Harvest ramping up on Washington’s warm Wahluke Slope

By on September 20, 2013

Wine grapes are harvested Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, at the Wahluke Slope of Washington state.

Workers harvest wine grapes Thursday morning in Clifton Hill Vineyard on Washington’s warm Wahluke Slope. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

MATTAWA, Wash. – Wine grapes are starting to stream into the cellars at Wahluke Wine Co. here on the warm Wahluke Slope.

Josh Maloney, head winemaker at Wahluke Wine Co. and Milbrandt Vineyards, began bringing in white wine grapes last week and red grapes this week. So far, he has harvested Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Syrah and Merlot.

On Thursday, he walked through estate vineyards with Jason Schlagel, director of viticulture for Milbrandt. They tested grapes at Clifton, Clifton Hill and Northridge, all estate vineyards owned by brothers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt.

As they tasted the ripening grapes, crews harvested fruit by hand and with machines.

Wahluke Slope behind Red Mountain

Malbec ripens at Northridge, a vineyard owned by Milbrandt on the Wahluke Slope of Washington state.

Malbec ripens at Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Maloney said 2013 is a strange vintage. It will end up being perhaps the hottest on record, yet the warm western side of the Wahluke Slope is just now being harvested, a full two weeks after Red Mountain, an hour away in the eastern Yakima Valley.

Maloney wonders if the hottest areas of the Columbia Valley are closer to normal harvest times because grapevines tend to “shut down” and go into protection mode when temperatures rise above about 95 degrees.

In July, the western Wahluke Slope received 17 days with temperatures hitting 95 or higher. Of those, 10 were in triple digits.

In August, the area received six days that were 95 or higher. So far this month, four days have reached that temperature.

Maloney noted that Milbrandt’s vineyards in the relatively cooler Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley are moving along quickly – much earlier than expected. He surmised that temperatures were not quite as extreme in that region and, thus, grapes were able to ripen more quickly in the optimal weather.

In July, the town of Quincy – which is not far from Milbrandt’s Ancient Lakes vineyards, received 13 days with temperatures hitting 95 or higher. Of those, two days reached triple digits.

In August, Quincy received four days of 95 degrees or higher. None was 100 degrees or higher. So far this month, five days have reached 95 degrees or higher.

Wahluke Wine Co. expects to bring in about 12,000 tons of wine grapes this year, making it one of the state’s largest wine grape processors.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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