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Harvest Report September 18th

The past week has seen some remarkably unsettled weather in eastern Washington, from record high temperatures to dust storms, rain, and hail. While, thus far, the damage to Washington’s grape harvest appears to be minimal, it has caused anxiety and, in some cases, heartbreak.

“Hail during harvest is a winemaker and vineyard owners’ worst nightmare,” winemaker Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars noted on Facebook. “Especially after spending all season growing this wonderfully perfect ripe fruit.”

Hail is often highly localized, impacting one specific area and leaving another adjacent area completely untouched. This week’s storm appeared to be no different, causing very specific damage in isolated locations.

Busch noted that, in the affected site that he works with in the eastern Yakima Valley, only the west side of the canopy received hail damage as the high winds blew the hail from the west. He also noted that none of the other vineyards that he works with were hit by the storm. “I have a vineyard one mile to the west that was completely unaffected,” Busch said.

This growing season has seen other hailstorms, some more serious than others, notably in parts of the Ancient Lakes and Yakima Valley. However, most growers have been unscathed by the storms.

In addition to this week’s isolated hailstorms, a large dust storm – or haboob - occurred on Sunday in Walla Walla Valley. The storm brought wind gusts of over 50 miles per hour according to the National Weather Service. At Windrow Vineyard, the wind bent vineyard stakes. At L’Ecole No 41, Marty Clubb said the high winds blew over stacks of empty picking bins.

“This year is just kind of weird in terms of anomalous things,” Clubb said. To wit, last week even brought tornado warnings to the Walla Walla Valley. “I lived hear for 25 years I’ve never heard of a tornado,” Clubb said. To date, these storms do not appear to have caused any widespread damage in the vineyards as much as they have rattled nerves during harvest.

* * *

While many have noted that the warmth of the vintage has accelerated the harvest schedule, that’s not the case for all growers. “I have heard reports of lots of Merlot already in the barrel and early harvest from around the state but not so far for us,” said Fielding Hills’ Mike Wade, who grows fruit on the Wahluke Slope. Wade picked his first fruit, Merlot, on Tuesday.

Wade noted that, while bud break was early, bloom and veraison tracked to average historical dates at his site. Though he is just starting to pick fruit, much of it is near maturity, with the exception of Cabernet Franc. “It can make things tight for small wineries when varieties ripen too close and you run out of space,” he said.

Marty Clubb, owner and managing winemaker at L’Ecole No 41, also isn’t as far ahead as he expected considering the warmth of the vintage. “Just based on heat units, I would think we would have been ahead of where we were,” he said.

At L’Ecole, Clubb has currently brought in 190 tons of fruit, a little under one third of what he is expecting in 2013. “We’re pretty much done with Merlot,” he said. Clubb expects harvest to wrap up quickly, saying, “I’ll be surprised if we’re not done by four weeks at the outside.”

Clubb noted that Merlot has been a bit more affected by the warm weather than the other varieties he works with. “The berry weights for Merlot were especially low in our early sites,” he said. “In a warm year, you also see thicker skins. It’s translated into really nice flavor development but with a little less acid than we normally like.”

However, Clubb added the caveat that potassium levels seem to be higher this year. “I actually think our acids aren’t quite as low as the numbers would indicate because of the higher potassium,” he said.

Despite the warm weather, Clubb said that sugars haven’t gotten out of control. “I expected to see higher sugars than what we are seeing,” he said. “Out of everything we’ve seen, I’ve only seen two blocks over 26 Brix.” He attributed this to the vines shutting down in extreme heat.

Clubb also noted that not all vineyards were impacted equally by warm weather. “Younger vines are more impacted by heat more than older vines,” he said. “Older vines tend to adjust somehow. They ripen consistently regardless of what the heat level is – not totally but there is some sort of adjustment that goes on.”

Summing up the vintage, Clubb said, “You need structural balance and acidity to best age wine. The challenge this year is not the structural component, with the smaller berry weight and thicker skins. The challenge is the slightly lower acids. But these wines will have good structure.”

Looking at the growing season, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon said of his estate site in the Walla Walla Valley, “2013 will be a vintage to remember. We observed that bud break was at least a week or more earlier than normal assuming we start pruning at roughly the same time every year, which we do. We are now harvesting fruit about a week to two weeks earlier than ‘normal’. And while it is clearly warmer than 2012, the early harvest is not entirely due to the heat but also to the substantially smaller crop we have grown in 2013.”

Small picked his first fruit, Sauvignon Blanc, on August 28th – almost two weeks earlier than 2012 with his Chardonnay almost three weeks ahead on his estate site.

“So far we have been waiting for physiological ripeness but harvesting on the front side of that rather than waiting,” Small said. “For now I am simply trying to stay in front of this vintage. We are sampling fruit almost every other day because maturity is moving so quickly in certain blocks or vineyards.”

On the other side of the valley, winemaker and grower Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery said that the hallmark of the vintage was turbulent weather patterns in the spring along with dry and very warm weather throughout the summer. McClellan said this has resulted in lower yields in some varieties and locations, as well as an early harvest.

“Flavor wise, we are looking at intense, fruit driven characters, with strong tannin levels in reds, even in Merlot,” he said. “I think we will see less dried herb notes and more softness on the palate. Alcohols will tend to be higher.”

McClellan picked his first fruit – Ciel du Cheval Merlot – on September 4th, 13 days head of last year. “Well ahead of average,” he noted.

Read previous 2013 harvest reports here.

Picture of haboob courtesy of Robert Ames. Picture taken at Myra road on-ramp on Highway 12 at 6:43pm Sunday. 
Picture of hail damaged fruit and leaves courtesy of Trey Busch, Sleight of Hand Cellars
Picture of bent vineyard stakes at Windrow Vineyard courtesy of Jan Roskelley, Tero Estates.
Other images courtesy of Richard Duval. Click on the pictures for larger images. 


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
--
Chardonnay
Lawrence
9/12

--
Sauv Blanc
Lawrence
9/12

--
Viognier
Lawrence
9/12

Novelty Hill/Januik
Chardonnay
Cold Creek
9/13

Rasa
Syrah
Bacchus
9/13
3 tons
--
Viognier
Lawrence
9/17

Isenhower
Tempranillo
Echo Ridge
9/17

Yakima Valley
Avennia
Sauv Blanc
Red Willow
9/6

Avennia
Sauv Blanc
Boushey
9/6

Avennia
Syrah
Red Willow
9/11

Cote Bonneville
Chardonnay
DuBrul
9/12

EFESTE
Syrah
Red Willow
9/13

EFESTE
Merlot
Red Willow
9/13

Wind Rose
Orange Muscat
Lonesome Springs
9/13

SOF
Cab Franc
Blackrock
9/14
For rose’
Airfield
Merlot
Estate
9/16

Brian Carter
Merlot
Olsen
9/17

Brian Carter
Malbec
Olsen
9/17

Brian Carter
Syrah
Olsen
9/17

Kerloo
Grenache
Angiolina Farms
9/17

Kevin White
Syrah
Elephant Mt
9/18

Red Mountain
Cadence
Cab Sauv
Tapteil
9/11

Cadence
Cab Franc
Cara Mia
9/11

Cadence
Cab Sauv
Cara Mia
9/11

Efeste
Merlot
Klipsun
9/11

Force Majeure
Syrah
Force Majeure
9/11

Avennia
Merlot
Angela’s
9/11

--
Cab Sauv
Quintessence
9/13

Efeste
Merlot
Klipsun
9/13

Cadence
Cab Franc
Cara Mia
9/13
CF01
Cadence
Cab Sauv
Ciel du Cheval
9/13

Dubindil
Merlot
RMV
9/13

SOH
Merlot
RMV
9/13
3.52 tons
Force Majeure
Grenache
Force Majeure
9/14
Headtrained, hillside
Betz
Merlot
Ciel du Cheval
9/16
Block 1
Smasne
Cab Sauv
Scooteney Flats
9/16

Force Majeure
Cabernet Franc
Ciel du Cheval
9/17

Force Majeure
Petit Verdot
Ciel du Cheval
9/17

Walla Walla
Woodward Canyon
Syrah
Estate
9/10

Waters
Syrah
Old Stones
9/13
3.7 tons
Seven Hills
Merlot
Seven Hills
9/13

Woodward Canyon
Merlot
Estate
9/13
South Block
JM
Merlot
Margaret’s
9/14

Doubleback
Merlot
Bob Healy
9/17
First fruit
Rasa
Syrah
SJR
9/17
3 tons
Rasa
Merlot
XL
9/17
1 ton
Wahluke Slope
--
Tempranillo
StoneTree
9/11

--
Syrah
StoneTree
9/11

--
Merlot
StoneTree
9/11

--
Malbec
StoneTree
9/11

Kerloo
Tempranillo
StoneTree
9/12

Rulo
Chardonnay
Sundance
9/12

Bergevin Lane
Merlot
StoneTree
9/13

Tamarack
Mourvèdre
Weinbau
9/13
For rose’
--
Grenache
StoneTree
9/14

Flying Dreams
Tempranillo
StoneTree
9/17

Brian Carter
Grenache
StoneTree
9/17

Brian Carter
Malbec
StoneTree
9/17

Efeste
Syrah
StoneTree
9/17

Fielding Hills
Merlot
RiverBend
9/17

Horse Heaven Hills
Rotie Cellars
Grenache
Alder Ridge
9/12

Waters
Roussanne
Alder Ridge
9/12
6.5 tons
Waters
Viognier
Alder Ridge
9/12
1.55 tons
Mercer Estates
Grenache
Spice Cabinet
9/12

Swiftwater
Merlot
Zephyr Ridge
9/13

Robert Karl
Merlot
Andrews Ranch
9/13

Robert Karl
Malbec
McKinley Springs
9/13

Syncline
Mourvèdre
Coyote Canyon
9/16

Lake Chelan
Vin du Lac
Chardonnay
Michaela’s
9/13
First Chelan fruit
Snipes
Isenhower
Viognier
Upland
9/16

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