Washington harvest 2023 copyright Richard Duval.

Washington’s 2023 harvest marked by high quality high, low stress

After a series of growing seasons that had their share of challenges, in 2023 Washington growers and winemakers welcomed a sight they hadn’t seen in a while: a relatively stress-free growing season.

“This was my 16th vintage, and it was probably my easiest,” says Sadie Drury, general manager at North Slope Management in Walla Walla Valley. “There weren’t really any extremes or any major events.”

The 2023 growing season was marked by a cool start, a quite warm but not overly hot summer, and a spread out harvest. The result is expected to be high quality wines and dramatically reduced yields.

A cool start to the season

The prior year ended with a cold snap in late December. Given the delayed harvest in 2022, vines hadn’t necessarily fully hardened off.

Washington harvest 2023 summarySome appellations, such as Lake Chelan, saw significant damage and crop loss in 2023 as a result. Others believed they made it through fine. However, they would reconsider as the season progressed.

Spring was cool. In some locations, it was also fairly wet. Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima Valley reported 1.5 inches of precipitation in March and April. (Columbia Valley averages 6-8 inches annually.)

As a result of the cool weather, bud break in most regions was between 10-14 days behind recent years. Some areas, such as the Columbia Gorge, were as much as three weeks behind.

Bud break started in the Columbia Valley on April 20th. Mike Sauer at Red Willow says “general bud break” at the vineyard was April 29th. This was the latest it had been since the cool years of 2010 and 2011.

May plays catchup

As growers and winemakers prepared for the possibility of a cool season, the heat came. May saw temperatures well above average. Between May 19th to 21st, some areas of Yakima Valley even saw record highs for those dates. Grape vines took notice.

“Everything just took off,” says Drury.

Remarkably, Washington went from a delayed bud break to a slightly advanced bloom. Bloom began in Columbia Valley on May 22nd. This was only a handful of days behind recent hot vintages.

“That’s the fastest growth that I’ve ever seen on wine grapes,” says Sauer. The heat also impacted the rate at which varieties bloomed.

“Everything bloomed at the same time,” says James Mantone, owner and winemaker at Syncline Winery. Syncline sources fruit from the Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills, and Yakima Valley.

Summer heat advances schedule

Washington harvest 2023 copyright Richard Duval.

June continued the hot temperatures, putting the state on pace for record heat accumulation. July was more moderate but still well above average. However, there were not many of the triple digit days that shut vines down and slowed progression. As a result, the growing season kept rapidly advancing.

Veraison started in Columbia Valley on July 12th. This was several days of ahead of dates over the last decade, with the exception of the cool 2022 vintage.

Then came the season’s main heat event. There were triple digit temperatures across the Columbia Valley August 14th through 16th. This was not unprecedented by any means, but the timing was not ideal.

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Photographs copyright Richard Duval. Interviews for this article were conducted in December of 2023 and January of 2024. A report on Oregon’s 2023 growing season will be published separately.

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