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Washington yields down, Oregon up as harvest finishes

As harvest finishes in the Pacific northwest, vintners are pondering a season of opposites.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

While 2011 has been the coldest harvest in living memory for Washington, Oregon had one of the longest growing seasons ever.

Lower sugar levels were a given in both states, but while Washington’s yields were down, in Oregon – which saw more rain – yields were the highest on record.

Much of eastern Washington’s vineyards had frost on 27 October and again on 2 November adding to the coldest harvest period for 70 years ‘and the second really nasty year in a row,’ said Paul Beveridge of Washington’s Wilridge Winery.

He added, ‘I may be making pink Nebbiolo this year’ – a reference to the severe dilution of the grapes.

Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, and low-lying parts of the Yakima Valley all were hit hard while Wahluke Slope was spared.

In Oregon the season was unseasonably cool and wet until late August, when four weeks of warm-to-hot weather helped compensate for some of the lateness in ripening.

For Sam Tannahill of Rex Hill and A to Z Wineworks, and current chair of the Oregon Wine Board, Oregon this year was ‘a miracle.’

Late September and early October set off a wave of new worries but, by mid-October, a classic Indian Summer arrived with sunny, dry days setting the stage for an excellent harvest carrying well into November.

The yield in Oregon is an estimated 40,800 tonnes compared to 31,000 tonnes last year.

In neighbouring Idaho, bud-break occurred in late April, several weeks behind average, but despite the slow start vintners are satisfied with quality.

Dale Jeffers from Skyline Vineyards said, ‘The growing season was great, once it started,’ and Melanie Krause of Cinder Winery said, ‘it was a nail-biting season, but the outlook for the wine is great.’

Comparing this year with the high-quality 2010, she said she had high hopes for it, as ‘each variety was harvested within a few days of last year.’

As with Washington, the Idaho grape crop was down – some 10-15% from 2010.

Written by David Furer

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