Perfect weather leads to abundance of wine grapes

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WALLA WALLA — Wine grape growers are reporting exceptional harvests in quality and quantity, which is good news after two years of too few grapes.

“It looks fantastic. It has been a great year with the temperatures. And everything else has really come together,” Walla Walla Wine Alliance Executive Director Duane Wollmuth said.

Early and late freezes the previous two winters caused a drop in production in the 2010 and 2011 harvests.

This year, however, many growers are reporting hitting their tonnage goals, with many having to thin excess grapes.

“We are at 100 percent of what we are looking for,” Norm McKibben of Peppers Bridge Winery said.

McKibben explained that many of the larger wineries, including theirs, will grow grapes for other wineries that order specific tons per acre ranging roughly from 2 to 4.5. And during good years, growers will have to cut away the excess grapes to produce the exact contracted amounts.

“We are going to hit what the people request. We actually thinned the crops down to what they want,” McKibben added.

A number of factors are accounting for the exception quality and quantity this year, including a mild winter, drier spring and a summer that was just about perfect for most varieties.

“Too much rain in the spring is not always good. And then summer temperatures, you want to have the warmth and the sunshine but you don’t want to get too warm of temperature,” Wollmuth said.

While this year’s summer was considered cooler than most, it was still conducive to growing grapes.

McKibben explained that local varieties thrive when temperatures peak in the 90s and don’t go too low at night. But once the temperatures go above 98 degrees for a couple days, the grapes stop producing sugar to conserve water.

“It was almost a perfect year,” McKibben added.

Exact tonnage numbers of this year’s crop won’t be available for another couple of months, after growers report their yields to the Washington Wine Grape Growers Commission.

Wollmuth said roughly 80 percent of the crop has been harvest so far, with the remaining crop expected to be harvested by the end of the month.

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