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


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

July Temps Ideal; Veraison Underway

thumb_P8010063_1024The 2015 growing season was our earliest bud break and veraison on record, and 2016 has been following in its footsteps. We may be a little earlier than last year with veraison on the white varietals, but we seem to be a little later with the red varietals so far. This is likely due to the cooler July weather we experienced this year versus July 2015 temps. In 2015, we had no breaks from the hot, dry, windy weather. In 2016 we had a much cooler July weather pattern, along with a number of thunder showers.

I was not sure how the cooler July would affect the grapes compared to 2015. Even though the weather is cooler this year, the canopy is stronger and photosynthesis is more efficient with temps in the 80’s to low 90’s as opposed to the upper 90’s and 100’s last year. We will have to wait for the final data, but it looks like full veraison in many of the red varietals could be a week or more behind last year.

One of the benefits to what we are seeing, if it stays this way, is a separation in the ripening of whites and reds. I am sure this will be disappointing to those winemakers that want everything coming in at the same time.

The canopies are looking great. Leaf color is good, and grape exposure is excellent. If everything keeps going as it is, I have high hopes for excellent quality fruit this year, with better hang times than last year. We will see.  Have a look for yourself.

Bloom Almost Complete

thumb_P6040052_1024-3We are almost through bloom now. It began very early, then the weather cooled and slowed things down a bit, though we are still ahead of 2015 this year but not by much.

From the looks of the flowering and the weather I am guessing that set will be excellent in 2016. I’ll know more in ten days or so.

Flower clusters in most varieties are much larger in 2016 than I have seen in the past and cluster counts are high so we should have good yields. Again, I will know more after set. The exception is in the Phelps Syrah, which appears to have a lower cluster count. I will make cluster counts within the next few weeks so I can be more accurate in predicting yields.

Shoot growth slowed down during bloom due to a cool down period, but has picked up again. Leaf color also looks good. All this tells me the vines are in good shape for this point in time.

We still have a lot of work to do in canopy management as we are still working on cordon suckering. The suckering process has taken much longer this year because most of the primary, secondary and tertiary shoots have pushed, coupled with very early and rapid growth. (Every bud we see on a cane really has three growing points and in most years it’s mainly the primary bud that grows and some percentage of the secondary buds. When we sucker the cordon we usually take off the secondary shoots that have grown leaving only the primary shoots.) This year, however, a high percentage of all three growing points pushed. Removing so many secondary and tertiary shoots has added a great deal of time to suckering and shoot selection on the cordon.  We will now also begin to position shoots into the vertical wires.

For more information, view photos of the vineyard this spring.  Dates for bloom by block are also available.

Another Early Bud Break

thumbnail-bud-breakBud break was very early this year, about the same as 2015, our earliest. (View 2016 bud break dates by block here.)  To date, we are approximately 8 inches ahead of last year in shoot growth. The crew is working on cordon and crown suckering. We will complete the white varieties and then move to the Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and finish up with the north block’s along the runway.

Soon we will add foliar mineral to the vines. We will begin with a mix of foliar applied multi-minerals and calcium, important to build strong cell walls this time of year.

More spring photos of the vineyard can be viewed here.

Quality Grapes Through Canopy Management

Our picking is moving along steadily.

I seem to say this every year, but we have learned a great deal about growing grapes in Washington this year. The higher than normal heat of 2014 taught us how to adjust canopy management for hot weather like we experienced in 2015. As a result, I believe our fruit quality is excellent, particularly in the Merlot. Of course the quality of the vintage will be measured in the wines, but I’m feeling good about the grapes we’ve grown this year.

Since 2011 we have had the coldest year, hottest year, hotter than hot year, earliest and latest bud break, earliest and maybe latest harvest and July hail. I will not ask what is next because I am sure we will see it.  Recent Photos.