Washington’s wine grapes were picked earlier during the hot 2015 season. The result could be a stunning vintage of whites and rosés.
LAST YEAR WAS the warmest and weirdest vintage I can recall from the past two decades.
My initial evaluation of the resulting wines — whites and rosés, at this point — indicates the wines have the opportunity to be something special.
Coming out of two consecutive vintages — 2013 and 2014 — that were hot and hotter, 2015 surpassed both, with everything earlier than ever.
Three to try
SuLei Cellars 2015 roussanne, Yakima Valley, $22: Aromas of minerality and ripe pear give way to flavors of honeydew melon and ginger gold apple. Rich acidity leads to a memorable finish.
Mercer Estates Winery 2015 Spice Cabinet Vineyard rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Using grenache, this bright pink reveals aromas and flavors of cranberry, raspberry and rhubarb. It’s beautifully crisp, dry and ready for summer sipping.
Palencia Wine Co. 2015 albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $18: This Spanish grape is catching on in the Northwest, and here is a great example, thanks to stunning notes of lime, kiwi and green apple. This is a perfect shellfish wine.
While this made for a pretty smooth harvest for grape growers, it also left many in the wine industry with questions: How do we deal with extreme heat in June? How long can we wait to pick the grapes? Will the fruit have developed complex flavors before too much sugar accumulates?
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It was as if the entire vintage moved forward several weeks. Bud break (those tiny leaves) was about two weeks earlier than usual. Bloom (when baby clusters flower and form tiny grapes) was about three weeks before the normal early June.
A heat wave that saw two weeks of temperatures topping triple digits swept across the Columbia Valley in late June. We are used to these spikes, but they normally arrive in late July.
Veraison (when the grapes change color) typically happens in early August. Instead, that occurred in early July.
This had everyone prepped for an early harvest. And it was the earliest on record: Sauvignon blanc grapes were picked Aug. 6 on Red Mountain. The next day, chardonnay was plucked off the vines in the Yakima Valley.
It also ended early. Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley finished up Oct. 4 (a month earlier than usual), and most of the state was wrapped up a full two weeks before Halloween.
It’s interesting that with everything shifted forward in this unusual vintage, the grapes seemed to ripen at the same pace, and there appear to be few issues so far with out-of-balance wines — at least with whites and rosés. Reds from 2015 won’t start to hit shelves for another 10 to 12 months, and a majority of Washington wineries won’t release their 2015 reds for another 18 months or more.
In the meantime, it’s time to enjoy these young, fresh white and pink wines from Washington.