A combination of warm weather and new acreage may combine to push this year's crop to 200,000 tons, well above the previous record of 160,000 tons in 2010.
PROSSER, Benton County — It may have felt hot this summer. But among rows of wine grapes high up in the Horse Heaven Hills 40 miles south of Prosser, Jarrod Boyle has rather enjoyed the weather.
“I’m not complaining about it,” said the grower and winemaker with a laugh.
After two dicey years, growers and the rest of the state’s $8.6 billion wine industry are breathing a sigh of relief for the favorable weather and looking forward to harvesting what might be a record crop in the coming weeks.
“We are very confident we are likely going to see a new record,” said Ryan Pennington, a spokesman for the Washington Wine Commission.
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A combination of warm weather and new acreage may combine to push this year’s crop to 200,000 tons, well above the previous record of 160,000 tons in 2010.
June was cool and growth was slow, but the vines caught up easily in early July. And some growers experienced hail damage, but it came in isolated pockets small enough not to skew the statistics.
“It’s going to be a record number regardless, unless something happens between now and harvest time,” said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.
Not only has the weather been warm, but temperatures have been predictable.
According to the Washington State University’s weather graphs, this year’s “growing degree days,” a statistic based on cumulative hot and cold temperatures throughout the season, just about hit the 20-year average.
“This year is more like business as usual, I guess,” said Todd Newhouse, a wine grape grower with Upland Vineyards in Sunnyside.
Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, called the routine growing conditions a relief.
“It’s just right down the fairway all the way,” he said. “It’s nice to have a normal year.”
Meanwhile, some vineyard owners said their vines have recovered well from the damaging cold snap of November 2010. Newhouse lost about 15 percent of his grapes the next year. Boyle was down about 25 percent.
Harvest is still at least a couple of weeks away. Boyle, managing partner of the 258 acres at Destiny Ridge Vineyards, plans to start picking sauvignon blanc the first week of September. Boyle also is the winemaker for his estate winery, Alexandria Nicole Cellars.
An earlier harvest could help growers avoid more cold damage by protracting the season. Part of the problem in 2010 was cold weather followed a late harvest, meaning growers had just picked before the temperatures plummeted, leaving the vines without enough time to go dormant before the winter.
Despite the good news, industry folks advocate caution. Things can still go wrong.
When temperatures spend too much time above 95 degrees or so, vines start going dormant to survive. Meanwhile, too much heat can ripen grapes too fast, bringing up sugar levels earlier than other characteristics, such as acidity.
And warm days are good for grapes only if they are followed by cool nights that dip into the 50s even at the peak of summer.
“It is a balancing act,” Boyle said.