Yakima Valley vineyards in various stages of bud break

The soft wool is giving way to pink-fringed leaf tips as Yakima Valley vineyards begin bud break. Many varieties of wine grapes are in various stages of bud break right now.

This week’s blog post offers a real-time visual of the five Cabernet Sauvignon vines we are monitoring during the growing season.  Each of these vines are located in a different micro-climate or sub AVA within the Yakima Valley appellation. The images reflect what the plants currently look like and the brief write ups give narrative of what is happening now and what is expected to occur in the next days or weeks.

For more information on the vineyard site of each of these vineyards click here.

Tapteil final April

Tapteil Vineyard, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley: Monday, April 14th. Bud break is just beginning in the Cab block, with the photo of the 5-Vine selection showing that the burst will be in a day or two. Some of the vines in this block have 1 inch leaves.


2DuBrul April final

DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley: Bud break is happening in Chardonnay, Riesling,
and Syrah, but Cabernet is a later varietal.  We expect to see new green growth on this
vine soon.

Upland Vineyard April final;

Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mountain, Yakima Valley: Currently the vine is going through bud-break. A characteristic of Cabernet Sauvignon is that it tends to be the last variety to go through this stage.  Also at this time the block is getting its first drink of water of the season via drip irrigation.

Red Willow Aprilfinal

Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley: While Sangiovese and Cab Franc are well into bud break, Cab Sauv takes a bit longer and is beginning bud swell.  Bud break should occur within the next few weeks.

Copeland April final

Copeland Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills, Yakima Valley: Spring is in full effect and full bud break has occurred in almost every variety with almost two inches of growth in some.  This Cabernet vine at Copeland Vineyard is at full bud swell and will break any day while other vines in the same lock have just broken.  We are finishing up our first irrigation of  the season as well.


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What is bud break?

It’s nearly bud break time in the Yakima Valley, the season of rebirth in the vineyards.  Bud  break is when the grape starts its annual growth cycle. In the Yakima Valley this stage typically begins in mid-April. If the vines have been pruned during the winter, the start of this cycle is signaled by a “bleeding” of the vine which happens when the sap begins to flow. Bleeding reflects new root growth and warming soil temperatures.

budswellTiny buds on the vine start to swell and eventually shoots begin to grow from the buds. The shoots sprout tiny leaves that can begin the process of photosynthesis, which creates the energy to accelerate growth. These shoots grow relatively slow until the vines begin to enjoy really warm temperatures (85 degrees and above), which in the Yakima Valley typically occurs in mid-May. It is during this time that the acceleration of growth begins. Growers will easily see 2-3 inches of growth per day, maybe more if it is real warm.
leafing out vineLast year was unusual in that the Valley experienced really warm temperatures earlier in May resulting in an earlier and faster than normal growth.

After bud break, the young shoots are very vulnerable to frost damage. It is during this time that growers go to great lengths to protect the fragile shoots should the temperature drop below freezing.  Frost protection in the Yakima Valley includes setting up heaters, wind machines or even applying sprinklers to the vineyard to keep cold air from settling on the vines.

Frost Control

2Frost Protection

Examples of frost control: Wind machines push the warmer air from a higher elevation toward the vines to help keep warmer air in the vineyard.

Sprinklers are turned on to encapsulate the bud in ice keeping the bud temperature from dropping below 32 degrees.



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Yakima Valley, the Dawn of a New Wine.

Yakima Valley was the first winegrowing appellation established in Washington State, and the entire Pacific Northwest. The official American Viticultural Area (AVA) was designated in 1983. Pacific Northwest wine writer, Andy Perdue shares the modern day history of the Yakima Valley and his overall thoughts of its contributions to the Washington State wine industry.

The Valley cultivates more than 17,000 acres of wine grapes, the most of any appellation in Washington State, and the entire Pacific Northwest.


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The Unmistakable Typicity of the Yakima Valley

Blog posts for the month of March have focused primarily on the cataclysmic events that created a special geology and soil composition in the Yakima Valley AVA. These events allow the vineyards of the Yakima Valley AVA to grow wine grapes of such quality that they stand up to grapes from any region in the world.   Typicity Graphicfinal

In the terms of wine quality, these historic occurrences translate into grapes and wines that are completely true to their varietal character, or typicity.

Typicity is used to describe the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal origins, and thus demonstrate the signature characteristics of the grape from which it was produced.  It is the standard of the varietal. 

Following are three popular wine varietals grown in the Yakima Valley, and the standard tasting profile of each. The next time you drink a Yakima Valley wine, think of the characteristics listed below and consider how the wine reflects these elements.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON  (cab-air-NAY so-veen-YOWN)  2,784 acres or 27% of Washington’s Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are grown in the Yakima Valley*. Manu Propia
When choosing a Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon expect a fruity character from this complex grape. In its youth, the wine appears more subtle and restrained; this wine ages beautifully. Its character can emerge as black currants, cherry, berry, chocolate, leather, mint, herbs, bell pepper or any combination of these. Many Yakima Valley vintners employ traditional blending practices, adding Merlot or Cabernet Franc to the wine.

(sear-AH)   1,055 acres or 34% of Washington state’s Syrah grapes are grown in the Yakima Valley*.
The first Syrah grapes in Washington were planted in the Yakima Valley in 1986. Syrah is just one of the Rhône varieties sparking great interest in the Valley. A spicy, rich, complex varietal, Syrah grapes turn into big, dark, intensely concentrated wines with aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants, roasted coffee and leather.

RIESLING  (REES-ling)    3,379 acres or 53% of Learning RieslingWashington state’s Riesling grapes are grown in the Yakima Valley*.
Yakima Valley Riesling is one of the original grape varieties grown in Washington, and one of the first to bring national attention to Washington wines. The Valley’s Rieslings tend to be very floral in the nose, with vivid apricot-peach flavors. Most Rieslings are vinted in an off-dry to slightly sweet style - all balanced with typically good acidity. Occasionally, “noble rot” works its magic on Riesling, concentrating the sugars and flavors to produce a late-harvest or ice wine of incomparable intensity.


* Washington Vineyard Acreage Report 2011, USDA.





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Five Vines in the Yakima Valley AVA

Join five Yakima Valley grape growers as they monitor and post growing and ripening patterns of five Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in the Yakima Valley AVA. Each grape vine is located in a different micro-climate or Sub AVA within the appellation.

Growers from each of these vineyards will be sharing a monthly photograph and brief overview of the stage of growth the vine is in. The growth patterns will be monitored and posted monthly to this blog.  Major  updates such as bud break, veraision, and harvest will be posted as they happen.

Larry Pearson, Owner Tapteil Vineyard

Larry Pearson, Owner Tapteil Vineyard

Larry Pearson, owner of Tapteil Vineyard located on the far east end of the Yakima Valley AVA in the Red Mountain AVA will share the progress of a Cabernet Sauvignon vine planted in 1985 at an elevation of 850 feet.  The vine is grown in Warden silt loam soil. Heat summation is 2390—average growing degree days, Base 50 F, April 1-October 31, 2009-2013. The slope is southwest at 6% and the row direction is north-south. This vine is part of the initial 3 acres of Tapteil Vineyard planted in 1985 and now sits in a 30 acre parcel.  This vine produces intense dark fruit, dusty spice with firm tannins.

The vine has been pruned for the 2014 vintage.

Hugh Shiels, Owner DuBrul Vineyard

Hugh Shiels, Owner DuBrul Vineyard

Hugh Shiels, owner of DuBrul Vineyard, located in the center of the Yakima AVA will be watching a Cabernet Sauvignon vine planted in 1992. This vine  grows in shallow Scoon soils, wind-driven loess and heterogenous rocks from the ancient Columbia River, which cover the underlying basalt promontory. The planting is at 1,300 feet elevation on an 8-15% pitch with a south facing slope. Heat units average 2765 GDD from 2009-2013. The vineyard totals 45 acres with a north-south row direction.  The fruit from this vine produces wines with deep garnet color. Typical flavors include cherry, cassis, blackberry, exotic spice, and black tea.  Abundant tannins are bold yet refined, adding texture to the extended finish characteristic of this vine.

The ladies of DuBrul Vineyard are pruning the vines in anticipation of budbreak.  This block of Cabernet will be pruned next week.

Todd Newhouse, Manager of Upland Vineyards

Todd Newhouse, Manager of Upland Vineyards

Todd Newhouse, Manager of Upland Vineyards also located in the center of the Yakima Valley AVA, inside the Snipes Mtn. AVA. Todd will be monitoring a Cabernet Sauvignon vine planted in 1989 at an elevation of 900 feet. The vine grows in shallow, sandy loam soils mixed with basalt. Heat units are high due to moderate to steep southwest slope and by being surrounded on the north and east by basalt cliffs. This vine is part of a 5 acre block with a north-south row direction.

The vine has been “pre-pruned.” Hand crews will come through and cut another 75% of what is shown in the close up picture above.

Jonathan Sauer, Owner Red Willow Vineyard

Jonathan Sauer, Owner Red Willow Vineyard

Jonathan Sauer, owner of Red Willow Vineyard, the furthest western vineyard within the Yakima Valley AVA.  This 5 acre block of Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in 1999. Predominately a southwestern slope.  Rows are oriented east-west with soils classified as Sagemoor sandy loam.  Around 1,175 feet in elevation.  On average heat units reach 2,750. Presumably clone 8 Cabernet.  These vines are on an acreage contract to Owen Roe winery.

Paul Portteus, Owner Portteus Vineyard
Paul Portteus, Owner Portteus Vineyard

Paul Portteus, owner of Portteus Vineyard located in the western third of the Yakima Valley AVA and within the Rattlesnake Hills AVA will be following the progress of a Cabernet Sauvignon vine planted in 1982 and in volcanic burke loam soil.

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Getting the “Dirt” on Yakima Valley Soils

Yakima Valley vineyards support the best Washington State and Pacific Northwest wineries  in achieving excellence. Acclaimed brands that have grown to greatness showcasing Yakima Valley grapes include Quilceda Creek, DeLille Cellars, Andrew Will, Col Solare, Côte Bonneville, Betz Family, Avennia, and many more.

What is it that makes the Yakima Valley AVA so remarkable?  One of the key elements is the soil.

We  discussed in last week’s blog how Mother Nature has blessed the Yakima Valley with a series of events that brought a variety of the most desirable soils for growing wine grapes.  Today’s blog focuses on how those soils impact the quality of the wine grapes grown in the Yakima Valley Appellation.

Sample of loess soil. Wind-deposited silt and fine sand.

Sample of loess soil. Wind-deposited silt and fine sand.

The surface layers of vineyard soils within the Yakima Valley AVA are based primarily in loess (lĕs), which consists mostly of wind-deposited silt and fine sand derived from the sediments of the ice age floods. The mineralogical content of the soils consists of a mixture of minerals derived from both the local basalt bedrock and the granites of northern Idaho and Montana.

Most of the soils in the Valley are classified as either silt loams (lohm) or fine sandy loams, which means that they have a low clay percentage relative to silt and sand. The low clay content creates well-drained soils encouraging the vines to root more deeply, a factor associated with high quality grapes and wines. It also creates an inhospitable environment for phylloxera, an aphid-like pest that feeds on the roots of grapevines.  Due in large part to the clay-poor soils, the Yakima Valley is one of the few places on earth where European wine grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon can be grown on their own roots.

Calcium carbonate on the rocks of DuBrul Vineyard

Calcium carbonate on the rocks of DuBrul Vineyard

The shallow parts of Yakima Valley soil profiles contain calcium carbonate horizons called caliche.  In most areas the caliche forms a conspicuous white layer in the soil that adds mineral complexity.

The deep roots of grapevines often penetrate through the surface layer of loess, which averages 3 ft. in thickness and into the underlying substrate. Depending on location, the substrate below the loess varies dramatically, adding diversity to the Valley’s many terroirs.

Variations in thickness of the loess, composition and texture of the underlying substrates produce a broad range of vineyard soil terroirs.

When talking to a winemaker who uses Yakima Valley fruit, he or she will note the soil differences from block to block or vineyard to vineyard. These differences are notable in the flavor profiles they produce offering that special sense of place of Yakima Valley wines.

Special thank you to Dr. Kevin Pogue, geology professor, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA. for content contributions of today’s blog post.

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Cataclysmic Events that Created the Soils of the Yakima Valley

The Yakima Valley AVA is blessed with a vast array of soil types offering notable depth, purity and natural complexity into its wines.

A series of natural phenomenon dating back fifteen million years ago have given the soils of the Yakima Valley enough variation to produce world class grapes well beyond the big six wine grapes; Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Deposits from the Ancient Columbia River
Deposits from the Ancient Columbia River

Volcanoes began the layering by depositing basalt, ash, and volcanic sediments across the Yakima Valley, and the Columbia River brought in pebbles, stones, granite and quartzite.

The ice age floods constricted at the Wallula Gap depositing sediment
from Idaho and Montana.  You can still see these sediments across the
Yakima Valley (up to 1,200 feet in elevation), and they still constitute
the deeper layers of soil in the AVA.

Ash deposits from Mt. St. Helens tops the final layer of soil

Ash deposits from Mt. St. Helens tops the final layer of soil

Flood sediments of the Yakima Valley have been topped by layers of a wind-deposited soil called loess and the final layer; ash deposits from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Tectonic plates compressed and wrinkled the Columbia Basin region into a series of east-west running ridges called the Yakima fold belt.  Two of these ridges, now called the Horse Heaven Hills and the Rattlesnake Hills, form the boundaries of today’s Yakima Valley.

What does all this mean to the wines produced from vineyards in the Yakima Valley?  In a word: purity.

The terrain of this region remains as open and clean as when cataclysmic floods swept through at the end of the ice age.  The soil components are uniformly silt and sand with quartz and micas—and nearly devoid of organic matter or pests common to the rest of the wine world.

Water drains through these soils with remarkable ease, forcing vines to send their root systems deep.  Such a pure foundation also allows Yakima Valley to grow ungrafted vines.  It’s a very traditional, but now very unusual, technique—and possible only because of our special geology.  The end result is grapes and then wines that are completely true to their varietal character.

Three Yakima Valley wines that exhibit great varietal character:
Doyenne Signature Syrah, Yakima Valley
Chinook  Cab Franc, Yakima Valley
Efeste “Sauvage” Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley

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