Harvest 2019: The Good, The Ugly
1. The Ugly:
a. Bud break was two weeks late here on the Wet Side (of the Cascades), and summer was cooler, so we didn't make up the late start. Then, we had rains come three weeks early and they were record heavy rains (at our farm, we saw 6.8" rain between Sept 7 and Sept 22, when normally lighter rains wouldn't start until after Sept 22). We all saw record bird damage, as the birds were starving due to the early rains' rotting the wild blackberries. Other area growers have told me that even with nets, they lost over half their crop, as birds found ways in but couldn't get out, so they just hung out inside the nets and ate more and more. Wasp damage was also very high, and some clusters saw some rot--wasp and rot berries had to be hand-removed from each cluster, greatly slowing harvest speed.
b. I've learned which modern grapes can hang through rain, and even resist some bird damage, and which cannot. But every grape saw its Brix fall (a very bad thing here) when the rains came.
c. Many growers on the Wet Side abandoned their grapes this year, or harvested only about 25% of normal yields with far-reduced ripeness. Higher-elevation vineyards fared the worst of course.
d. On the warm side (east of the Cascades--as in Walla Walla, Yakima, TriCities, and Red Mountain), it was a nice-but-cool summer. They had more rain than usual (Yakima saw 1.5" in a day, in early September, when they get only about 8" in an entire year! But their worst issue has been early frost: 24F tonight in Yakima and Tri Cities (Walla Walla is being spared that). Grapes can withstand some freezing, as sugar-water freezes at a lower point than just water, though any heavy frost will kill the leaves, ending any further ripening. Growers there couldn't harvest early because it was a cool summer, and are scrambling to get their grapes in before the berries freeze and burst.
e. This is a year when you will need to be a very careful consumer. Look for wineries/sellers who are frank about their wines--try to look past the marketing BS. I pledge to you that I will be as honest as I possibly can, to tell you what my wines taste like. I am pretty optimistic about this year's wines, given the horiffic circumstances of their birth. Perhaps grapes are more adaptable to wine than I knew.
2. The Good:
a. At our Epona Vineyard, I picked my Leon Millot and Labelle at pretty good chemistry, the day before the heavy rains hit; they hit 22 Brix and had great flavors, and will make good wine. The advantages of my steep-south-slope vineyard, coupled with my choice of early-ripening grapes, made a huge difference in this cooler, shorter year. My Cayuga hung through the heavy rains and avoided most of the bird and wasp damage, and while its sugars were less than normal, it has a wide range of good flavor profiles, depending on the weather. This year, it's showing grapefruit and good nuance and zing.
b. All of us winemakers on the Wet Side are honing our rose-making skills. I picked many red grapes at about 16-18 Brix (when you want 21-24), and so far it appears they will make a nice, big, darker rose wine.
c. Some growers on the Wet Side saw their varieties hang well through rains; these included Marechal Foch and Cayuga. The ability to hang through heavy rain is a prize attribute in a year like this.
d. The Cab Franc I just got in Yakima (Noel Vineyard) is great. 25 Brix and magnificent flavors--as in 2017, I was "last one out" of the vineyard, and all that hang time let the fruit shed its green bell pepper notes (pyrazines) and attain fantastic fruit flavors.
e. I also bought Cab Sauv from that vineyard. Was a bit skeptical because the great Cab Sauv usually comes from further east, in W.Walla or Red Mountain. But I read there have been many great Cab Sauvs from the Yakima area. The Cab Sauv I just bought is known for its rosy/floral notes and softness--still fruit-forward and fairly big, but more restrained than a big, powerful Cab. It also hit 25 Brix and had loooonnnnggggg hang time. Can't wait to work with it.