Washington wineries brace for epic storm

By on October 14, 2016
Westport Winery will open a second tasting room in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Blain and Kim Roberts, owners of Westport Winery on the Washington coast, are bracing for this weekend’s storm. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

WESTPORT, Wash. – Kim Roberts remembers when she was building her winery a decade ago. She remembers the 100-mph sustained winds, the 96 trees that came down on her property.

So this epic storm that is hitting the Pacific Northwest this weekend doesn’t faze the owner of Westport Winery, which is a mere eight miles from the Washington coast. She’s lived in the Grays Harbor area off and on since 1976. She’s seen a lot of storms.

“It’s only 60 to 70 mph winds this weekend,” she told Great Northwest Wine. “That’s a Wednesday for us.”

She did get a tornado warning on her phone this morning. That was a little different than usual.

The Roberts clan has generators in place to run the tasting room and restaurant if the power goes out. They drove to Olympia on Thursday to pick up another one in case they lose electricity and have to operate their press.

“Now we’re set to keep in production for weeks,” she said.

She doesn’t anticipate having much out-of-town business this weekend – “people have been warned to stay off the beach,” she said. “We’re going to be open, though. We’re ready to provide special meals for the locals if their power goes off.”

Westport also has a tasting room in downtown Cannon Beach on the northern Oregon coast, where high winds already were picking up and reports of electricity loss already were starting.

“They’ll have a harder time than we will,” Roberts said. “The town already was shutting down.”

Rains, winds halt harvest

A worker operates a mechanical harvest at Hilltop Vineyard near the Yakima Valley town of Zillah, Wash. Chardonnay grapes were brought in Aug. 7 for Treveri Cellars in the Wapato, Wash., making this one of the earliest harvests in state history. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

A worker operates a mechanical harvest near the Yakima Valley town of Zillah, Wash. This weekend’s weather is slowing harvest for a few days. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Over on the dry side of the state, the storm is affecting harvest. Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, said he has a fair bit of Cabernet Sauvignon still hanging out there, and he’d just as soon get it to his winemakers.

“It’s given us a bit of a stop-start-stop-start,” he said of the weather. “The forecast is rain-wind-rain-wind. It’s mid-October, so this is what you get.”

He said of all the varieties he works with, he’s glad he’s dealing primarily with Cabernet. It’s a durable variety that will handle rains without having to worry about rot and other issues.

“If we had a bunch of Pinot or Riesling out there, I’d be worried,” he said. “Our Pinot is done in Oregon. The frost danger is minimal. It’s just wet. If it were combined with a frost and loss of leaves, I’d be more concerned.”

Corliss noted that the forecast is for showers, followed by wind. That’s a good combination because the wind will dry out the fruit and let them get back to work.

“When it’s raining, we’re not picking. When it’s not raining, we’re picking. We need the Cabernet.”

The weather is equally vexing for a smaller operation. Wade Wolfe, owner and winemaker of Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser, was supposed to pick his Cab on Thursday.

“We’re all trying to find a sunny spot to reschedule our picking,” he said. “I was going to pick yesterday, but it rained. So half of it is being picked today.”

He said the fruit is ripe – “It’s just a question of dodging the rain and getting it in.”

Some of his grapes are machine harvested, which helps during weather. You don’t have to schedule a picking crew, the grapes show up faster at the winery, which means Wolfe and his cellar crew get home a little quicker each night.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. 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 a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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