Grape growers expect harvest record

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PROSSER, Wash. (AP) — Washington grape growers say they are set to break a harvest record this year, expecting to box about 200,000 tons of the wine fruit.

After two dicey years, 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, The Yakima Herald-Republic reported this week.

“We are very confident we are likely going to see a new record,” said Ryan Pennington, a spokesman for the Washington Wine Commission.

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 to not 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.

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.

Harvest is still at least a couple weeks away.

An earlier harvest could help growers avoid more cold damage by protracting the season. Part of the problem in 2010 was a frigid cold front 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.

In spite of the good news, industry folks advocate caution.

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.

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