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Winemaker's Journal — Record wine grape harvest set to begin

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Washington wine grape growers are set to begin harvest of their 2013 crop next week in earliest ripening vineyards.Red wine grapes began veraison — the turning of color that signals the final stages of ripening — in late July. Early vineyards in Yakima and farther south expect to start picking early varieties like sauvignon blanc next week. Harvest at most commercial vineyards will start growing strong soon after Labor Day.Grapes in my own small vineyard in much cooler Cashmere began changing color this past weekend. With continued warm weather, varieties like chardonnay, pinot gris and lemberger could be ready by the second week of September. At least that's what I'm guessing.Statewide, grapes are ripening about a week to 10 days ahead of normal. That sounds like a good thing to me. My late varieties like cabernet franc and sangiovese got zapped by a late September frost that didn't hit vineyards in warmer areas last year. You never know what will happen this year, but it appears that all grape varieties will have time to mature, even my sangiovese. The variety needs plenty of heat and usually doesn't fully ripen until October. In my vineyard, its only made a decent wine one year out of eight.Most wineries like early ripening seasons as long as they're not too hot and too early. Exceptionally hot weather like we've had this summer can push sugars, and thus alcohol, too high and limit hang time that can develop the grapes' full range of flavors.Growers also expect to harvest a record crop of close to 210,000 tons this year, mainly due to recent plantings that will produce crops for the first time. Vineyard acreage now tops 50,000 acres, according the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. Last year's crop of 188,000 tons is the existing record.