Grape vines, vintners approach season of rest and relaxation

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A weak ridge of high pressure brought a mostly dry Veterans Day weekend to the Walla Walla Valley after a brief deluge last Thursday afternoon that deposited a very welcome four-tenths of an inch of rain in local gauges. That downpour was the result of a well-defined cold front that cut across Washington state, bringing a variety of weather, including wind, snow and an occasional rumble of thunder.

Considerably more benign weather graced the area on Sunday under partly cloudy skies with sufficiently mild temperatures to coax your somewhat reluctant weatherperson off the couch and away from the NFL long enough to enjoy a bit of perambulation with his two- and four-legged friends over the bucolic trails around Bennington Lake. Early-afternoon temperatures in the mid-50s and light winds made for a delightful stroll, and the newly planted surrounding fields appeared to be most grateful for the good soaking they had received a few days before.

In the vineyard, there is a brief lull in the activity following what was, by all accounts, a very successful year. Bird net has been stowed and drip irrigation systems blown out so that the impending frigid weather will be less likely to freeze and crack the pipes that deliver precious water to the vines during the growing season. With a combination of steadily declining hours of daylight and falling temperatures, our grapevines are poised to enter a period of deep slumber. Very soon, if not already, summer’s leaves will be gone and only bare, woody canes will remain, awaiting the next — and most important of all — vineyard operations to commence after the first of the year: pruning.

But before they feel the keen cut of the pruner’s blade, the vines — like those who manage them — will get to enjoy a period of rest and minimal activity. It is time for all involved, whether on the grape growing or winemaking side of our industry, to take a deep breath and enjoy the fruits of our past labor. Wines from vintage 2013 are slowly but surely being put to barrel or resting comfortably in tanks where they will spend a tranquil winter, along with the vintner whose extended days of frenetic activity and near-constant monitoring of fermentations are behind him or her. Let the feasting begin. Another great harvest is complete!

This week’s weather will feature low-end POP’s (probability of precipitation, in weather parlance) just about every day, as a rather feeble ridge of high pressure will allow a couple of minor systems to slide across Southeast Washington with slight chances of rain on any given day. The best chance for something more significant would seem possible late Friday into Saturday morning and then perhaps during the day Sunday, when a shot of colder air might combine with a bit of moisture to produce a little light snow down to as low as 1,500 feet locally.

Next week, it appears as if Wednesday and Thursday might provide another reasonably good chance for more precipitation as systems continue to ride down the front side of the ridge, which will likely remain parked over the Pacific for some time, with only an occasional wobble in its mean position there.

The 16-day Global Forecast System outlook had briefly touted the possibility of an outbreak of very cold air around Nov. 22 or 23, with low temperatures in the single digits. But those numbers appear now to have been generated by the same gremlins that are playing havoc with the federal health care website. The cold and snow will arrive soon enough (hopefully), and your forecaster’s insistence upon listening to Christmas music for several hours this past weekend will seem a little less odd to those around him who insist that such seasonal pleasures be postponed until at least Thanksgiving — if not beyond. It is almost time to deck the halls!

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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