Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Warm 2013 Growing Season - Harvest Report September 11th

“Warm, warmest, and warmer is the best way to characterize the 2013 summer season,” wrote AgWeatherNet (weather.wsu.edu) in its recent email about Washington summer weather. They characterized 2013 as the second warmest summer on record and noted particularly warm temperatures at night. Other notables during the summer were June rains and an early July heat wave, the earliest major hot spell in more than two decades.

Winemaker Ben Smith at Cadence described the 2013 growing season similarly, saying, “Early heat, middle heat, and ending heat.” Many have noted a comparison to the warm 2003 vintage but Smith said, “2013 wasn’t as extremely hot as 2003 - many fewer days over 100 - but pretty close.” Still, GDD data from WSU shows 2013 currently tracking as slightly head of 2003 in terms of heat units.

Smith, who gets fruit from several vineyards on Red Mountain including his own Cara Mia Vineyard, said that there were a number of effects of the summer’s warm temperatures. “This lead to rapid ripening and a short interval between veraison and harvest,” he said “Merlot suffered the most in the heat by shedding more acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.”

For Smith, who picked his first fruit on September 5th, it’s his earliest harvest ever. “Ripening has progressed like a freight train from the end of August to present,” he said.

Despite the heat and early season, he remains optimistic about the vintage, saying, “The trick this year is to pick early enough to retain freshness in the wine. I’m not too worried about ‘phenolic ripeness’ – it appears the weather has baked out most of the really green pyrazines from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.”

Hillary Sjolund of Sonoris Wines, who also runs a consulting company called Enomama in the Tri-Cities, has a somewhat different take. She picked her first fruit on September 4th, sixteen days earlier than last year, and said, “In these vintages, you have to be careful of ‘jumping the gun’ a little bit,” she said. “I’m not afraid of sugar, as long as the flavor comes along. If we can afford to let stuff hang out there to get the flavor/tannin balance, then we should do it. The weather is certainly allowing us time for that. The sugar may be there, but the tannins could be green. We don’t want that.”

From what Sjolund has seen thus far, she’s been impressed with the quality of the fruit. “It’s going to be a great vintage,” she said. “The flavors have been really concentrated and intense, as I would expect with smaller clusters and smaller berries. Overall, we are seeing less tonnage in most areas.”

While last week brought rainy weather to some areas, few I spoke with noted any negative affects from the storm and some, like Sjolund, believed the effects were beneficial. “The slight cool down from that storm last week was great,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of rain out there, and it allowed me a few extra days…The wind picked up, and things dried out just fine.”

Still, Sjolund, who anticipates being completed with harvest by October 1st, said that the warmer vintage can present its own issues. “One thing that may be a challenge to winemakers this year is the temperature of the fruit at delivery. The fruit is warmer, fermentations are starting faster. Temperature control is going to be key.” Sjolund also noted that dehydration has been at issue with recent warm temperatures.

Looking back at the growing season thus far, winemaker Wade Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe, who works predominantly with fruit from the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills, noted three distinct weather related events: above average heat units for all months beginning in April; large fluctuations from record high temperatures to near record cool temperatures in May and June; and three times the average rainfall in June.

Wolfe noted that bud break, bloom and veraison were each about one week ahead of average in the vineyards he works with, with good set in all varieties. However, as summer has progressed, many of his sites have accelerated beyond this.

“A uniformly warm August, especially night time temperatures, advanced ripening and is resulting in harvest being about 12 days ahead of typical,” he said. “With any early start to harvest and projected warm September it should be a quick harvest with high quality fruit.”

Winemaker Josh Maloney of Milbrandt Vineyards said of the 2013 growing season, “The biggest difference this year is how early things started and stayed ahead of normal. In many areas this made it difficult for the vineyard crews to stay on track with all their work (shoot thinning, crop reduction, leafing, spraying, etc.). We also had a pretty hot July and early August, which appears to have affected the acid levels in the grapes, which are lower than normal.”

While many have noted that they are ahead of historical averages, Maloney said that this is not the case for his warmer sites on the Wahluke Slope. He wrote several days ago, “We’re only about a week into harvest at this point, but right now it looks like we are picking things on a ‘normal’ schedule, not an early schedule. This may be a side effect of the work being done late in the vineyard, or it might be that the average to warm sites in Washington don’t get any significant bump from warm years.” However, Maloney did note his cooler sites were approximately 10 days ahead of average.

Maloney also noted that things have slowed down in the vineyard in the past week. “It’s agonizing this time of the year because so many vineyards look like they are almost ready, but not quite. Everyone at the winery is ready to go and I want to pull the trigger on lots of fruit, but it just isn’t there yet.”

The last series of vintages have each provided their own unique challenges. 2010 was a cool growing season; 2011 was even cooler and followed by a vintage that tracked to historical norms in 2012. Now Washington’s many new vintners are experiencing their first true warm vintage. “We will have once again many winemakers with a new experience,” said Kent Waliser of Sagemoor Vineyards.

Waliser noted that the June rains led to bigger canopies in some cases in his vineyards, which have been running about 10 days head of historical averages since bud break. “Not the best situation but it has been manageable, although I am sure it has contributed to early ripening,” he said.

“For the most part we have good crop levels to match the growing season,” Waliser said. “We expect harvest to last until the end of October and, unlike the last four years, we expect it to be quite orderly. That will be unusual if it happens.”

Pictures by Richard Duval.

* * *

See information on the Washington State Growing Degree Days here.

See monthly forecast for Yakima Valley (Sunnyside), Red Mountain (Benton City), Walla WallaPaterson, 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
--
Pinot Gris
Bacchus
8/26

--
Sauv Blanc
Sagemoor
8/27

--
Sauv Blanc
Bacchus
8/29

Novelty Hill/Januik
Sauv Blanc
Bacchus
8/31

Claar
Sauv Blanc
White Bluffs
9/3
Earliest since ‘79 planting
--
Riesling
Sagemoor
9/3

L’Ecole
Merlot
Candy Mt
9/5

Gard
Pinot Gris
Lawrence
9/6
9/20 last year
Rasa
Riesling
Bacchus
9/7
2 tons
Long Shadows
Merlot
Candy Mt
9/9

Long Shadows
Syrah
Candy Mt
9/9

WW Vintners
Merlot
Sagemoor
9/9
Block 4
Rasa
Chardonnay
Sagemoor
9/9
6 tons
Sonoris
Merlot
Dionysus
9/10
3.5 tons
Columbia Crest
Syrah
Beverly
9/11

Yakima Valley
Milbrandt
Pinot Gris
Art Den Hoed
9/3
20 Brix
Panther Creek
Chardonnay
French Creek
9/4

Avennia
Sauv Blanc
Boushey
9/5

Owen Roe
Malbec
Union Gap
9/7

S of H
Chardonnay
French Creek
9/7

Tranche
Counoise
Blackrock
9/7
For rose
Tranche
Grenache
Blackrock
9/7
For rose
Eight Bells
Merlot
Red Willow
9/7
3 tons
Cote Bonneville
Merlot
Dubrul
9/9

S of H
Chardonnay
French Creek
9/10
2nd pick
Betz
Syrah
Red Willow
9/12

Red Mountain
Patterson
Pinot Gris
Ciel du Cheval
8/26

Guardian
Sauv Blanc
Klipsun
8/29

--
Sauv Blanc
Artz
8/30

Auclair
Sauv Blanc
Artz
8/31

Auclair
Semillon
Artz
8/31

Woodinville Wine Cellars
Sauv Blanc
Artz
9/3

--
Cabernet Sauvignon
Quintessence
9/4

Cadence
Merlot
Cara Mia
9/5
If no rain delay
Seven Hills
Merlot
Ciel du Cheval
9/5

Patterson
Roussanne
Ciel du Cheval
9/5

Patterson
Viognier
Ciel du Cheval
9/5

--
Merlot
Ciel du Cheval
9/6

S of H
Merlot
Scooteney
9/7

Force Majeure
Syrah
Force Majeure
9/7
Last of hillside Syrah
Estrin Estates
Merlot
RMV
9/7

S of H
Merlot
Scooteney
9/8

Sonoris
Merlot
RMV
9/8

Force Majeure
Mourvèdre
Force Majeure
9/8
Head trained
Guardian
Merlot
Ciel du Cheval
9/9

Guardian
Merlot
Obelisco
9/9

Va Piano
Merlot
Red Heaven
9/9
First bin
Walla Walla
Woodward Canyon
Sauv Blanc
Estate
8/27

Woodward Canyon
Chardonnay
Estate
9/3

Seven Hills
Merlot
Seven Hills East
9/5

L’Ecole
Merlot
Seven Hills
9/5
Block 6
Sleight of Hand
Chardonnay
Stoney Vine
9/7
First pick
WW Vintners
Merlot
Seven Hills
9/9
Block 15
Leonetti
Merlot
Seven Hills
9/9
Old Block
Woodward Canyon
Dolcetto
Estate
9/10
Brought in on 29th last year
--
Merlot
Meir Place
9/10
5.39 tons from 2 acres
Wahluke Slope
Locati Cellars
Pinot Gris
Rosebud
9/4

Brian Carter Cellars
Merlot
StoneTree
9/4
6 tons
Guardian
Merlot
StoneTree
9/9

Guardian
Malbec
StoneTree
9/9

Horse Heaven Hills
Mercer Estates
Sauv Blanc
Mercer
9/7

Robert Karl
Sauv Blanc
McKinley Springs
9/9
First fruit
Sonoris
Syrah
Champoux
9/11

Columbia Crest
Syrah
Coyote Canyon
9/12

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