Washingon’s Big Fruit Harvest

It’s been a bountiful harvest on the Kitsap Peninsula. Everywhere there are apple, pear and plum trees are bearing tons of fruit. In my yard, the three apple trees, Italian plum and two walnut trees are keeping me pretty busy. The race began in earnest the end of August, picking blackberries before the heat of the day.

Next on the to do list were apples. I froze them, thawed them and then pressed them for some of the sweetest cider I’ve ever tasted. Then I fermented 5 gallons of cider, baked couple of apple cakes, cooked up a dozen jars of apple sauce and when I ran out of jars, sliced over 30 pounds of apples and dried them. It’s a great snack, especially when accompanied with a thin slice of cheddar and a glass of Riesling.

The plums were plentiful too. They accompanied me to every meeting I went to. Out of town guests were sent packing with a bag of plums and apples. Plum tarts, plum wine and jars of spicy plum sauce now occupy my kitchen. I will trade a plum tart for a bottle of wine.

In my spare time, I helped out with crush at a few Bainbridge Island wineries. At Perennial Vintners last month, bottling was the order of the day. Because that’s what you have to do in a small winery to make room for the coming harvest. There is only so much room for a limited amount of tanks.

And this time of year, tanks are needed. Whites are bottled and reds go into barrels. At Perennial, the wine was pumped from the tanks into a smaller container about the size of an aquarium with six spigots. Next, bottles were gassed and then filled, corked and labeled by a crew of volunteers under the direction of owner/winemaker Mike Lempriere. He’ll be harvesting Müller -Thurgau from the Puget Sound AVA soon.

At Eleven Winery, owner/winemaker Matt Albee crushed Elephant Mountain Syrah and Viognier in mid-September and then Tempranillo. This week, the Lemberger is scheduled to arrive. Wine grapes arrive in big tubs called lugs. The lugs are so full of grapes, they’re moved around with a fork lift.

Albee had devised a system to tilt the tub with the fork lift so one volunteer can rake the grapes onto the moving conveyor line where two volunteers remove leaves, bugs and dried grapes. As the grape bunches reach the top of the conveyor, they fall into the crusher/destemmer. Stems fall into one lug and crushed berries fall into another.

When crushing is finished, the lugs are moved into the winery, treated with SO2 and covered with a cloth sheet to allow the sulfites to do their job of killing wild yeasts before off-gassing for 24 hours. After that, the yeast culture is added and voila! Fermentation begins.

Belfair’s Mosquito Fleet Winery has a similar setup however, their sorting tables are manned by at least a dozen enthusiastic volunteers who pick out the dried berries, leaves and other debris that are not Petite Verdot and Malbec grapes. It’s a convivial event with owners Brian and Jacquie Petersen and Scott and Jacy Griffin; lunch and, of course, tastes of award winning wines. Small wineries welcome and take very good care of their volunteers.

With anticipation and apprehension, winemakers keep tabs on their vines and weather at harvest time. It’s the age old winemaker question, when should picking begin? The answer, my wine friends, is blowing in the wind and different for each grape variety. Some are early ripeners, like Syrah and some are late ripeners, like Cabernet.

At an estimated 268,000 tons, the 2018 harvest in Washington is likely to be bigger than last year but not as big as 2016. That year holds the record for grape harvest at 270,000 tons. In contrast, Oregon’s harvest is estimated around 85,000 tons, on par with their 2015 record crop. And in British Columbia, harvest was at an all-time high of 32,700 tons.

A staggering two-thirds of Washington’s grape harvest is handled by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which includes brands such as Columbia Crest, North Star, Intrinsic, Col Solare, Seven Falls, 14 Hands, and, of course, Ste. Michelle.

Much of the growth is due to 58,200 acres of new vineyards that have matured. Most of these plantings are in established AVAs. But hold on to your hat – five new AVAs are on the docket. Applications for Goose Gap, Royal Slope, The Burn, White Bluffs and Candy Mountains have been filed.

It’s a busy time of year in but somehow the Yakima Valley wineries manage to harvest, crush and celebrate. They invite you to celebrate their bountiful harvest during the  Annual Catch the Crush on October 13th and 14th. Each winery offers its own celebratory activities such as grape stomps, crush activities, tours, free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live music, and of course, wine tasting.

If you purchase a Catch the Crush Premier Pass, you’ll enjoy exclusive food pairings, library tastings and tours. Wineries ask you to bring your own glass, photo ID and designated driver for this annual wine adventure. Cheers!

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