Washington winemakers enjoy cool reprieve from hot harvest

By on September 26, 2013
John Bookwalter owns J. Bookwalter winery in Richland and Woodinville, Washington.

John Bookwalter is the owner and winemaker at J. Bookwalter, which has tasting rooms in Richland and Woodinville, Wash. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Cooler temperatures this week have given winemakers across Washington a great sense of relief.

“I don’t think the grapes could look any better,” said John Bookwalter, owner and winemaker at J. Bookwalter. “This was the perfect time for the weather to cool down.”

Bookwalter spoke to Great Northwest Wine as he was hauling his third load of Syrah from Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Mountains district of the Yakima Valley to his winery in Richland. He said that despite the cooler temperatures in the past several days, these grapes still were 10 to 14 days ahead of normal.

“This is quite a turnaround from a couple of years ago,” Bookwalter said, referring to the unusually cool 2011 vintage. “From my perspective, this couldn’t be any better.”

Carter sees larger-than-expected crop

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on Red Mountain in Washington state.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes near peak ripeness on Washington’s Red Mountain. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Brian Carter, owner of Brian Carter Cellars in Woodinville, also appreciated the cooler weather, which has slowed the grapes’ march toward ripeness. Carter said the respite should help him and his crew catch up on fermenting wines and perhaps loosen up a bit of space in the cellar before more loads arrive.

“I think that by the end of the week, we’ll be back on a normal schedule waiting for things to ripen,” he said. “When it was hot, a lot of things were getting ripe at once.”

That said, today he will receive Cabernet Sauvignon from Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain, as well as Cabernet Franc from three different vineyards. By the weekend, he will have received Merlot from Boushey, Olsen and Solstice vineyards, the last of his Merlot in 2013.

“We’re more than halfway through bringing in grapes, and it’s not even the end of September! That’s pretty unusual. It’s one of the warmer vintages I can remember,” said Carter, who began making wine in Washington in 1980.

Carter said grape quality has been generally excellent, though acidity has been low.

Carter has no concerns about crop size. In fact, it’s coming in higher than anticipated, and he expects to make more wine this year than he ever has since launching Brian Carter Cellars in 2002. He said he asked his growers to carry more grapes in the hopes of slowing ripening. He has seen no effect on quality, and he will bring in about 10 percent more grapes than anticipated.

“I’m a big believer in hang time,” he said. “That helps preserve acidity. A heavier crop helps to slow things down.”

Cool reprieve in Walla Walla Valley

Chardonnay grapes ripen in the Columbia Valley of Washington state.

Chardonnay grapes ripen in the Columbia Valley. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

In the Walla Walla Valley, a bit of rain fell Wednesday.

“But it’s a nice little reprieve,” said Marty Clubb, owner and winemaker at L’Ecole No. 41 in Lowden. “That has slowed the fruit from ripening, which gives us more flexibility.”

Clubb, too, is past the halfway mark.

“We got all our Merlot done (Wednesday),” he said. “And most of our Semillon is in. We’re just starting with Chardonnay, and we’ve done one block of Cab. I’ll bet we’re done and in the door in two to two-and-a-half weeks.”

Clubb has noticed slightly smaller crop loads because of smaller berry and cluster sizes from the long, hot summer that settled on the Columbia Valley.

“From a quality standpoint, that’s good,” he said.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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