Monday, November 4, 2013

Washington 2013 - A Tale of Two Harvests

Washington’s growing season and harvest in 2013 was a two part story.

As I have written before, 2013 was a warm year – the second warmest on record behind 2003 in terms of Growing Degree Days. However, as the chart below from Washington State University shows, the season actually ran ahead of 2003 throughout the growing season and into the beginning of harvest before things took a sudden turn.

“The above average heat during the growing season will define the 2013 vintage,” said grower Jay Dewitt of Dumas Station in the Walla Walla Valley. “I don't recall a summer that was so consistently hot day after day. Usually we get a break at some point, but not in 2013.”

The warm season provided a challenge for growers. “Proper irrigation and nutrition management were absolutely vital as it became apparent that 2013 was a marathon for the vines and we wanted them to cross the finish line as champions rather than quitters on the side of the road,” said Red Mountain vineyard manager Ryan Johnson.

“Vines can tolerate heat pretty well if they are not in a stressed situation, so this would not be the year for getting behind irrigation or stressing the vines very much,” said Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard.

Johnson said that they were up for the challenges 2013 presented. “Unlike the baking summers of 2003 and 2005, we seemed to be prepared and equipped to deal with it,” he said. “We grew bigger canopies for more shade and protection, kept adequate nutrition levels in the vines to avoid unnecessary stress, and carried a crop load that was appropriate for the conditions.”

Winemaker Mike Macmorran of Mark Ryan Winery noted that getting the vines to shut down after precipitation earlier in the season provided some difficulties. “Many of our growers had to manage not only extremely high temperatures in the vineyards but vines that were more interested in shoot growth than shoot lignification,” he said.

The warm season not only challenged growers, it also challenged winemakers. “One of things I noticed in a few of our blocks was how quickly the fruit changed from having unripe qualities to suddenly being ready to pick,” said Macmorran. “This was very apparent in Merlot and Syrah.”

“It was the kind of vintage where, if you weren’t in your vineyard tasting fruit, I could see people getting burned pretty easily this year,” said Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars.

While winemakers were worried that the warm temperatures would compress the harvest season, especially after record heat in the middle of September, unseasonably cool weather came to eastern Washington for the remainder of the growing season and caused harvest to take an about face.

“After the middle of September, the season pretty well ended in terms of heat accumulation,” said Sauer. “I think we only had two days that even slightly exceeded 75 degrees.”

“By mid August I expected everything to be done by probably the beginning of October,” said Trey Busch. “I thought it was going to be fast and furious, and then the last two weeks of September cooled down and we got that rain. That pushed most of our Bordeaux varietals back a few weeks to allow a little more hang time and flavor development. It was almost like two harvests really.”

The cool temperatures had a direct effect on Brix levels. “I was surprised to see how the abrupt weather change the end of September really stalled sugar accumulation,” Macmorran said. “While I expected things to slow down after the rain and cooler weather I was surprised by how long it took to see Brix levels begin to rise again.”

The change in temperatures allowed for a more even pace to harvest compared to the last few years. “Unlike the last few vintages in which some varieties have ‘piled up’ on each other for Harvest scheduling, 2013 was quite sequential,” Ryan Johnson said. “Whites, Merlot, and Syrah were followed by Cab Franc and Cab Sauv. Italian varieties, late-ripening Rhones, and Petit Verdot all fit nicely across a range of pick dates. What more could a manager ask for?”

“We never ran out of picking bins. We never ran out of fermenters,” Busch said. “It was truly an eight week harvest. You go back to 2011 and it was a four and a half week harvest.”

Those who waited until the second part of the harvest season were happy that they did. “I saw lots of people picking reds in September based on sugar,” John Bigelow of JM Cellars said, “but that sugar was like Fool's Gold because the acids were still high and the plants still had more energy to put into the flavors of the grapes. The week of rain in September slowed everything down and allowed those of us who were patient to have a fantastic October picking Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Syrah, Cab and finally Petit Verdot.”

Josh Maloney at Milbrandt Vineyards said that the second part of harvest was noticeably different from the first in terms of the fruit. “I noticed a big increase in flavors after the nights started getting cool, and the overall concentration on the flavors increased as well,” he said. “The wines we made during part one are good, but they aren’t as exciting as the wines we’re making now.”

However, the September rains did lead to some challenges. “The sporadic rains we’ve had over the past month have caused a big problem with rot in Riesling,” Maloney said last month. “We are being forced to test every load for two things – minimum Brix and rot…For some reason they haven’t increased in sugar hardly at all over the past month.”

Despite the change in temperatures, 2013 still ended up as a warm year. “We had 3,270 heat units in 2013,” Sauer said. “That’s by far the most we’ve ever had.” In contrast, he had 3,100 heat units in 2003 and 2,400 in 2011, a cool year. “This was the hottest year since we started our winery in 1989,” agreed David Larsen of Soos Creek, who added, “Brix were also lower than expected, given the record number of Growing Degree Days.”

Indeed, many noted that the Brix levels were lower than anticipated considering the warmth of the vintage but still ended up somewhat high. “Our alcohols are going to be on the higher end, just based on the vintage,” Busch said, adding, “We make wine in eastern Washington. It’s a desert.” Busch said that acidities were mixed. “It just depends on the site really,” he said. “Even in a warmer vintage like this, the good sites hold onto their acids without getting ripe too fast.”

“Brix were really not that high considering the warm vintage, kind of funny really,” said Bob Berthau, head winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle. “Acids were certainly lower, but sugars were all in all on the reasonable side.”

Maloney said that 2013 wasn’t too different from 2012 at his sites. “All the sugar levels this year for all of our fruit were either very similar to their levels last year or in some cases even lower, both in Wahluke Slope and Yakima Valley,” he said. “Acid levels were also very similar to last year, which is to say that they were pretty low for the most part.”

In general, many said that whites and early ripening varieties, such as Merlot and Syrah, bore the brunt of the effects of the heat. “Syrah came off earlier than anything else for us this year,” Busch said. “All three of my Syrah vineyards were earlier than we’ve ever picked them before. Merlot certainly came off earlier than what a normal year would provide.” Busch noted however that flavor development was good in both.

Berthau in particular was excited about Syrah in 2013. “Two words: Oh my...Okay, maybe a third. Wow!” he said. “Syrahs loved the heat this year, got to the jammy stages without having excess shrivel that can happen in more marginal years. Cooler, perfect finishing weather allowed this to occur in my opinion. Look out for big, rich, concentrated wines down the line.”

Despite the heat, John Bigelow and many others were quite pleased with the results. “Usually there are a couple of picks each year that go into wine that I bulk out to volume producers, but I don't see that happening with this year's fruit,” he said. “Customers are going to see very big, very rich red wines out of this vintage.”

With the warm growing season and its dual harvests at an end, vineyard manager Ryan Johnson looked back and said simply, “The biggest challenge was keeping my refrigerator stocked with cold beer!”

NB: This is my last harvest update of 2013. My sincere thanks to all of the growers, winemakers, and others who contributed their thoughts and insights throughout this year's harvest season. 

All 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
Rasa
Riesling
Dionysus
10/4

Rasa
Cab Sauv
Dionysus
10/4

Rasa
Petit Verdot
Dionysus
10/4

NHV
Marsanne
Sunland
10/4

NHV
Grenache Blanc
Sunland
10/4

Waters
Cab Sauv
Cold Creek
10/4

Isenhower
Petit Verdot
Dionysus
10/6
Block 13
The Grande Dalles
Riesling
Estate
10/8

Boudreaux
Riesling
Gamache
10/14

Walla Walla Vintners
Cab Sauv
Sagemoor
10/15

Charles Smith
Syrah
Stoneridge
10/17

--
Cab Sauv
Bacchus
10/17

--
Malbec
Gamache
10/17

--
Albarino
Evegreen
10/20
Ancient Lakes, Victor Palencia
EFESTE
Cab Sauv
Bacchus
10/22

--
Cab Sauv
Lawrence
10/22

Yakima Valley
Avennia
Cab Sauv
Red Willow
10/3
1985 plantings
--
Cab Sauv
DuBrul
10/7

Avennia
Syrah
Boushey
10/10
7.2 tons
AniChe
Cinsault
Elephant Mt
10/10

AniChe
Dolcetto
Elephant Mt
10/10

AniChe
Counoise
Elephant Mt
10/10

AniChe
Mourvedre
Elephant Mt
10/10

Wind Rose
Barbera
Lonesome Springs Ranch
10/11

Wind Rose
Cab Sauv
Lonesome Springs Ranch
10/11

Wind Rose
Malbec
Lonesome Springs Ranch
10/11

Flying Trout
Malbec
Konnowac
10/13

--
Grenache
Olsen
10/13

--
Cab Sauv
Olsen
10/13

--
Riesling
Olsen
10/14

Cote Bonneville
Cab Franc
DuBrul
10/14
For rose
Martedi
Cab Sauv
Two Blondes
10/15

Sleight of Hand
Cab Sauv
Blackrock
10/15

Sleight of Hand
Cab Franc
Blackrock
10/15

Sleight of Hand
Cab Sauv
Raj Majal
10/16
At French Creek
Rasa
Cab Sauv
DuBrul
10/18

Woodward Canyon
Riesling
DuBrul
10/18

--
Merlot
Art Den Hoed
10/19

Airfield
Syrah
Estate
10/20

Wind Rose
Pinot Grigio
Pontin Del Roza
10/22
2.5 tons
Rasa
Cab Sauv
DuBrul
10/24

JM
Syrah
Boushey
10/26

Barrage
Cab Franc
Boushey
10/26
Last pick
Smasne
Cab Sauv
Otis
10/28

--
Syrah
Art Den Hoed
10/30

Red Mountain
Sleight of Hand
Cab Franc
Scooteney Flats
10/5

Sleight of Hand
Petit Verdot
Scooteney Flats
10/5

Sleight of Hand
Malbec
Scooteney Flats
10/5

Sleight of Hand
Cab Franc
RMV
10/10

EFESTE
Cab Sauv
Klipsun
10/15

Rasa
Cab Sauv
Kiona
10/18
‘Plus One’
--
Merlot
Red Heaven
10/21

Walla Walla
--
Sangiovese
Windrow
10/4

--
Merlot
Windrow
10/4

Waters
Syrah
Pepper Bridge
10/4

Waters
Syrah
Old Stones
10/4

Sleight of Hand
Cab Franc
Blue Mountain
10/5
Block 14
J&J
Riesling
Les Collines
10/8

Waters
Syrah
Forgotten Hills
10/10

SuLei
Cab Sauv
Les Collines
10/11

Walla Walla Vintners
Cab Franc
Dwelley
10/12

Rasa
Grenache
Monette’s
10/12

Rotie
Syrah
Pepper Bridge
10/13

Rotie
Syrah
Patina
10/13

Sleight of Hand
Syrah
Stoney Vine
10/14

Walla Walla Vintners
Syrah
Estate
10/17
Tablas Creek
--
Petite Sirah
Windrow
10/17

--
Cab Sauv
Windrow
10/17
Hill Block
--
Merlot
Windrow
10/17
Herb’s Block
Tero
Sangiovese
Dugger Creek
10/17

Rasa
Cab Sauv
XL
10/18
Perfect Union
Rasa
Mourvedre
Monette’s
10/18
QED, Vox Populi
Sleight of Hand
Cab Sauv
Blue Mt
10/19
Block 11
Sleight of Hand
Cab Franc
Blue Mt
10/21
Block 3
Walla Walla Vintners
Cab Sauv
Pepper Bridge
10/22

Walla Walla Vintners
Cab Sauv
Estate
10/22

Walla Walla Vintners
Sangiovese
Estate
10/22

Va Piano
Cab Franc
Va Piano
10/22

Sleight of Hand
Petit Verdot
Blue Mt
10/24
Block 16
Sleight of Hand
Cab Franc
Blue Mt
10/24
Block 1
Tero
Cab Franc
Windrow
10/29
2.5 tons
Tero
Cab Sauv
Windrow
10/29
Plateau North Block
Ancient Lakes
--
Chardonnay
Evergreen
10/14

--
Chardonnay
Evergreen
10/15

--
Riesling
Ancient Lakes
10/16

--
Riesling
Evergreen
10/21

--
Riesling
Evergreen
10/22

--
Riesling
Evergreen
10/25

Wahluke Slope
Rasa
Cab Franc
Weinbau
10/8

Rasa
Cab Franc
Weinbau
10/12

--
Cab Sauv
Wahluke Slope
10/14

--
Cab Sauv
Clifton Bluff
10/15

--
Malbec
Northridge
10/17

Angel Vine
Zinfandel
StoneTree
10/18

--
Cab Sauv
Wahluke Slope
10/21

--
Merlot
Wahluke Slope
10/22

--
Cab Sauv
Northridge
10/25

--
Petit Verdot
Northridge
10/31

Horse Heaven Hills
--
Cab Sauv
The Benches
10/2

Robert Ramsay
Cab Sauv
Phinney
10/5

Rasa
Chardonnay
Wallula
10/8
1.5 tons
Rotie
Grenache
Alder Ridge
10/13

Seven Hills
Cab Sauv
Double Canyon
10/17
First HHH fruit
Sleight of Hand
Cab Sauv
Phinney Hill
10/19
Gunselman Block
Sleight of Hand
Cab Sauv
Phinney Hill
10/22

Den Hoed
Cab Sauv
The Benches
10/24

Columbia Gorge
Major Creek
Pinot Noir
Jewett
10/11

Syncline
Gruner Veltliner
Underwood
10/22
Last of the grapes
Ross Andrew
Chardonnay
Celilo
10/24
Last pick
Snipes
Sleight of Hand
Grenache
Upland
10/14

Kevin White
Grenache
Upland
10/18

2 comments:

  1. It'll be an interesting vintage to taste when the wines are released - I'm excited. A quick question: what is the vineyard pictured at the top of this article? It's a gorgeous photo...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Brandon,
    So glad you like the image -- i captured this at Red Mountain not two weeks ago! One of my favorites of the harvest season. You can see more in previous editions of WWR's harvest reports and on my FB page Duval Images.

    Cheers,
    Richard Duval

    ReplyDelete