Washington wine makers are up to their ears in grapes right
With all those
hot summer days we had, some vineyard sites and grape varieties are
running ahead of the usual schedule. Many Washington
vineyards began harvesting at the end of August in what is expected
to be yet another record-breaking wine grape harvest,
Crop estimates put this year’s wine grapes at more than 230,000
tons, according to the Washington Association of Wine Grape
Growers. Last year, Washington farmers picked 210,000 tons of wine
grapes. In 2012, the harvest was 188,000 tons.
What’s turning into the second bumper crop in a row has led to
flurries of activities in Washington’s wineries. It’s a logistical
scramble for many of the state’s wineries; handling all of this
bounty takes preparation.
The reason for this is there are only so many wine holding
vessels that can fit into the state’s smaller wineries. In those
wineries are the barrels, tanks, fermenters and all the other
accoutrements for the winemaker. In order to make room for the
harvest, everything is shifted into the next phase. Barrels are
emptied into bottles, tanks into barrels and fermenters into
Once that is accomplished, wineries have room for the next
gondola of grapes being harvested and tons of tubs ready for
Most vineyards are machine harvested. Sturdier red grapes and
Riesling tend to work better with machine harvest because the
clusters hold together. It takes a crew of two to three people an
hour to pick an acre with a harvester. White grapes are usually
harvested late at night or early in the mornings when it is still
cool and the more resilient red grapes during the day.
Some winemakers prefer hand-picked grapes which is more costly.
Using a knife to cut the stem of each cluster, it would take 12 to
18 pickers to harvest an acre of grapes in that hour. But the bulk
of Washington’s wine crop is picked by machine because of a
shortage of pickers.
As the weather cools, grapes mature more slowly, giving them
more “hang time,” this allows winemakers to make room in the
fermenters. This works well as long as it doesn’t rain. Depending
on when the rains come, harvesting and fermenting will likely
continue through the end of October.
You can Catch the Crush in Yakima Valley on October
11th and 12th. This well-known event
celebrates the harvest with wine tastings and releases, grape
stomps, crush activities, tours, hors d’oeuvres and live music.
Forty-two wineries are each holding harvest parties during the
weekend. Premier passes are available online for $30.
When you go to wine country this time of year, here’s a primer
so you understand what the heck they’re talking about.
Crush – a whirlwind season of activity in the wineries at
Barrel – made of oak and holds 60 – 100 gallons
Bottle shock – after bottling, the dumb condition of the wine
from the filtering and bottling machines.
Botrytis Cinerea – beneficial mold that forms on the skins of
ripe grapes that eventually concentrates sugars and flavors.
Brix – a measurement of the sugars; winemakers measure at
harvest to determine maturity.
Cap – the “crust” that forms on the top of the fermenting
Cuvaison – juice and skins are fermented longer for color and
Cuvee – a blend of different grapes or different harvests or
Estate Grown – must be within 50 miles of the winery.
Fermenter – great big plastic tubs that hold a lot of crushed
grapes that ferment away.
Fining – filters stuff out of the wine before bottling.
Must – freshly pressed juice that has skins, seeds, and
Ph – the acids in a wine. In the life of a grape, it’s very high
at the start and lowers as the sugars grow.
Press – a wooden barrel shaped vat with a funnel like bottom
where the must is pressed and the juice is then pumped into the
Punch down – During fermentation, winemakers will punch down the
cap twice a day to give the wine more color and flavor
Sur –lie – Tricky practice of leaving the spent yeast cells in
the fermenter. Gives the wine another dimension.
Topping – Oak barrels allow a wine to evaporate, concentrating
the flavors. Air, however, is detrimental to wine so barrels are
topped up to eliminate the air in a barrel.
Verjus – high acid wine made from unripe grapes, usually used in
Wine thief – a long tube used to extract wine from the
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