Late grape crop may make great wine
Blog: Winemaker's Journal
October 5, 2011
Wine grape harvest has finally begun, but things are still moving slow and cautiously in the northern part of the Columbia Basin. In some cases, they're not moving at all.
Harvest of gewurztraminer and pinot grigio began Sept. 28 at Tsillan Cellars on Lake Chelan. Tsillan owner Dr. Bob Jankelson said the harvest is about 16 days later than normal. Red grapes for the winery's Italian-style blends probably won't be picked until the last weeks of October, said Shane Collins, head winemaker and viticulturist.
The crop is not only late, but light. Crews were sent out to remove bunches of grapes time and again to get the remaining grapes to ripen during this cooler than normal summer, Jankelson said. And the crop wasn't that big in the first place after getting hit by a hard freeze last November.
Laura Mrachek, co-owner, with her husband Mike, of Saint Laurent Estate Winery in Malaga, said the winery wouldn't be crushing grapes this year due to the light crop. The Mracheks farm more than 260 acres of grapes near Mattawa, Quincy and Malaga. On normal years, they sell about 98 percent of the crop on contract to larger wineries like Ste. Michelle Estates and Columbia Crest. This year, the other wineries will get it all.
"We were hit hard. We lost a lot of the crop on about 100 acres. But we didn't lose the plants. They'll come back," she said.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates the state's wine grape crop at 135,000 tons, down about 16 percent from last year's crop.
Ryan Flanagan, vineyard manager for about 1,000 acres of Milbrandt family vineyards in the Ancient Lakes area near Quincy, said the freeze was hit and miss statewide.
"The only thing that's consistent is the lack of consistency," said Flanagan, who also manages vineyards for the family's Ryan Patrick Vineyards winery in Cashmere.
He said some blocks were devastated by the freeze while another one right next to it was unharmed. Harvest is at least a couple weeks late, but there's still time for the fruit to fully develop. He started picking chardonnay this week.
What grapes are out there look very good, he said. Given time and a warm fall to fully ripen, he said it could be a good year for tasty, full-body wines, similar to the high quality wines made in 1999.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," he said.