Washington’s hot summer results in smaller wine grapes, but a state wine official expects to see more grapes harvested this year.
Washington State Wine Commission predicts a 5-10% increase in wine grape tonnage from last year’s harvest of 178,500 tonnes, commission chairman Steve Warner said. And that’s even with the high temperatures this year earlier in the summer.
“The cooler temperatures (now) are a good thing,” Warner said. “We think everything is going in the right direction. “
Local producers report smaller grapes, but said they expect good quality.
Washington State is the second largest wine-producing state in the country, behind California with more than 1,050 wineries. This year, Warner said the state is expected to produce 18 million bottles of wine.
Preliminary reports from growers indicate wine grapes are getting smaller, both in grape size and in bunches, Warner said, due to the heat.
“We’ve had hot days, and hot days tend to lull the vines to sleep,” Warner said. “The producers were prepared for it and cultivated it differently. “
Sean Gilbert, with Gilbert Cellars in Yakima, said triple-digit temperatures this summer meant growers had to be diligent in watering the grapes to ensure the canopy stays healthy.
“It was a tough summer, but it ended up being nice at the end of the summer, with good growing and ripening conditions,” said Gilbert, who grows wine grapes in Mattawa and Horse Heaven Hills. He said the hot days and cool nights help the grapes to ripen.
With the heat, the grapes got smaller, Gilbert and Warner said, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the wine. The smaller size means a greater concentration of flavor from the grapes.
Phil Cline, owner of Naches Heights Winery, also noted a reduction in the size of the clusters his workers picked in the upper Yakima Valley. Where the clusters would normally weigh a pound, they’re more like three-quarters or half a pound, Cline said.
Shirley Puryear, co-owner and self-proclaimed “Goddess of Wine” at Bonair vineyard, also said the harvest was light, but said the quality was good due to the concentrated flavor of the grapes.
And, she says, the fall weather is cooperating, for the most part.
“We had a little rain last week which is good,” said Puryear. It was just enough, she said, to remove the dust from the fruit without causing mold.
Bonair has harvested most of their white grapes and will start working on the red grapes next week.
Most of the wineries in the area appear to have been spared the smoke from the Schneider Springs fire, said Warner, which has at times pushed the air in Yakima County to unhealthy pollution levels. The fire started in early August and continues to burn 18 miles northwest of Naches.
Puryear said that as long as the smoke was higher in the sky, the grapes were safe. It is when the smoke is low to the ground that the grapes are affected.
Cline, of the Naches Heights winery, said smoke can affect the flavor of wine, and some varieties specifically have a smoky flavor after being aged in fire-treated oak barrels.
“I’m sure there are grapes affected by the smoke, but I’m not sure how that will affect the wine as a whole,” he said. “We won’t know until fermentation or until it has been tested for smoke detection. “
He said the smoke from this year’s wildfires appears to be as close to what he experienced in 2017, when the Kittitas County wildfires blanketed the valley in smoke.
“Most normal average consumers may not be able to taste the smoke (from forest fires),” Cline said. “But professional winemakers all have good palates and can taste a small amount of smoke.”