Posted by Bob Betz
All the planning, praying, cleaning and shouting is over; harvest 2008 is in full swing in Washington’s Columbia Valley.
There was some apprehension rounding the final turn in August: a cool spring followed by temperature peaks and valleys isn’t what Mother Nature typically throws at us. Our normal pattern is to emerge from the deep dormancy of a cold winter with a warm spring, followed by a strong, consistent hot streak and cloudless long days through the summer months. 2008’s roller-coaster weather had us all wondering about the vintage; most sites were five to seven days behind normal.
However, Washington’s September seldom disappoints, and 2008 is a classic. As we approached the end of August, a strong, warm system moved into place and shows no sign of letting up. Days are warm to downright hot, followed by night temperatures that drop 35 to 40 degrees F from daytime highs—plenty of sun and heat to build sugar and flavor during the days, but cooler temperatures at night to preserve structure. Early sites and varieties are being harvested nearly right on schedule.
We picked our first fruit on Monday, Sept. 15, just 2 days behind last year. The earliest entries for us are from the hotter vineyards on Red Mountain; this year a block of Merlot, planted in 1976 at Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, was the first to be picked. The other early pick came from the opposite end of the AVA, at the west end of the Yakima Valley, at Red Willow Vineyard. Despite being notably closer to the Cascade Mountains than Red Mountain, Red Willow sits in its own little meso-climate where it accumulates heat, and ripens fruit, faster than one would expect. Our most exciting varieties coming from this impeccably managed vineyard are a block of 1973-planted Cabernet Sauvignon and the oldest block of Syrah planted in Washington: a 1986 stand that launched Washington’s important adventure into Rhône varieties.
We picked the Syrah on Monday. How did we know it was ready? Well, we looked at a wide range of factors to make the all-important picking decision. In addition to the obvious questions of color maturity, tannin development and resolution, acid decrease and flavor, we also took into account the numbers like potential alcohol, pH and the actual acid measurement. We looked at the stems to see if they had turned from bright green to a fleshy, almost maroon color. We looked at the seeds, hoping they would be brown and crunchy rather than green and hard to separate from the pulp. Skin texture is essential for our reds: they should be loaded with chewy tannin, with ample thickness and flavor.
What we picked on Monday hit our goal.