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Chardonnay grapes are harvested in early August near Zillah, Wash., in the Yakima Valley. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

In a typical year in Washington wine country, hardly any grapes would be harvested by Labor Day. Maybe a little Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

But 2015 isn’t a typical year. In fact, it’s tracking to be the warmest vintage in the history of the Washington wine industry. As a result, many wineries already are third of the way through harvest.

“It’s coming in pretty fast,” said Marty Clubb, owner of L’Ecole No. 41 in the Walla Walla Valley town of Lowden. “I’m very enthusiastic about what we’re seeing.”

As strange as this hot year is and how early harvest began, the quality of fruit so far has been remarkable, winemakers told Great Northwest Wine. They view it as an anomaly, and so far, they’re thrilled.

“It’s an amazing vintage,” said Chris Upchurch, head winemaker for DeLille Cellars in Woodinville and owner/winemaker for Upchurch Vineyard on Red Mountain. “This is a one-of-a-kind year. I’m floored by it. Everything I’ve brought in has been outstanding.”

Rob Griffin, owner and winemaker at Barnard Griffin in Richland, said he is just about done bringing in Syrah. Griffin, who harvested his first Washington grapes in 1977 as head winemaker for Preston Wine Cellars in Pasco, said he is seeing Cabernet Sauvignon at good maturity already.

“We’ve seen years where it’s November before we’re picking Cab,” he said.

Upchurch picked his first Syrah of the season on Thursday, and he was excited.

“It’s deep, dark, delicious and balanced,” he said. “If you like concentration, this is the year. It’s going to be powerful stuff. The initial fruit is something I’ve never seen before. I’m totally jazzed.”

Clubb, who has brought in about 175 tons of grapes so far, said the harvest has been a little smaller so far.

“It’s lighter than we were expecting,” he said.

Griffin concurred.

“The only thing we’ll be able to gripe about is lower quantity,” he said.

Griffin hasn’t picked any Sangiovese yet, which he uses for rosé. He makes more than 10,000 cases of his award-winning rosé of Sangiovese, a huge jump in production from years past - yet he still can’t keep it in stock. The wine was released on Valentine’s Day in February and sold out in July.

Upchurch said crop size has been all over the board. He has seen a little reduction because of clusters being damaged by sunburn and dehydration.

Clubb said he has been able to pick up enough extra fruit to make up for any shortfalls, and he anticipates bringing in a total of 700 tons, which will fill his facility.

“I’m a 700-ton winery,” 
he said with a laugh, noting that will result in about 48,000 cases of wine.

Upchurch is targeting about 550 tons for DeLille. Griffin will harvest about 800 tons, which is similar to last year.

“We’ve brought in close to 200 tons, and it’s barely September,” he said. “There have been years when we’ve gotten into October before we’ve had this much fruit harvested.

 

• Andy Perdue is editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine and wine columnist for The Seattle Times. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.