Harvest is Underway

The 2017 growing season gave Stillwater Creek Vineyard its first grapes today. We picked Merlot this morning.  It is ripening much earlier than normal, so if you are a Stillwater Creek Merlot customer, keep a close eye on it.

Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are coming on strong as well and should be ready very soon.  Lab analysis will be available later in the week.  In the meantime, don’t hesitate to call me at 509-3803173 or email me if you have questions.  Ed Kelly

 

Sugars Starting to Climb as Harvest Approaches

We just took our first sugar samples, and we are getting close to beginning harvest. Sauvignon Blanc sugars were in the 22’s, Chardonnay 19’s and 20’s and the one Merlot Block we tested was 22.4. We’ll do more testing next week.

Veraison is finished in nearly all varieties, and we are catching up to last year in some of the reds. View completion dates by block here.  Due to the heat, I believe harvest dates will meet and maybe surpass 2016 in some of the red varieties. We will know more about that when we do more extensive sampling.

Currently, we are adjusting crop loads. Clusters are much smaller this year so I will be leaving more clusters per vine to achieve targeted yields.

Due to the high heat, I am increasing the amount of applied water this week. Usually I am decreasing water this time of year due to the shorter days and cooler nights, but this year the relentless heat is putting higher water demand on the grapevines. Check the website for more updates soon.



July Stays Hot and Dry


In a recent vineyard update I mentioned that the 2017 growing season was a mirror image of 2016.  To recap, 2016’s bud break set an early record, with very high accumulated heat units. The 2016 stayed warm/hot until July.  This year’s bud break was more “normal,” but the early growing season was cool with rain through June.

 

Here’s how July conditions compare between the two years:

July 2016

1)       Average Minimum Temperature = 59.3

2)       Average Maximum Temperature = 84.4

3)       Heat Units July 1, 2016 = 1088

4)       Heat Units July 31, 2016 = 1743

5)       Total July Heat Units = 654.8

July 2017

1)       Average Minimum Temperature = 62.2

2)       Average Maximum Temperature = 89.5

3)       Heat Units July 1, 2017 = 967.9

4)       Heat Units July 31, 2017 = 1746.6

5)       Total July Heat Units = 778.7

In summary, July 2016 began with more heat units than 2017, but by the end of this July, 2017 surpassed 2016 in accumulated heat units. We also had many rains in July of 2016 and there has been no rainfall in July 2017.  What a difference a month can make.

We are now into August and the heat spell is continuing, with no end in sight. I have altered our early season, cool and wet, canopy management and re-tuned for very hot and dry.

I have seen a few berries beginning to color, but nothing I would call veraison yet. I expect veraison will begin next week.

This growing season we did not begin irrigation until late June, due to the saturated soil profile from the winter snow and spring rains. We are making up for the lack of early irrigation now; the pumps are running five days a week.

We have also had hazy skies due to fires in Canada and the Okanagan Valley. From experience, the smoke is not enough to create any problems in wine but is probably keeping temperatures down a little.

Considering harvest dates, I’m not sure what to say quite yet. This year’s fruit has yielded smaller, lighter clusters and, coupled with the heat we are experiencing, I would expect smaller berries. If the heat keeps up I expect we may begin harvest a little behind last year, but harvest will likely go faster and end earlier. We could see reds and whites ripening at similar times.  I’ll know more when veraison is in full swing.

July Temperatures Remain Warm

July remains very warm, although the last couple days were only in the 80’s. But we have another heat spell coming early next week.

The warm July is helping to create what may shape up to be an outstanding fruit quality year.  I mentioned in an earlier update that due to 2016’s heavier crop, I expected this year’s crop to be smaller.  Well, in general there are fewer clusters per vine, but since we adjust our crop load that factor is a mere indicator.  What I feel is relevant to this year is smaller than normal clusters and looser clusters due to some shatter during the rainy bloom time. Now the high heat of July is helping to keep berry size down. Smaller clusters, less compacted clusters, and possibly smaller berry size, if the weather stays as excellent as it is now, could add up to a very high quality fruit year. Let’s keep our fingers crosses that the fine weather holds up.

In the vineyard, we are continuing to adjust our canopy for the proper light management and I am very pleased by the crew’s work.  Every year our crew gets better at these quality operations.  Following canopy management operations, we will begin to adjust crop loads. The cluster counts we are now making will help us to determine the best blocks to begin this process.

So, not to jinx things, but I am feeling much more at peace at this point in the growing season than I have in many seasons past. Again, I am hopeful for continued good weather.  We shall see.

Weather Mirror Image of 2016

This year’s weather has been a mirror image of 2016 thus far.  Last year’s growing season started off extremely early and warm and stayed that way until July when the weather turned rainy and cool.  The 2017 growing season began very cool and rainy and stayed that way until July.  Now we are in a heat spell.  We have had several days in the 90’s and 100’s and the weather looks like it will stay that way for a while. The next major benchmark for the year will be veraison, which will help us predict harvest timing this year.

With the heat spell, we have finally begun to irrigate and the vines growth is slowing down. This is the first time since my arrival at Stillwater Creek in 2011 that we have not irrigated prior to bud break.

In the vineyard, we have been removing the lower two leaves, and lateral growth on the east side of the vines to increase airflow through the vines. With the cooler early temperatures and rain some Washington vineyards are finding powdery mildew, though I am happy to report there is no mildew at Stillwater Creek.  The heat we are experiencing now will also help keep powdery mildew away as temperatures above 90 can kill the mildew. The heat has been extreme though, so I have halted the canopy work to avoid burn to the fruit. We are now making a second pass pulling trunk suckers.

The fruit is sizing up well and we have had a good berry set, so all looks well, so far.

Bloom is Complete

We are now through bloom. For a look at bloom and bud break by block, visit the Vintage Data section of the website.  During bloom there were a couple of rainy, cool weather periods so we will need to wait a week or so to know how well berries set.

In the vineyard, we are now working our second cordon suckering pass.  During this second pass, we are also removing the lower two leaves to open up the canopy.  With this season’s rain and cooler temperatures, it is important to open up the canopy for greater airflow.  By doing so, we not only avoid disease but also help newly forming berries develop stronger and thicker cell walls through exposure to sunlight.  We are also positioning the shoots vertically in the trellis wire and hedging the shoots to the proper length.

Bloom Expected Soon

We are not yet in bloom, but I am guessing we begin by late next week.  If that happens, bloom will be similar to the 2012, 13 and 14 growing seasons.

Shoot growth is strong right now at around 1.5 inches growth per day.

Canopy management is underway.  We are currently suckering the cordon and the trunks. The cordon suckering is the first major quality control vineyard operation, following pruning, of course.  This is when we select the fruit bearing shoots we are going to keep. The goal is to obtain shoot density that will give us the best sunlight penetration into the canopy.  Suckering, coupled with leaf removal in a few weeks, is extremely important to wine quality.  We have about 40 workers on this project.

We have not had to water the vineyard yet this year due to the heavy snow this winter and the many spring rains that filled the soil profile. This is the first time since I arrived here in 2011 that I have not irrigated prior to bud break and that was almost a month ago.

The new plants we put in the ground last year are growing well.  Most have 30 to 40 inches of  shoot growth already.

2017 Bud Break Underway

We are now beginning bud break at Stillwater Creek Vineyard. The Phelps Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are getting their first leaves. This puts 2017 bud break very close to (maybe a week later) than bud break in 2012, 2013 and 2014.  The Cabernet Sauvignon is in bud swell, but no leaves yet.  The weather is still very cool with very few sunny, warm days so far.  Photos from May 1-3 are posted here.

During the winter we had a great deal of snow, up to a foot in areas, and the snow stayed on the ground through February. We have also had many rains prior to bud break. Our recent measurements of ground water show little need for an early irrigation. This may be the first year that I do not irrigate prior to bud break.

Pruning and trellis repair is complete and we are now setting up the irrigation.

Moderate Temps Ahead; Reds Ripening Well

swc-mail-chimp-small-cab-sauv-9-16-16

We are just about complete picking the white varieties and the reds are coming on strong. Merlot is being picked now and will likely be picked out in the coming week. Syrah, Malbec and Grenache are ripening well with Cabernet Sauvignon following closely. A few photos of activity in the vineyard last Friday can be viewed here.

The weather has been warm but not too warm to rush ripening. The weather forecast for this coming week is moderate and should allow for excellent hang time.

It is a pleasure to visit with you at the vineyard and see the bins filled and rolling down the road on the way to our customers; I am already looking forward to April 2017 barrel tasting of the 2016 wines.

 

A Comparison of the 2015 and 2016 Growing Seasons

SWC-Mail-Chimp-small-1The 2016 growing season began about the same as in 2015, with bud-break and bloom times very similar. Veraison, however, is different in 2016. The white varietals seem to have about the same veraison time as in 2015, but the red varietals are later to hit veraison in 2016 compared to last year.  This should be good news for winemakers because there should be more separation in ripening dates between the white grapes and red grapes than last year. The harvest of 2015 was very difficult due to the white and red grape varietals ripening close together. So this year’s harvest should be a little more relaxed.

The separation between the white varietals and reds this year can be somewhat explained by the differences in heat patterns. April, May and June were very warm in both 2015 and 2016, but July 2016 was much cooler than last year.

  • July 2016 maximum temperatures averaged 84.4 with average minimum temperatures of 59.3.
  • July 2015 maximum temperatures averaged 89.5 with average minimum temperatures of 63.4

That is a lot of heat difference!  Additionally, July 2016 had multiple rain showers, higher humidity and less wind than in July 2015. This is likely the reason for greater separation in white and red varietals at veraison.

August has turned warm — hot actually — so we will see what happens for harvest. The weather is supposed to be in the upper 80’s this week and lower 80’s next week, perfect weather for photosynthesis. If this weather keeps up, look for grapes to ripen at a good pace.

We are now adjusting crop loads around the vineyard. Cluster sizes seem more or less normal so we are using cluster counts similar to last year. Skin color looks good and the vine canopies are strong. This should be a very good year for Stillwater Creek fruit.

We just ran our first set of grapes samples so everyone should be looking to the website for harvest data. The Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot are showing brix of 22, so we will likely sample again early next week.  PHOTOS