Cold snap to put grape harvest on ice

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Springlike warmth on Sunday quickly gave way to more seasonally appropriate weather as a sharp Canadian cold front swept across the state, bringing the year’s most frigid temperatures so far.

On Sunday, warm southwesterly breezes out ahead of the front pushed a broad wedge of warm air into Southeastern Washington, sending afternoon highs well into the upper 50s — a lofty level that had not been experienced here for nearly two weeks. A substantial rainfall accompanied the warmth and wind, with nearly half an inch recorded at the Walla Walla Regional Airport over the weekend.

The rather inclement weather furnished those of us with an extreme aversion to post-Thanksgiving shopping an excellent excuse to remain indoors Saturday in front of the television, where some of the most exciting college football games of this — or any other — year were unfolding in wildly unexpected and dramatic fashion. It also provided yet another opportunity to eat leftover turkey in a 17th (or so) iteration that tested the culinary imagination of even the most seasoned of chefs.

The cold air mass that has settled over our area will remain with us for some time, and may even offer a few flakes of snow near the Blue Mountain foothills today before a drier northerly flow clears out the clouds, helping nighttime readings plunge into the single digits on the Valley floor on Wednesday and Thursday. Daytime maximum temperatures will be confined to the mid- and upper 20s until further notice — which is why your weatherperson opted to get his very modest outdoor Christmas light display up and functioning over the Thanksgiving holiday (despite the protestations of a certain other member of the household) instead of attempting the work in December’s numbing cold.

The prolonged cold wave will present Walla Walla Community College’s enology and viticulture department its long-awaited window of opportunity for picking the last grapes of vintage 2013 for the production of its highly regarded cabernet ice wine. These grapes (which have been fiercely protected from marauding avians and other hungry vertebrates by bird net since late August) will be picked frozen early in the day and deposited immediately in the press, where their very sweet juice will be separated from the water — which is now in solid form — that normally comprises the bulk of their liquid content. The resulting wine has a sublimely sweet but acidicly refreshing flavor that is much prized by wine aficionados, most of whom are willing to pay dearly for the experience.

Mostly dry weather appears to be in the offing, at least in the near term, as high pressure will rule the roost for several days before the storm door opens again in another week or so, which seems quite possible, according to the 16-day outlook. A portion of that forecast precipitation will almost certainly be in the form of snow toward the middle or end of next week, surely gladdening the hearts of some while infuriating those with more Scrooge-like tendencies.

A lifelong fan of both the weather and the Baltimore Orioles, Jeff Popick is an instructor at the Center for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College and manages the school’s teaching vineyard. Send your questions and comments to him at jeffrey.popick@wwcc.edu.

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