Washington winemakers deep in grapes with harvest in full swing

By on September 17, 2014
Washington winemakers are picking Chardonnay grapes right now.

Chardonnay grapes glisten in the late summer sun in Washington’s Yakima Valley. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Winemakers across Washington state are deep in white wine grapes and starting to bring in reds.

“Right now, it’s a Chardonnay tsunami,” said Bob Bertheau, head winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. “All the Chard is coming home.”

Bertheau told Great Northwest Wine that while his primary focus is on bringing in white wines such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, he will make picking calls this week on a little Syrah from his estate Cold Creek Vineyard north of the Yakima Valley and already has quite a bit of Merlot harvested from Canoe Ridge Estate in the southern Horse Heaven Hills. Cabernet Sauvignon is on the horizon.

“I might even bring in a bit of Cab next week,” he said. “Merlot at Canoe Ridge is perfect. I’m seeing jammier flavors in Cold Creek Cab than Merlot. The flavors are rich, just like last year.”

This year’s vintage is expected to yield another record harvest, with grape growers and winemakers bracing for perhaps 230,000 tons – up from 210,000 tons last year. It’s also been an extremely warm vintage, with some winemakers having picked a lot of grapes well before Labor Day. Most Washington winemakers say their picking calendars and grape quality are comparable to 2013.

Bertheau, who makes more Riesling than any other winery in the world, has even brought in a bit of it from some of the warmer sites. But despite this being one of the warmest vintages on record in Washington, Bertheau is not concerned about his high-end Rieslings getting too ripe too soon.

“We spread our fingers into cooler areas such as Ancient Lakes,” he said. “Those areas don’t get as warm as these interior regions. Our Eroica blocks are still around 18 Brix. They aren’t going to be ready tomorrow. You can’t even put your mouth on them now because they’re so tart.”

Eroica is Ste. Michelle’s high-end Riesling brand crafted with German winemaker Ernst Loosen.

Lake Chelan harvest getting started

Washington winemakers in Lake Chelan are just starting harvest.

Tildio Winery is on the north shore of Lake Chelan near the town of Manson, Wash. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

In Lake Chelan, a cooler region in the northwest corner of the vast Columbia Valley, harvest is just getting started. Katy Perry, owner/winemaker of Tildio Winery on the north shore of Lake Chelan near the town of Manson, picked Chardonnay on Sunday and began taking Sauvignon Blanc on Tuesday.

“Everything else is at least a couple of weeks away,” Perry said. “Cabernet Franc is probably three weeks off.”

Perry, who used to be a winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, said every region in Washington has its own flavor profiles and characteristics. What she likes about the burgeoning Lake Chelan region are the lovely aromatics, particularly with white wines. She believes this is because the nights tend to get so cool.

“We’ve already had some mornings that were 38 degrees,” she said.

Woodward Canyon wrapping up whites

walla walla valley wine

Rick Small, owner and founder of Woodward Canyon Winery in the Walla Walla Valley, is pleased with how his 2014 wines are looking. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

In the Walla Walla Valley, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery is done picking white wine grapes from his estate vineyard, as well as Tempranillo.

“Things are going really, really well for us,” he said. “I just threw yeast on the Merlot on Saturday. Things are starting to build up. I’m optimistic, but it’s a little early to tell very much.”

Small noted that his vineyard is in the northwestern corner of the valley, much different than the areas south of Walla Walla. He brings in grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills as well as Sagemoor Vineyards north of Pasco, though they aren’t quite ready yet, he said.

Columbia Winery focused on Chardonnay, Syrah so far

Sean Hails is head winemaker for Columbia Winery in Woodinville, Washington.

Sean Hails, winemaker for Columbia Winery in Woodinville, Wash., arrived in July 2012. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Sean Hails, winemaker for Gallo-owned Columbia Winery, has started his third harvest since arriving in Washington from California’s Central Valley. The Canadian native said he’s brought in Chardonnay and a couple of early blocks of Syrah.

“Our Chardonnay is looking pretty nice,” he said. “I’m pleased. It’s been clear sailing so far. We’ve had good ripening weather.”

Hails, who works out of the company’s facility in the Yakima Valley town of Sunnyside, said his next big focus is on Syrah, followed by Merlot in the next couple of weeks.

“The sugars have come up (in the grapes),” he said, “but the flavors have been a little behind for me. I’ll wait for the flavors to catch up.”

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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