All across Washington, grape growers and winemakers are currently bringing in the fruits of this year’s labors in the state's second straight warm growing season for Washington. For some, it will be the warmest year on record. The state is also expecting to bring in a record tonnage of wine grapes due to the warmth of the season and a continued expansion of acreage.
Eastern Washington—where the vast majority of the state’s wine grapes are grown—is well known for its consistently warm, dry climate. However, the last several years have seen more temperatures swings than the norm. 2010 was the coolest year since 1999 and presented a considerable challenge for many of the state’s newly minted winemakers. The year 2011 was cooler still, for some growers their coolest season on record. Meanwhile, 2012 tracked to 20-year averages for heat accumulation. The pendulum swung again in 2013 with one of the warmest vintages the state had seen, while 2014 has now been even warmer still.
As an agricultural product, the wines from each vintage have been significantly impacted by these climatic swings. Washington’s 2010 red wines are lower in alcohol, higher in acid, and look to be some of the most age-worthy wines the state has ever produced. Washington's 2011 wines meanwhile have a subtle elegance, though most won’t last as long as their 2010 peers. The initial reds from 2012 are just starting to hit the retail shelves, and look to be a classically Washington-style vintage with rich, ripe, forward fruit aromas and flavors. These wines are guaranteed crowd pleasers. The 2013 reds meanwhile are mostly still in barrel but the warmth of the season looks to bring ripe, opulent wines. What wines will 2014 bring? Only time will tell with the first white and rosé releases due out next spring.
Harvest time is perhaps the best time to travel to wine country. All across eastern Washington, you will see vineyard workers out picking fruit or trucks with bins of grapes motoring by. You don’t have to travel too far east to see Washington’s grape harvest though. Woodinville’s Warehouse Winery District (see a map at Woodinville Wine Country) is a great place to catch the action, with wineries receiving fruit and processing grapes right before your eyes.
If you ever wanted to volunteer at a winery, now is the perfect time. Keep an eye on your favorite winery’s Facebook page or Twitter handle for updates. Be forewarned, however. Volunteering during harvest is how many of the state’s winemakers got bit by the bug. You just might find yourself sitting in the kitchen this fall with several hundred pounds of wine grapes if you’re not careful.