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What a year to forget… I was starting to have some hope for this vintage as summer kicked into full gear in July… things were running late because of our unusually cool and wet spring weather. We’ve been here before in 2001 and things got dry and we were able to pick grapes in late October with minimal rain. Not so this year. 2010 may go down as one of the strangest vintages in modern times for the West coast of the US.

Most of the west coast experienced well below normal temperatures throughout most of the summer due to a La Nina event and probably longer term cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation that occurs ever couple of decades. When those to cycle together we get extra ordinary cool weather.

Up until late August we were having a pretty dry summer then around September 1st the rain started coming and the fog and drizzle. It has been so cloudy that it wasn’t until September 25th that we had our first official “sunny” day for the month. (The definition of a “sunny” day is 70% sunshine for the day)

Then there is the rain. We’ve had 4.8 inches of rain in September. You may say that doesn’t sound too bad, but in an average September we get about 1.25″ of rain. To be honest, I’ve never seen such a dreary September. My grapes, already running a couple of weeks behind have just not been able to keep up and are slowly rotting on the vine and at this point there is no  hope for them. This would be the first time in 13 vintages for me that I wasn’t able to harvest something.

Gerard Bentryn, who has been growing grapes on Bainbridge Island since 1977, said that he’s never seen a year like this either!

Looking back over the weather records, we have to go back all the way to early 1970s to find a September that was this wet. I keep telling myself that it can only be up from here next year!

How are things in the neighboring areas? Eastern WA has also seen cooler and wetter weather than normal, but for them it’s still very dry and warmer than western WA state. Our grapes are going to come in almost a month later than last year and about 2 weeks later than normal. We are about 90% done with harvest for the year and things are looking great. Nice color, decent brix and interesting acids. I do feel sorry for my compatriots in Oregon. I have heard real horror stories about low brix and huge bird problems. There will be some interesting wines made down there, but overall it is a crummy year. Harvest still continues in the third week of October!

I’m still bullish on Puget Sound wines. If I had more acres I would be planting grapes like Siegerrebe or Madeleine Angevine that would ripen in all years. I’m keeping my fingers crossed on the new Precoce clone. All I can do is look forward to next year and hope that this once in a lifetime event doesn’t turn into a regular weather pattern for us!

 

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In my continuing series of grapes that grow in the Puget Sound AVA, today I’m talking about Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. As far as we can tell, Pinot Gris was first planted in the Puget Sound AVA by Gerard Bentryn sometime in the 1980s. He has told me that he got the “Rulander” clone of Pinot Gris, but I can’t remember the source of the cuttings. As far as I know, I am the first one to plant some Pinot Blanc in the Puget Sound AVA. I got vines from a certified source in Oregon on rootstock.

A little history on Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Genetically, they are clones of Pinot Noir and have the same exact DNA (as with all clones of Pinot Noir). Pinot Noir is a pretty genetically unstable grape and is prone to mutation. Long time growers of Pinot Noir report seeing clusters of fruit on the the same vine having both red and white fruit on them. I’m sure some enterprising individual growing Pinot Noir in France hundreds of years ago saw these mutations and took cuttings from that shoot and replanted it and started growing Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.

They grow pretty much the same as Pinot Noir in the field and are hard to tell apart until the fruit changes color at veraison. Generally, you would pick them earlier than Pinot Noir because you would want higher acid levels with them than  you would with a red wine grape like Pinot Noir. Not much work had been to differentiate the clones of these two grapes as there has been for Pinot Noir, but as time goes on, there will be more research into different clones and such. Pinot Gris is enjoying huge boost in sales, mainly due to the Pinot Grigio trend. Pinot Blanc, while not quite as popular in this country, is always there being planted and sold because it simply makes delicious wines when planted in the right spot.

Let’s talk about these grapes in the context of the Puget Sound AVA. Since they are genetically identical to Pinot Noir it would bode well for them that they are able to ripen in this climate mainly because you would need to pick them earlier than Pinot Noir because you would want slightly higher acid levels. Bainbridge Island Vineyards has been growing Pinot Gris for 20+ years and has always made an exceptional tasting example. With the research into newer clones and rootstock combinations, it’s possible that we could enhance the ripening of the grape if needed. They make wines generally between 12-13% alcohol in our climate, but with tons of flavor. Alsace grows the most Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc in the world and sometimes those wines can reach higher levels of alcohol and many years they can do late harvest wines.

For those wanting to plant more traditional French varieties that would do well in the warmer areas Puget Sound AVA, I would recommend planting both of these grapes. I’ve got several Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc rows going (along with Auxerrois) and while I won’t be making a individual Pinot Gris/Blanc wine anytime soon, I will grow enough to take notes on it and make a blend. If I find any land around me to expand my vineyard, I will surely plant more of these grapes… I know at least 3 other new vineyards going in that have large plantings of Pinot Gris so watch for some Puget Sound Pinot Gris wines in the next couple of years…

On the left is a picture of grapes in veraison. Something I’ve not seen yet this year! 2010 could turn out to be one of the worst vintages since WWII for coastal grape growing regions. All up and down the west coast there are reports of grapes running 1-2-3 weeks late in ripening. I’ve heard that people in Napa are starting to freak out. Coastal Sonoma county is running so far behind, they don’t know what they are going to do. I got a 2nd hand report from some that just came back from the Willamette Valley a couple of days ago (8/22) and there was no sign of Veraison there either…

What does this all mean? I’m not sure yet. The last “worst year ever” in 2008 we didn’t have veraison until August 27th! But I still managed to pull out a harvest at my vineyard here in Woodinvile, albeit we made a really nice Rose’ instead of a still red wine. My ultimate backup plan is to make sparkling wine if we can’t get close to a still wine harvest number.

We did have a couple of record breaking days of heat there in August, but it hasn’t been enough to get us even close to veraison… You may be asking how this is effecting Eastern WA? From my growers things are running slightly behind, but not anywhere near as bad as it is in Western WA… I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we will be able to pull out a decent harvest west of the cascades this year…

This study in France showed that if you spray between 2.5% and 10% ethanol solution on your vineyard you can drop acid levels and boost color. Who would’ve thunk? http://oatao.univ-toulouse.fr/1532/1/Chervin_1532.pdf

Ah shades of a past life… It’s been 7 years since I last went to Vashon Maury Islands when I left Maury Island Vineyards behind in 2003 when the owner of the property had to sell it and I had lost my partner in the venture (Jeff Jernegan) because of health reasons. It was sad and at the same time a giddy time because we had a couple of babies and we were starting Hollywood Hill Vineyards. Lots of memories out on Maury Island…

Anyways… I was asked to give a lecture on growing Pinot Noir clones in the Puget Sound AVA at the annual viticulture meeting of the Puget Sound Wine Growers something we’ve done every August for six years. Usually we rotate the conference site to somewhere different and this year was on Vashon island. I was in good company with Barney Watson, formerly with OSU and Tyee Winery and Markus Keller currently of the WSU viticulture program. My talk went over pretty good and started a conversation about which clones are the best. The biggest thing I recommend is that if you want to plant Pinot Noir in the Puget Sound, make sure you have enough heat, plant on rootstock, train them properly. The jury is still kind of out on Precoce clone since there are no commercial examples yet. Yet it is still the earliest ripening red grape out there and examples we’ve had from Germany aren’t all that bad…

After the lectures we visited two vineyards a couple of miles away. The Monument Farm Vineyards was the first stop and Joe and Tony have done a great job on the their vineyard and it was immaculate! Not a weed to be seen… which could’ve been a small problem. Markus Keller walked us through the vineyard and explained that some of the excess vigor problems they were experiencing were due the lack of competition. Markus recommended that they plant a cover crop down the middle of the rows. Something I’ve debated with for years and next year I’m going to take his advice and let the native vegetation go wild and mow it.

Next was a short walk to the Back Bay vineyard which is a pretty old vineyard planted to Chasselas in 1950! One of the oldest operating vineyards in Washington. Ron Irvine and Art Chippendale are trying to renovate this old vineyard that needs quite a bit of work to bring it back into production. I think if they can get it up and running again, it will make some great wines.

I had to bale out and catch the ferry at this point, but many people went up to Bill Rielly’s place, Maury Island Winery, for a BBQ and some more wine tasting and a tour of Bill’s couple of acres. Apparently Bill’s vineyard was enough to put all of us to shame…

It’s that time of year again, the Evergreen State Fair Wine Competition is coming around quickly. I would’ve posted this earlier, but I’m in Arizona soaking up the sun and drinking lots of beer and floating in the pool all day…

This is the 2nd annual running of the competition that is only for Western Washington grown grapes (no fruit wines). There is both an amateur and commercial competition.  The wines must be available to purchase, if commercial, on August 16th. Unfortunately, this year I won’t be entering because I am sold out of my Chardonnay (which I know would’ve taken the whole show!) and the Pinot Noir and Regent from last year are still in the barrel. I promise to save several cases for the competition next year!

Anyway, you can download the pdf to enter the competition at the link below. The deadline is coming up fast on July 23rd so get those bottles in!

http://wine-beer-washington.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Evergreen-Entry-Form-Evergreen-Fair-Competition-2010-FINAL.pdf

I was reading with great interest  a blog from another blogger about the impending crash of Pinot Noir because of the huge glut of Pinot Noir acres going into the ground throughout the world. He compared it to the glut of Merlot that came on the market about a decade ago.  Many blame the movie Sideways for the huge swing in Pinot Noir interest. There have been a couple of different waves in the past few decades. There was Chardonnay, then Cab Sauv., then Merlot followed shortly by Syrah/Shiraz, now it’s Pinot Noir (and many say Malbec is the next one). As with all these grapes, people plant them in the wrong locations to capitalize on trend. Of all these grapes, I would say that Pinot Noir is the most sensitive to location.

Here in the Puget Sound I can tell you that we will continue to keep planting Pinot Noir. There is one main reason, it’s that Pinot Noir is simply one of the earliest red vitis vinifera grape in the world. The Puget Sound is marginal for Pinot Noir and site selection is critical if you want to plant it. After 12 years of experimenting, and growing  a wide variety of red grapes, only Pinot Noir reliably ripens in the Puget Sound. (Well maybe Regent and Leon Millot, but that’s a different story). The real game changer is probably going to be the Precoce clone and that will allow for further expansion of Pinot Noir in the Puget Sound.

I can say with certainty that Pinot Noir may go through ups and downs, but we are sticking with it because there aren’t a whole lot of choices for red grapes in our climate! Plus, it makes an excellent wine…