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A Bit of a Scare

Betz and other Washington winemakers had a rough Monday night, though all is well again.

Posted: Sep 24, 2008 6:37pm ET

By Bob Betz

Posted by Bob Betz

Washington wine growers endured a minor scare beginning Monday night, September 22, through the morning of Tuesday the 23rd. Temperatures dipped dangerously close to freezing just before sunrise Tuesday, with potentially serious consequences, considering how much fruit remains to be harvested. Fortunately, temperatures weren't low enough to damage vines or fruit, but many growers and winemakers slept poorly on Monday night.

It may sound like viticultural voodoo, but the third weekend in September has stung the Columbia Valley in the past. Both 1985 and 2000 actually had freezing temperatures this same weekend, causing minor to notable damage, depending on vineyard site. Growers throughout all of the state’s AVAs breathed easier Tuesday, as there was no damage in 2008. Kevin Corliss, director of vineyard operations for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, who oversees thousands of acres of vines, mentioned that he hadn't heard of a single singed leaf or affected berry throughout the state, as temperatures were mostly in the 34-35° F range.

Better yet, the weather has improved, even in the past two days, and the 2-3 week outlook bodes well for this year’s crop: Warm temperatures, 76-82° F and cool nights, up to 35° lower than daytime temps, with abundant sunshine--the classic Washington ripening pattern.

This traditional ripening pattern gives us the "hang time" we hope for every vintage. Longer time on the vine at these temperatures encourages flavor and physiological development in the fruit without the accumulation of too much sugar. Grapes seem to gain complexity without outrageous alcohol levels.

Mother Nature is a fickle partner in the vineyards, and wine growers have come to learn they must play the hand they are dealt.

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