Washington’s 2016 wine grape harvest kicks off

By on August 16, 2016
Artz Vineyard sign

Artz Vineyard is on Red Mountain in the eastern Yakima Valley. Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Artz were among the earliest picked the past two years in Washington wine country. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Washington’s wine grape harvest kicked off this weekend, with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris being sent to their respective wineries.

The earliest harvest report Great Northwest Wine received was from Auclair Winery in Woodinville, which brought in a little more than a ton of Sauvignon Blanc on Aug. 13 from Artz Vineyard on Red Mountain.

The grapes were harvested Saturday morning, said Charlie Auclair, owner and winemaker. Last year, Auclair had the earliest pick in Washington wine history, bringing in the Sauvignon Blanc on Aug. 6.

On Monday morning at French Creek Vineyard near the Yakima Valley town of Whitstran near Prosser, grape grower Damon LaLonde harvested about 5 tons of Chardonnay. It was destined for Karma Vineyards on the south shore of Lake Chelan, where it will become sparkling wine.

“As of last Thursday, it was sitting at 18.5 Brix,” LaLonde told Great Northwest Wine. “With this warm week ahead, it was time to get it off the vine and into wine.”

Last year, LaLonde harvested this Chardonnay for Karma on Aug. 19, so he was a few days earlier. It is the beginning of a busy week for LaLonde, who is a partner and the vineyard manager for French Creek.

“We could be picking for four different wineries by Thursday or Friday,” he said.

LaLonde also manages no fewer than six vineyards on Red Mountain, a bench in the eastern Yakima Valley. He is just starting to pull samples of grapes for testing. He said the fruit is ripening quickly, and he could see bringing in some Merlot in the next couple of weeks.

Early harvest for Westport Winery

Westport Sugarloaf Pinot Gris

A bin of Pinot Gris grapes from Sugarloaf Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills near Whitstran, Wash., are loaded in a trailer destined for Westport Winery. The grapes were picked up Monday morning to be hauled back to the coast. (Photo by Niranjana Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

About 25 miles west of Prosser near the Yakima Valley town of Wapato, harvest also was getting into swing. Sugarloaf Vineyard harvested a little more than 3 tons of Pinot Gris for Westport Winery.

Sugarloaf is owned by Joe Hattrup, who also owns acclaimed Elephant Mountain Vineyard, and this is the first year selling grapes to Westport, which is just a few miles from the Washington coast.

Dana Roberts, director of winemaking, said he and his father/business partner Blain had to leave the coast at 5 a.m. to arrive at Sugarloaf by midmorning.

“That’s a good, event-free trip,” Roberts said with a quick smile.

It was the earliest harvest start for Westport, which began in 2007, beating last year’s fast start by less than a week.

The Roberts family quickly loaded up their trailer and headed back over White Pass on Monday morning with the plan of being back to the winery before dark so they could get the six bins of grapes into cold storage and ready for processing this morning.

Then it will be back on the road early Wednesday morning to bring back Gewürztraminer from historic Red Willow Vineyard in the western Yakima Valley.

As usual, it will be a long harvest for Washington’s western-most winery. Last year, Dana and Blain Roberts made about 20 trips through the Cascades to bring home their grapes, logging 11,000 miles during the two months of harvest.

Westport Winery opened a second tasting room last month in the coastal resort town of Cannon Beach, Ore., so the Roberts clan will likely be looking to boost production a little to accommodate demand.

Washington harvest gearing up

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates told Great Northwest Wine this weekend that it plans to pick some grapes early today in the Horse Heaven Hills. And Kent Waliser, general manager of Sagemoor Vineyards north of Pasco, said he will begin harvesting grapes as early as Wednesday.

Chardonnay harvest French Creek Vineyard

Chardonnay grapes destined for sparkling wine production at Karma Vineyards in Chelan, Wash., are loaded into a bin Monday morning at French Creek Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. (Photo by Niranjana Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Thus begins the 2016 wine grape harvest, which by all accounts is expected to be about 250,000 tons. That would exceed 2014’s record harvest of 227,000 tons. It also would effectively double the size of the Washington wine industry within the past decade, which in 2007 harvested 127,000 tons.

Most of the growth in that time has come from the state’s largest wine-producing companies: Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville, Precept Wine in Seattle and Charles Smith Wines in south Seattle.

But the growth also is coming from the continued proliferation of small producers that continue to open from Woodinville to Walla Walla. Today, more than 850 wineries are believed to be in operation in the state.

The growth of wineries is, of course, matched by vineyards. This year, the Association of Washington Wine Grape Growers reported that a survey of state wine grape acreage puts it at 56,073, up from 53,353 acres a year ago. In 2011, Washington’s vineyards covered just shy of 44,000 acres, up from 31,000 acres in 2006.

The largest area of growth is coming from the Horse Heaven Hills, where Ste. Michelle Wine Estates continues to invest heavily in contracting its top growers to plant more Cabernet Sauvignon. The remote region south of the Yakima Valley has 5,719 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, up from 3,769 acres in 2012.

Ste. Michelle expects most of its growth this year to come from new Cabernet Sauvignon acreage coming into production.

“Our greatest area of growth has been in the Horse Heaven Hills,” said Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

The company uses two out of every three grapes grown in Washington.

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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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