Northwest Vineyards Off to a Cool Start

Bloom delayed by weeks in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia

by Peter Mitham
Northwest Grape Harvest Report
Mike Raffan
Vancouver, B.C. -- A long winter and cool spring have some Northwest growers counting on warmer days ahead. Conversations with wineries and growers in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia suggest that many vineyards are between one and three weeks behind where they normally are at this point in the season. Glowering skies have darkened attitudes at some wineries in Oregon's Willamette Valley, where reports have suggested vines are two to three weeks behind schedule.

But David Paige, winemaker at Adelsheim Vineyard, told Wines & Vines that his read of data from the weather station in nearby Newberg, Ore., suggests that rainfall was 60% of the historical average, and temperatures were closer to the average high than to the average low for the month based on historical data.

"We haven't really had a May that was that out of line with reality," he said. "I still do feel it was cloudier than normal, and I think that's probably accurate, but the only thing I can prove with statistics is that it was normal if not slightly dry."

Paige expects that many growers have been counting on the good weather more than the vines have. "The vines know what time of year it is, and they know they've got a job to do," he said.

Adelsheim's 170 acres of vineyard are poised to bloom within a week or two, but Paige said that even if bloom is delayed for three weeks, there is still time to catch up. "If we do all the right things, this is a challenge that we just get past, even if we are three weeks late," Paige said. "Mother Nature throws you curve balls, but good hitters hit curve balls."

A-RiverRock Vineyard
B-Township 7 Vineyards
C-Adelsheim Vineyard
While the long-term forecast is for cool, dry weather, Paige expects strategic management of the vines should be sufficient to address any issues that arise. Some growers fear a greater risk of mildew, but Paige believes steps to reduce yields, and helping vines to channel their energies into ripening, should counter the impact of the poor weather seen so far this year.

"We're not at the point where anybody should be declaring disaster," he said. "If we do our jobs, we are going to be absolutely fine. And if we get all the wrong weather, we'll probably still be fine--as long as we're on top of it."

Cool weather has been the problem for Dana Dibble, who manages the 25-acre RiverRock Vineyard just south of Walla Walla, Wash. Judging by his cherry orchard, Dibble estimates his vines will be about 10 days later than usual. Shoots are up a couple of feet already, but he isn't expecting bloom for another week or so. "It hasn't hit 80°F for about three weeks," he said.

Cool weather also has been a problem in British Columbia, where Mike Raffan of Township 7 Vineyards said unseasonable snows in April helped delay the season by two to three weeks.

"I'm hopeful we're only two to three (weeks) behind, but we need some good weather in the summer to make it up. Otherwise, we're going to have some issues with our reds ripening, being this far north," he said.

Township 7 has 12 acres of vines at properties in the Fraser Valley just outside Vancouver, and in the Okanagan at Naramata. It also has 30 acres grown by contract growers in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.

While temperatures in May reached into the 70°sF, there was little sun, and just three days above 85°F. Despite vigorous growth in the vineyards, bloom has yet to happen.

Raffan doesn't feel May was unseasonable, but the damper April weather put on vine development means he isn't about to welcome any more weather-related delays.

"We can't take too many more hits this year of unseasonable weather," he said.
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