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Sean P. Sullivan

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Cold snap hits Washington

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Every five to eight years a deep freeze hits eastern Washington causing significant crop loss. The last freeze was in 2004 and resulted in more than 80% crop loss in Walla Walla, the area hardest hit. The effects were felt throughout the valley. L'Ecole No. 41 was unable to make their flagship wines - the Apogee and Perigee - due to the freeze and instead released a first ever Ferguson Reserve wine. At Seven Hills Winery winemaker Casey McClellan was able to eek out small production of cabernet to continue 20-plus years of successive vintages. Many Walla Walla Valley producers who rely on Walla Walla AVA fruit were forced to get grapes from the Columbia Valley to make their wines. Some simply skipped a vintage, a difficult thing to do for young, fledgling wineries. A lucky few, such as Spring Valley Vineyards, were relatively unaffected due to the higher elevation of their vineyard. Fruit from their vineyard made it to a number of areas producers.

Four years later, we are once again in the grips of some serious weather. The current temperature in Walla Walla is 5 degrees with a high of 9 and a low of -1 forecast today. Later this week, the forecast calls for snow on Wednesday and Thursday with a low of -4 on Friday. While cold weather in eastern Washington this time of year is more or less the norm and vineyards take a variety of measures to protect their crops, such as burying shoots and placing heaters in the vineyard, this is perilously close to the temperatures at which crop damage can occur. For damage to occur, a terrible convergence of factors such as time of year, humidity, temperature etc must come together. That said, the extended severe cold weather is cause for concern.

Read an interesting post on factors that contributed to the last significant crop damage from Andy Perdue at Wine Press Northwest's blog.

Stay tuned.

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