Washington wine grape growers are wrapping up the largest – and perhaps happiest – harvest in state history.
“This has been the most pleasurable season I’ve experienced,” said Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “It’s been a really pleasant year all the way around.”
Corliss said Ste. Michelle Wine Estates – which uses two out of every three grapes grown in Washington – will wrap up harvest this weekend, except for a little bit of late-harvest fruit that will hang on the vines a bit longer. He said he has just a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon left, along with some late ripeners, including Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel.
The 2014 vintage started early, with bud break in late March. It stayed early throughout bloom in June and veraison in late July and early August. Harvest began as much as two weeks early for many wineries. Throughout harvest, weather didn’t become a factor until the last few days, when intermittent rain fell in the Columbia Valley.
“It was fantastic weather,” Corliss told Great Northwest Wine. “We really couldn’t ask for better weather during harvest.”
At Sagemoor Vineyards, the story was much the same. Kent Waliser, who oversees the operation for Naches-based Allan Brothers, said he had just a few tons still to be picked, which will be wrapped in the next couple of days.
“We had almost ideal picking weather for the entire harvest,” Waliser said. “We had no disease pressure, and the winemakers were thrilled.”
Crop could top 240,000 tons
Waliser said the crop was a bit bigger than expected, thanks to heavier grape clusters. He said his vineyard was running larger in Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular. He said it wasn’t a huge deal.
“It all comes down to tanks and barrels,” he said with a laugh. “A little bit extra here and there starts to add up.”
Corliss said Ste. Michelle Wine Estates anticipated this year’s harvest to be 10 percent higher than the record 2013 crop, thanks primarily to new plantings coming on in the Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope – two of the warmest areas in Washington. He said the harvest is running perhaps 4 percent higher than those estimates.
This is in line with what Rick Small at Woodward Canyon Winery in the Walla Walla Valley town of Lowden is seeing.
“Everybody I’ve talked to has seen 10 to 15 percent higher,” he said. “We’re running 20 percent over in some blocks. So far, I like what we have. We’ve maxed out our barrels.”
The larger crop could put Washington’s 2014 harvest around to 240,000 tons, up from 212,000 tons in 2013.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Small said.
Small finished up his harvest two weeks ago, and he’s pretty much through primary fermentations on all his wines.
“It was a pretty compressed harvest,” he said. “It came quickly. It was pretty intense there for a while. But we had enough tanks, and everything is put to bed.”
Road warriors bring last grapes home
Washington’s wine road warriors were making their last run to the Columbia Valley on Tuesday. Blain and Kim Roberts, owners of Westport Winery on the Washington coast, picked up their last few tons of grapes – Petite Sirah from Olsen Vineyards in the Yakima Valley – and headed over White Pass, where they saw a bit of snow on the side of the highway.
Westport hauled 63 tons of grapes over White and Snoqualmie passes during 19 roundtrip runs of nearly 600 miles each.
“We’re excited to be done,” said Kim Roberts. “But Blain’s already looking forward to next year.”
Westport, known for regularly adding features to its destination winery and on-premise restaurant, has collected rocks during harvest from all the vineyards it uses. Kim Roberts plans to make a dry creek bed called “Vineyard Creek.” She said all the vineyards participated, and many were excited to share different kinds of rocks with the small winery.
“These farmers are into their rocks,” she said with a chuckle.
The dry creek bed will be added to multiple display gardens, a small golf course, a dog park and a nursery at the winery, which is eight miles from the ocean.
Last harvest wraps up for Champoux
In the Horse Heaven Hills, Paul Champoux is wrapping up his last harvest overseeing his namesake vineyard. Champoux, who took over Mercer Ranch Vineyards in 1989 and bought it with a group of winery partners in 1996, is retiring once the harvest is completed – which could be in the next couple of days.
“We’re just waiting for fermenters to open up,” Champoux said. “We’ll be done by Halloween.”
Champoux said he plans to ask his crew to leave a few clusters on one last vine of Cabernet Sauvignon so he can harvest the last grapes in the vineyard, which reportedly will be controlled by Quilceda Creek Vintners.
He said he is pleased with the quality of the grapes this year, particularly the fruit from the Circle Block, a section of Champoux Vineyards that was replanted in 2012 and bore its first Cabernet Sauvignon this year.
“The fruit flavors were phenomenal,” he said enthusiastically. “Quilceda and Woodward were happy with the quality. I am really pleased with the new plantings.”
Champoux said that despite the hotter-than-normal season, he was able to keep his vines cool by using micro-sprinklers on the soils surrounding each trunk.
“When you cool the ground, you don’t get the reflective heat,” he said. “If it’s 100 degrees out, micro-sprinklers can bring it down to 85 degrees.”
That helped his grapes retain all-important acidity during the warm weeks of July and early August, he said.
Overall, Champoux is thrilled that his career is ending with what in all likelihood will be a great vintage.
“It’s better to go out on a year like this than a year like ’11 (which was historically cool),” he said. “I would have had to sneak out on a year like ’11.”