Yakima Valley vineyards see rapid shoot growth and pre-bloom

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.

Shoots are currently in the process of photosynthesis, which creates the energy to accelerate growth.  Growers will see up to 2-3 inches of growth per day, maybe more if it is real warm. 

Tapteilfinal2

Tapteil Vineyard, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley: Cab Sauv (planted 1985) is in leaf development stage. Leaf development somewhat behind that of nearby Cab Franc and Merlot.  RedWillowfina2l

Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley: Everything is moving along normally. We are irrigating more frequently and hoping for lots of sunshine in June for bloom.
DuBrul Final

DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley: In this block of Cabernet shoots are only a few inches long, which is normal at this point in the year.  The warm weather recently has been helping the vines along;  young shoots are growing rapidly.  As you can see in the closer photo, leaves and clusters are emerging from the growing shoot tips.  Newhousefinal

Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mtn, Yakima Valley: Vine looks very healthy. Shoot growth is 8 to 20 inches. Clusters are pre-bloom.  Once they start to bloom we will get a better idea as to an approximate harvest date, but so far it’s looking neither late nor early! This block has not yet been shoot-thinned.

Copelandfinal

Copeland Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills, Yakima Valley: The vines are happy and progressing very nicely. The heat of late is really pushing growth. We are seeing 8-12 inches growth in Cabernet. We will start early shoot thinning the first of next week.

 

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The balance of Yakima Valley wines

Balanced Wine: The way in which a wine’s key components including fruitiness, sweetness, acidity, and tannin co-exist. A well-balanced wine displays a harmony of components, with no single element dominating.

balance wine diagramBalance is often used in describing a wine. But what makes a well balanced wine?  As with so many elements of a good wine, it starts in the vineyard.

Abundant sunshine is crucial to world-class wine grape cultivation.  But sun  alone is not sufficient to grow the caliber of grapes grown in the Yakima Valley.  Temperature totals, (warmth and coolness) are equally vital to grape development; and this is where the Yakima Valley really shines.

On the wine region classification system developed by the University of California at Davis, the Yakima Valley’s 2,600 to 3,000 “growing-degree (F) days” define this AVA as “Region II” and place it on par with the Bordeaux wine region of France.  Even better is the way this heat accumulates.  If it were uniformly warm all season long, Yakima Valley’s grapes would lose their natural acidity and the resulting wines would be flabby.

However, there is a dramatic difference between day and night temperatures in this valley during the growing season: afternoon highs in the 90s t0 100s (F) plunge down to the 50s (F) after midnight.  It’s what climate scientists call diurnal shift; and those dramatic temperature swings enable grapes to retain their natural, flavor-enhancing acids.

The climate of this region combines sunshine, water, heat, and cold temperatures like almost nowhere else on earth.  Most remarkable is the way this balance is achieved across multiple varieties—from Riesling and Chardonnay to Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet.

The next time you taste a wine sourced from Yakima Valley fruit, think about the balance of the wine, the astringency, acidity, and the fruitiness…..and how they are each balanced to one another.

An example of the balance of Yakima Valley wines can be found in these
three wines.

Savage Grace 2011 Cabernet Franc    Copeland Vineyard, Yakima
Valley  (planted in 2000)

Saviah 2011 GSM  Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Hightower 2010 Reserve Red Cab/Merlot   Red Mountain, Yakima
Valley

The climate of the Yakima is an integral piece of the harmony you taste in your glass.

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DuBrul Vineyard Five-Vine Cabernet bud break

DuBrul Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon vine in full bud break. Located in the middle of the Yakima Valley AVA, this vine is part of the 5-Vine Cabernet project. Picture taken 4/23/14.

Cabernet Sauvignon vine at DuBrul Vineyard

Cabernet Sauvignon vine at DuBrul Vineyard

The was 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.

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What to look for in a barrel sample.

This weekend marks Yakima Valley’s annual Spring Barrel Tasting event.  It is the most popular annual event for the Valley vintners and those who appreciate fine wines.

Besides enjoying the predictably sunny weather in eastern Washington, barrel-tasting weekend is an opportunity to gain insight into the artistic process behind the production at each winery. During this festive weekend you will have an opportunity to taste unfinished wines and immediately compare them to the same “finished” wine from the bottle.  But what should you be looking for in a young wine? What should you expect to taste?  If the wine is unfinished, what will it taste like once it is in the bottle?

Here are some recommendations for you as you taste wines from the barrel.

What to Expect.
Young wines, especially from the barrel, are going to be  fruity. They smell and taste more like juice than wine.

What to look for.
What type of fruit do you taste and how intense is it? The fruit should show appropriate ripeness, overripeness can mark a wine as “over the top” or unbalanced.  Overripeness occurs when the grape  stays on the vine too long, and thus raises a flag to make sure the components in the palate are not unbalanced. Overripe wines often lack acidity, obvious in alcohol and become even more so when bottled.

Underripeness results in  “green” aromas and flavors. Bell peppers and tomato leaf appear in red wines, and citric acid for most whites. These characters manifest themselves even more as the wine ages.

Oak.
A wine produced in new oak will have much of the aroma and flavor of the new wood. This aroma and flavor of toast, vanilla, cedar, butterscotch, or baking spices will not be integrated with the wine. In most cases, these characters will blend into the wine and soften over time. In some cases this oakiness will be overpowering and stick out like a sore thumb. The oak treatment can also result in an increase in tannic structure of the wine, which is of special importance to the longevity and overall character of a red wine.

Tannins.
Red wines in the barrel will generally have a lot more tannin than a finished wine. Tannin is part of the skeleton of a red wine. If the wine has too little or too much tannin, you can make your assessment of the quality and longevity of the wine. The quality of the tannin is important as well, with ripe tannin being smooth and adding texture to the wine. Hard, dry, rough or raspy tannin can make a wine unpleasant and may be a sign of inappropriate ripeness or wine-making. You should look for velvety, ripe and silky tannin.

Balance.
In a young wine you are looking for balance. Is the wine extremely intense or finesseful and elegant? Does it have all the pieces in the right place and is it harmonious?  This is a positive attribute for any wine.

There is a lot that can happen before bottling so when you are looking at purchasing “futures” of any unfinished wine, consider the producer and his/her finished wines.

Enjoy the journey from barrel to bottle!

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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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