With relatively few exceptions, the 2013 Columbia Valley growing season has been quite warm thus far, and we are moving through veraison earlier than we have in the last several years. One of those “exceptions” occurred last weekend when we dodged a bullet as a storm moved through the area that threw some nasty hail, but it missed Stillwater Creek by a few miles and warm, stable conditions have now returned.
If the warm weather continues, harvest will begin earlier than is typical. The season’s high temperatures combined with small clusters, lower than average berry set (the number of berries that set following bloom) and small berry size all point towards early ripening and high sugars.
With this in mind, our goal now is to slow things down just a bit to extend the “hang time” to achieve ideal sugar levels at grape maturity. There are several things we do in the vineyard to extend the ripening process, including adjusting cluster counts later than normal and hedging the canopy a bit later and shorter than is typical. The conditions make it more challenging to hit target yields, since we will make most of the final crop levels adjustments when the vines are near full veraison at which time we will drop fruit that is not going through veraison well. In a more typical year when target yields are easier to estimate, we would send the crews out to crop thin before veraison. The silver lining here is that by crop thinning a little later in the season, we also slow down the ripening process a bit.