Yakima Valley brings the heat for photosynthesis

The Yakima Valley enjoys 300 days of sunshine each year, including more summer sun than San Diego, Phoenix, or Honolulu. What impact does this have on the award winning wine grapes of the Yakima Valley?

In recent posts we’ve talked about the soils and the vast day-to-night temperature shifts, but what about the overall temperatures found in the Yakima Valley? Heat and sunshine are two vital attributes to growing wine grapes.

photosynthesis During the growing season itself, if temperatures hover below 50 degrees* or above 95 degrees, photosynthesis virtually stops. Photosynthesis is the process by which energy from sunlight allows for the manufacture of sugars in green plants, including grapevines. A vine without these sugars is like a car without tires — useless. Excessive heat or cold can frustrate this process.

Some grapes can tolerate warmer temperatures, such as the thick skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape, but more delicate grapes such as Riesling enjoy less heat. The variations in air and soil temperatures, soil types, and elevations are just a few of the characteristics that allow the Yakima Valley to successfully grow more than 40 different wine grape varieties.

During the growing season of 2013 (April 1, – October 31,) the Yakima Valley AVA enjoyed an average air temperature of 63.3 degrees (with a high of 99.9  degrees) while its sub appellations Red Mountain averaged 65.2 degrees  (with a high of 107.8  degrees), and Rattlesnake Hills saw an average of 63.5 degrees  (with a high of 104 degrees).**

The temperatures between 50 and 95 degrees are when the plants are manufacturing the much needed sugars for quality wine grapes. Add to that the long days and cool nights that allow the grapes to maintain acidity, 300 days of sunshine, and the most experienced growers in the Pacific Northwest and you begin understand why the Yakima Valley AVA and its sub AVA’s have become the most sought after place to purchase wine grapes.

The next time you open a wine sourced from Yakima Valley fruit, consider the almost perfect temperature and abundant sunshine that went into ripening the grapes in your glass.

The following are three wines that exhibit true Yakima Valley characteristics.

Mark Ryan  2013 Viognier
Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley
Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley
Olsen, Yakima Valley

Thurston Wolfe  2013 Albarino
Crawford Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Owen Roe 2011 Syrah
Red Willow Chapel Block, Yakima Valley

** Washington State University AgWeatherNet program
*All temperatures are Fahrenheit.

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