Washington State Wine Harvest Gears Up

Producers pick Chardonnay for sparkling; Ste. Michelle to start tomorrow

by Peter Mitham
Treveri Cellars owner and winemaker Juergen Grieb (right) celebrates the start of harvest Sept. 7, marking the start of harvest in Washington state.
Wapato, Wash.—Treveri Cellars kicked off harvest 2015 for Washington state on Aug. 7, crushing 18 tons of Chardonnay for sparkling wine—the earliest harvest ever in the state.

The grapes were brought in from Hilltop vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, a subappellation of the 25-year-old Yakima Valley AVA. Chardonnay is the second-most planted grape in the state after Riesling, with 43,800 tons harvested in 2014.

“The sugar level was right where we wanted it, so we decided to haul them,” Katie Grieb, senior vice president of marketing for Treveri, told Wines & Vines.

While some vines are showing stress from the season’s intense heat, the sugar levels for Treveri’s Chardonnay checked in 18.6° Brix when winemaker Christian Grieb ordered the pick.

“We will be picking heavily starting Monday of next week on three more Chardonnay blocks,” Grieb said. “I would think that by (the) second week of September—at the latest—we will have all of our sparkling cuvée picked. That would be a record for us as well. Fruit is definitely ripening quickly.”

Others plan first picks

Hilltop vineyard is managed by Patrick Rawn of Zillah, Wash., whose Two Mountain Winery has yet to begin harvest. Other wineries are also not expecting to begin picking until this week, with Chateau Ste. Michelle scheduling its first pick for Aug. 12 in the Upland Vineyard, also in the Yakima Valley.

Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the first varieties in line, but conditions—and sampling—mean more will follow in quick succession.

“We sampled all of the most likely candidates and will (probably) add to the schedule,” Kevin Corliss, director of vineyard operations for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates told Wines & Vines. “The start of harvest is going to be spread over several days as véraison was also spread out a bit, perhaps due to the heat waves.”

A glance at growing degree-day accumulation tells the tale, with nearly 200 more growing degree-days logged at Washington State University in Prosser so far this year than during the same period in 2014. Harvest 2014 started Aug. 18 in the Horse Heaven Hills with the unusual Marquette variety, with white varieties following several days later.

Estimated yields

While some areas such as the Columbia Gorge have reported lighter than average clusters, thanks to the season’s hot, dry weather, new plantings mean that the harvest should be well in excess of last year’s 227,000 tons.

“Our estimate is very near last year’s number, indicating very slightly reduced crop/acre considering new acres,” Corliss said.

Overall, per-acre yields in Washington state have been increasing in recent years. USDA-NASS
figures peg the long-term average during the state’s past 18 vintages at 4.18 tons per acre, but the 2014 average was 4.73 tons per acre—just shy of the peak of 4.77 tons per acre recorded in 1997.

Elsewhere in the Northwest
British Columbia sparkling wine producer Bella Wines anticipates harvesting Chardonnay from a vineyard on Black Sage Road near Oliver on Aug. 12.

Speaking with Wines & Vines between dropping off bins for pickers, Bella Wines principal Jay Drysdale said that in 2014 he picked the same site Sept. 3. This year, warm weather has meant sugar levels increased more slowly than the acids have dropped, creating Californiaesque conditions and prompting an early harvest.

“The Brix is on coming on low, but the acids are dropping out fast.”

“I’ve got TAs and pHs (that) should be at this point, when I’m pushing 20° or 21° Brix, but I’m doing 17° to 18° Brix, and the pHs are getting too high and the TAs are getting too low,” he said. “It will be a year to pick (based) on acid if you want that structure and backbone in the wine.…If I want to retain those acids naturally, I’m going to have pick on acids, not on sugars.”

Most vineyards in B.C. and Oregon indicate that harvest remains a week to 10 days away, however. Reports from both northerly vineyards in the Kamloops area and producers in Southern Oregon indicate that harvest will begin in earnest come the final week of the month.

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