Talking about the 2014 growing season in Washington, winemaker Josh Maloney of Milbrandt Vineyards summed it up by quoting the movie Biloxi Blues: “Man it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.”

 Indeed, 2014 has been another warm growing season in Washington. Most markers from budbreak through veraison have been approximately one to two weeks ahead of historical averages due to the warmth of the year. “Things started early and never slowed down, pretty much across the board,” Maloney said.

Growers and vintners didn’t have to look back far to find a comparable year. “The 2014 season started out as a repeat of 2013 in terms of early, warm spring, near record breaking heat in July and early August,” said Wade Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe Winery, who sources fruit predominantly from the Horse Heaven Hills and Yakima Valley. “But then it shifted to the ‘average’ mode for most of August and so far into September.”


As one might expect, the largest impact of the warm temperatures has been on sugar accumulation. “Super high sugars,” said Hillary Sjolund of the winemaking consulting service Enomama. Sjolund, who also has her own winery Sonoris, works primarily with fruit from Red Mountain – typically Washington’s warmest appellation.

“I went through 70+ vineyard samples yesterday and, for reds, I couldn’t even find one under 25 Brix right now,” Sjolund said, referring to a measure of sugar accumulation. Sjolund said that, to compensate for the higher sugars – and the potentially higher alcohol levels that would result – many winemakers will saignée their fermenting tanks, a process of bleeding off some of the juice. They will then add water back to bring down the alcohol.

While a common practice in warmer regions and in warmer vintages, Sjolund noted that this could be challenging when berries get dehydrated, as has been happening recently on Red Mountain. “You’re getting more sugar release from dehydrated berries,” she said. “So you think that you’re watering back to 24.5 Brix when in reality you might be watering back to 25.5 or 26. I think some people are going to have higher alcohols than they are going to anticipate.” 

Winemaker Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars agreed many winemakers would take the route Sjolund described. “We prefer to make the wine in the vineyard but in a warm vintage when sugars are going up so quickly and you’re waiting for flavors, you’re waiting for seed development, and you’re waiting for tannin development – and you’re dealing with high Brix – those are the things that you have to do,” he said. Busch noted, however, that if done properly, the concentration of the resulting wine is not affected while quality is improved.


“It’s definitely a winemaker’s kind of year,” Sjolund said. “It’s a great growing season in the sense that everything is getting ripe. But we’re going to have to work more with this ripeness to make sure we make a balanced product.”

While most people I spoke with reported higher sugar accumulations, in some areas, the results have been more variable. Maloney works with fruit from across the Columbia Valley. “Like last year, the excessive heat doesn’t seem to have as much impact on ripeness and timing of our warmer sites, but we are seeing higher Brix and lower acids in the cooler sites for this time of year than we would normally expect,” Maloney said. “Whatever normal means now is anyone’s guess.”

Wolfe also noted that the warm season has decreased differences between cooler and warmer areas. “Cooler sites, such as the Yakima Valley, are ripening at the same time as traditionally warmer sites, such as Horse Heaven Hills,” he said, noting that different varieties have shown different effects as well. “Bordeaux varieties, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, seem to be ripening sooner than usual compared to other varieties.”

Differences have also been reported from 2013 in cluster and berry size, with some reporting that they have seen smaller sizes and others larger. “Our own count at Seven Hills, we’re running 20 berries per cluster over last year,” said Marty Clubb of L’Ecole No 41. “We’re also – at least at Seven Hills – seeing berry sizes inflated about ten percent from last year.” Clubb, who attributed this largely to a good fruit set at bloom, said the result has been as much as a half ton more fruit per acre than originally forecast.

 On Red Mountain, however, Sjolund, said berry sizes have been somewhat smaller, at least in the vineyard samples she has been receiving. “The Cabernet berry sizes are small,” she said. “Compared to 2013, at this level of ripeness, I did not see the hardness of those berries like I’m seeing this year.” 

Despite the warmth of the year, many winemakers are pleased with how the growing season has progressed to date. “We are very excited about the quality of what we have so far,” Maloney said. “It looks like we’ve got some great conditions for the foreseeable future. We think we might be looking at another banner vintage.”

Picture of Red Mountain Merlot pumpover courtesy of Sleight of Hand Cellars (Follow on Facebook). 
Picture of the first rack and return of the year courtesy of Long Shadows (Follow on Facebook). 
Picture of Merlot bin courtesy of Robert Ramsay Cellars (Follow on Facebook). 

***


See information on the Washington State Growing Degree Days here.


See monthly forecast for Yakima Valley (Sunnyside), Red Mountain (Benton City), Walla WallaPaterson, and Mattawa.


* * *

The information in the table below is aggregated from
personal correspondence with growers and winemakers, as well as information
posted on Twitter and Facebook. It is not intended to be comprehensive but
rather is intended as a snapshot of what is going on around the state. If you
wish to send data for your grapes or vineyards (or correct any of the
information below), please email me at [email protected], leave a comment here, or leave a
comment on the WWR Facebook page.

Winery
Grape
Vineyard
Date
Notes
Columbia Valley
Three
Rivers
Chardonnay
Bacchus
8/25
Chardonnay
Sagemoor
8/25
Sauv
Blanc
Sagemoor
8/25
DeLille
Sauv
Blanc
Sagemoor
8/27
Syrah
Wooded
Island
9/1
First
red
Tamarack
Chardonnay
Bacchus
9/2
First
grapes
L’Ecole
Merlot
Candy
Mt
9/5
First
red grapes
WWalla
Vintners
Merlot
Sagemoor
9/8
2.5
tons
Vin
du Lac
Chardonnay
Stillwater
9/9
Gordon
Chardonnay
Estate
9/11
Guardian
Chardonnay
Conner
Lee
9/14
Rasa
Syrah
Bacchus
9/15
2
tons
Saviah
Chardonnay
Stillwater
9/16
Three
Rivers
Malbec
Sagemoor
9/16
Long
Shadows
Merlot
Candy
Mt
9/16
Convergence
Zone
Riesling
Bacchus
9/17
Sauv
Blanc
Lawrence
9/18
Chardonnay
Lawrence
9/18
L’Ecole
Cabernet
Sauv
Bacchus
9/18
Old
block
Yakima Valley
Pinot
Noir
Canyon
Ranch
8/23
For
sparkling
Sleight
of Hand
Chardonnay
French
Creek
9/1
Tamarack
Chardonnay
French
Creek
9/2
Sauv
Blanc
Skyfall
9/2
EFESTE
Sauv
Blanc
Boushey
9/4
10
tons
Treveri
Chardonnay
Beeman
9/4
For
sparkling
Chardonnay
Willow
Crest
9/4
For
sparkling
Gramercy
Syrah
Red
Willow
9/5
Chapel
Block
Treveri
Pinot
Noir
Marchant
9/9
For
sparkling
Sleight
of Hand
Cabernet
Franc
Blackrock
9/10
For
rose
Syrah
Skyfall
9/11
Wind
Rose
Sangiovese
Lonesome
Spr
9/12
For
rose
Wind
Rose
Dolcetto
Lonesome
Spr
9/12
For
rose
Pinot
Gris
Art
Den Hoed
9/12
Gramercy
Syrah
Red
Willow
9/14
Sleight
of Hand
Merlot
Blackrock
9/15
Stottle
Merlot
Marcela
9/15
Merlot
DuBrul
9/16
Wind
Rose
Orange
Muscat
Lonesome
Spr
9/16
4
tons
Syrah
DuBrul
9/17
Adams
Bench
Merlot
Red
Willow
9/17
1989
block
Merlot
Skyfall
9/17
Cabernet
Sauv
Skyfall
9/17
Lady
Hill
Syrah
Red
Willow
9/18
Cairdeas
Marsanne
Boushey
9/20
Bartholomew
Malbec
Painted
Hills
9/22
Red Mountain
L’Ecole
Sauv
Blanc
Klipsun
8/27
First
grapes of harvest
Auclair
Sauv
Blanc
Artz
8/30
Auclair
Sauv
Blanc
Artz
8/30
Cadence
Merlot
Cara
mia
9/4
Earliest
harvest ever, yields down
Cadence
Merlot
Taptiel
9/4
Sauv
Blanc
Red
Heaven
9/4
Seven
Hills
Merlot
Ciel
du Cheval
9/5
1976
plantings
Vin
du Lac
Merlot
Klipsun
9/5
Vin
du Lac
Syrah
Klipsun
9/5
Sleight
of Hand
Merlot
RMV
9/11
Obelisco
Merlot
Estate
9/12
Syrah
Red
Heaven
9/15
Obelisco
Cabernet
Sauv
Estate
9/16
Off
south facing blocks. Three weeks earlier than usual.
Sleight
of Hand
Cabernet
Sauv
Scooteney
9/16
Clones
2, 8, 21, and 24
EFESTE
Syrah
Angela’s
9/17
JM
Syrah
Ciel
du Cheval
9/17
Old
vine
Cadence
Cab
Franc
Taptiel
9/17
Cadence
Petit
Verdot
Cara
Mia
9/17
Cadence
Cabernet
Sauv
Cara
Mia
9/17
Clone
8
Native
Sun
Merlot
Red
Mountain
9/18
First
fruit
Walla Walla Valley
Woodward
Canyon
Sauv
Blanc
Estate
9/3
First
fruit
Woodward
Canyon
Chardonnay
Estate
9/4
Wente
clone.
Tranche
Viognier
Blue
Mountain
9/4
Waterbrook
Chardonnay
Waterbrook
9/9
Woodward
Canyon
Merlot
Estate
9/10
First
red grapes
L’Ecole
Semillon
Seven
Hills
9/12
Last
pick of Sémillon
WW
Vintners
Merlot
Seven
Hills
9/13
Block
17
Kerloo
Grenache
Blanc
Blue
Mt
9/15
Woodward
Canyon
Dolcetto
Estate
9/15
Rasa
Syrah
Seven
Hills
9/15
Only
Les Collines to pick
Gifford-Hirlinger
Pinot
Gris
Estate
9/17
Burnt
Bridge
Syrah
Les
Collines
9/17
Tertulia
Tempranillo
Whistling
Hills
9/17
Sleight
of Hand
Merlot
Seven
Hills
9/17
4.4
tons
Three
Rivers
Cab
Franc
Estate
9/17
For
rose
Sleight
of Hand
Syrah
Stoney
Vine
9/18
Experimenting
with lower pH pick
J&J
Merlot
Seven
Hills
9/19
Block
24
J&J
Merlot
Middleton
9/21
Wahluke Slope
Three
Rivers
Chardonnay
Weinbau
8/28
Cadaretta
Semillon
Rosebud
9/4
First
day of harvest
Seven
Hills
Merlot
Clifton
9/4
First
grapes of 2014. Earliest Merlot in 27 years
Syrah
Clifton
9/9
Syrah
Clifton
Bluffs
9/10
Merlot
Clifton
Hills
9/11
McKinley
Springs
Chardonnay
McKinley
Springs
9/12
Tempranillo
Wahluke
9/12
Grenache
Clifton
Bluffs
9/13
Milbrandt
Viognier
Clifton
9/14
Columbia
Crest
Merlot
StoneTree
9/15
Cadaretta
Syrah
StoneTree
9/16
Wind
Rose
Primitivo
StoneTree
9/16
Kerloo
Tempranillo
StoneTree
9/17
Horse Heaven Hills
Canoe
Ridge
Unknown
Estate
8/21
Via
Facebook
Mercer
Chardonnay
Estate
9/3
First
fruit
Coyote
Canyon
Viognier
Estate
9/9
Columbia
Crest
Merlot
Coyote
Canyon
9/9
First
red grapes
Coyote
Canyon
Merlot
Estate
9/10
Machine
picked
Waters
Roussanne
Alder
Ridge
9/12
4.51
tons
Waters
Merlot
Canoe
Ridge
9/12
McKinley
Springs
Chardonnay
Estate
9/12
Waters
Merlot
Canoe
Ridge
9/13
McKinley
Springs
Syrah
Estate
9/14
Coyote
Canyon
Albariño
Estate
9/15
Tertulia
Malbec
Phinny
Hill
9/16
Ch
Ste. Michelle
Sauv
Blanc
Horse
Heaven
9/16
WT
Vintners
Syrah
Destiny
Ridge
9/16
Syrah
Phinny
Hill
9/17
174
Long
Shadows
Syrah
The
Benches
9/17
Angel
Vine
Primitivo
Coyote
Canyon
9/17
4
tons
Robert
Karl
Merlot
Andrews
9/17
Robert
Karl
Malbec
McKinley
Spr
9/17
Robert
Ramsay
Syrah
McKinley
Spr
9/17
Robert
Ramsay
Syrah
Phinny
Hill
9/17
Syncline
Grenache
McKinley
Spr
9/18
Buty
Syrah
Phinny
Hills
9/18
Clone
174
Bartholomew
Primitivo
Coyote
Canyon
9/19
Snipes Mountain
Sauv
Blanc
Upland
9/6
Pinot
Gris
Upland
9/6
Canelli
Upland
9/8
Grenache
Upland
9/10
Syrah
Upland
9/12
Pinot
Noir
Upland
9/14
Sparkling
Tempranillo
Upland
9/15
Chardonnay
Upland
9/15
Rolling
Bay
Syrah
Upland
9/16
Rolling
Bay
Merlot
Upland
9/16
Cab
Franc
Upland
9/17
Vin
du Lac
Chardonnay
Upland
9/18
Vin
du Lac
Syrah
Upland
Vin
du Lac
Cabernet
Franc
Upland