Washington’s grape harvest off to a slow start
Cool summer and fall temperatures have delayed grape harvest, but quality looks good.
Wine barrels at Maryhill Winery wait to be filled, just as many of Washington State’s wineries wait for grapes to crush.
Washington State’s grape harvest is finally underway after one of the latest starts in many years.
Mike Concienne of National Grape Cooperative Association (Welch’s) in Grandview reports they crushed Niagara juice grapes first and moved into Concords the first week of October. The early October Concord start date was the latest start for Concords since 1971, he said, adding that the average start date is September 18. “We knew the stage was set for a late crop when both bloom and veraison dates were some of the latest dates we’d ever seen.” As daylight hours get shorter, the window for ripening shrinks each day, but a lighter juice grape crop this year will help bring on sugars.
“There are some good things about the crop,” Concienne said. “The quality looks very good, with good Concord flavor notes and good color. And, the smaller crop is a help.”
The crop was estimated to be an average of 7.3 tons per acre, down from last year’s big crop of more than 10 tons per acre. The industry average is around 8 tons per acre. He expects sugar levels to come in around 16° Brix, still high but not the 17° that have been reached in recent years. “The 17s will be hard to achieve this year. We will have some growers that will struggle to reach sugars this season.”
Wine grapes late, too
Wine grape grower David Gelles of Red Mountain’s Klipsun Vineyards, said that harvest was about two weeks later than normal. Red Mountain is one of the state’s warmest appellations. Winemakers have commented to him that the grape acids (titratable acids) are higher than normal because of the cooler weather.
The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance reports a light crop in the Walla Walla Valley, but one with good flavor development in the berries. Growers there adjusted crop load earlier in the season to hasten maturity after they experienced one of the coldest months of June ever, with bloom delayed by three weeks.
Hogue Cellars hopes to start harvesting reds varieties from the state’s warmer sites the first full week of October, according to Rick Hamman, viticulturist for Hogue Ranches and Mercer Estates. He’s been tracking the heat units accumulated this year and finds that the number is very close to that of 1999, known as a great vintage year for Washington State wines.
Disease pressure from intermittent rains in September has added to growers’ worries, Hamman said. Rots began showing up in tight clustered varieties, such as Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. “Some growers are having to deal with a lot of rot and dropping much of their crop because of rot. That gets very costly.”