

Red Mountain vineyard manager Ryan Johnson, who finished up harvest last weekend, described 2012 as the most labor and management intensive vintage he has experienced in twelve years. In particular Johnson noted the extreme mildew pressure throughout the year. “In some vintages, we can get by with 3-4 fungicide applications for the entire year,” Johnson says. “In 2011, we were spraying 3 to 4 times a MONTH, even through veraison. Most of us in Washington haven’t ever seen such persistent, heavy mildew pressure for the length of the entire season. I called it ‘The Year of Spray and Pray.’”

Johnson also noted that the timing and extent of canopy management was a “chess match” this year, trying to allow enough light and air into the canopy without causing too much sun exposure during the hot days of August and September. Johnson says of Washington’s second straight cool vintage, “Hopefully as an industry we learned some more about cool/late seasons and fruit maturation—back-to-back difficult years have been great for our collective education.”

Woodward Canyon’s
Rick Small, who finished up harvest on Monday, says, “We knew this vintage was going to be compressed; I did not believe it would run as late as it did however. We made cluster thinning decisions early throwing fruit down in certain vineyards, especially for our most important reds.”

Small, whose first vintage dates back to 1981, had to search back for a year comparable to 2011. “This vintage reminds me most of 1984 followed then by 1991 and 1993,” Small says. He is optimistic about the results. “The wines are sure to be different but they will be good from good producers…The wines will be more like the wines we used to make 25 years ago; like left bank Bordeaux possibly.”

Gordy Venneri of Walla Walla Vintners, whose first commercial wine was in 1998, agrees. “This is the way we made wine in the old days when our weather in the summer and fall was not quite so hot,” Venneri says. “We are picking later than ever on some vineyards at Brix between 23.0 and 25.0. In some hotter years we have picked earlier and Brix were over 25.0 until the flavors developed.” Venneri says that the acids and tannins are well balanced at the lower alcohol levels and that the resulting wines are flavorful.

Ultimately, the 2011 was a challenging one for many and few are sorry to see the harvest season come to an end. Ryan Johnson says of the 2011 vintage, “Pretty much every day I had a bare-knuckle brawl with Mother Nature, and she likes to hit below the belt.”

This will be the last of this year’s harvest updates. My sincere thanks to all who contributed information and photos this season. We’ll do it all again next year.

Photo of fermenting Funk Vineyard Syrah courtesy of Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars, @sofhcellars

See information on the Washington State Growing Degree Days here.

Monthly forecast for Yakima Valley (Sunnyside), Red Mountain (Benton City), Walla Walla, Paterson, 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

Waters

Cabernet

Cold Creek

10/27


Kaella

Cabernet Franc

Conner Lee

10/28


Rasa

Cabernet

Sagemoor

10/28


Cadaretta

Chardonnay

Wallula

11/1


Rasa

Petit Verdot

Dionysus

11/3


Yakima Valley

Waters

Cabernet

Olsen

10/27


Rasa

Cabernet

DuBrul

10/27


Rasa

Pinot Gris

Kilian

10/27


Trio Vintners

Mourvedre

Den Hoed

10/27


OS

Cabernet

Elephant Mt

10/30

4 tons

Long Shadows

Syrah

Boushey

11/2


Red Mountain

Animale

Carmenère

Kiona

10/29


Trio Vintners

Grenache

Heart of the Hill

10/31


Trio Vintners

Syrah

Heart of the Hill

10/31


Trio Vintners

Sangiovese

Heart of the Hill

10/31


Woodward Canyon

Cabernet

Hedges

11/1

Last fruit

Walla Walla Valley

--

Cabernet

Windrow

10/27


Rasa

Syrah

Yellowbird

10/27


Robison Ranch

Merlot

Dwelley

10/30


Woodward Canyon

Cabernet

Les Collines

11/1

Last fruit

Kerloo

Syrah

Blue Mountain

11/1


TERO

Cabernet

Windrow

11/1


--

Cabernet

Windrow

11/1


Sleight of Hand

Cabernet

Blue Mountain

11/2


Sleight of Hand

Cabernet Franc

Blue Mountain

11/2


Wahluke Slope

Rasa

Cabernet Franc

Weinbau

10/27


--

Cabernet

Northridge

11/2


Rasa

Cabernet

Weinbau

11/3


Snipes

Rolling Bay

Cabernet

Upland

10/28


Horse Heaven Hills

Sleight of Hand

Cabernet

Phinney Hill

10/27

3.7 tons

Rasa

Mourvedre

Alder Ridge

10/27


Woodward Canyon

Cabernet

Canoe Ridge

10/28

Block 7, 16

McKinley Springs

Cabernet

McKinley Springs

10/29

Last of fruit

McKinley Springs

Petit Verdot

McKinley Springs

10/29

Last of fruit

Woodward Canyon

Cabernet

Champoux

10/29


Lake Chelan

Hard Row

Cabernet Franc

Estate

10/29


Four Lakes

Syrah

Estate

10/30


Hard Row

Riesling

Estate

11/1


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