2020 Harvest underway

After nearly a month of picking, the 2020 Yakima Valley wine grape harvest remains steady due to consistent summer temperatures. Small berries and clusters are offering excellent quality with a slightly lighter yield this year. 

Yakima Valley growers have picked 15 percent to 20 percent of their grapes, mostly for sparkling wines and other early ripening fruit such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay.

Winemakers are now primarily focused on bringing in Merlot and Syrah.  By the end of the month, at peak harvest, growers will turn their attention to late varietal reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.

The start of the 2020 vintage began on schedule with Treveri Cellars, Yakima Valley’s award-winning sparkling wine house, picking Chardonnay from their old-vine Hilltop Vineyard in Zillah on August 21.  “This years’ yield looks to be slightly below average,” according to Juergen Grieb, winemaker and owner of Treveri Cellars. “The quality looks very good with no evidence of molds or disease. Ripening is on schedule as of now and may become a little ahead of last year due to the reduced yields.” Lower yields allow grapes to ripen faster.   

The height of the annual grape harvest is easily recognizable by the trucks hauling bins of grapes in the early morning to various wineries, often heading toward Woodinville and Walla Walla. The quality of Yakima Valley wine grapes makes them desirable to many of Washington’s most celebrated winemakers.  

“Weather this season has been spot on with our ten-year average,” according to Kerry Shiels, winemaker for Côte Bonneville Winery in Sunnyside. “It’s been a beautiful growing season.” 

Another plus for the 2020 vintage is water control. The winter of 2018/2019 was quite wet in contrast to this past winter. Coming into the growing season with little precipitation in the soil allows growers more control over water. Less water requires the plant to work harder and ultimately produce smaller, more intense berries which translates into smaller yields. Many of the growers across the Valley experienced a lighter than usual fruit set, which also contributes to lighter tonnage. 

Working harvest during a pandemic hasn’t proven to be too difficult.  “It’s easy to social distance in the vineyard,” according to Grieb. “The staff working with harvest are workers who have normal distancing built into their duties.”  Due to the nature of wine production, wineries are constructed to have good ventilation while winemakers are schooled in microbiology and have an excellent understanding of chemistry and microbes.  Keeping things sanitized and in check is a ritual in any winery.  

As if a pandemic isn’t enough of a distraction, recent wildfires have caused some to consider the potential of smoke in the wine and concern for harvest workers breathing unhealthy air.  The smoke has disrupted harvest scheduling in several vineyards due to poor air quality.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have world-class researchers working with us to actively study the wildfires,” says Shiels. “Thus far, data are showing that the late season fires appear to have produced large particulates leading winemakers to be cautiously optimistic that the smoke in the Valley will not significantly influence the vintage.” 

The impact of growing and producing wine during a one-hundred-year pandemic while experiencing wildfires during harvest may take a toll emotionally, but overall, the grapes have excellent concentration, good balance, and aromatics, with the expression of fruit that the Yakima Valley is known for.  There is always time for something to go sideways, but as of now, the quality of the 2020 vintage is looking exceptional.

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