Lewis and Clark Valley

Bud break marks start of 2017 vintage for Washington wine

Buds are bursting at Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. (Photo courtesy of Sadie Drury/North Slope Management)

Across the Columbia Valley, the 2017 vintage is under way. The start of the wine grape growing reason is marked by bud break, when tiny leaves and flowers begin to emerge from their winter slumber and turn vineyards from brown to green.

What has grape growers and winemakers particularly excited is the timing of this year’s bud break, as it lines up rather closely with 2012, hailed by many as the finest vintage in the state’s long history. While it is much too early to begin declaring “the vintage of the decade,” winemakers are pleased to start the vintage off on the right foot.

“It’s a relief,” said Sadie Drury, viticulture manager for North Slope Management, which includes famed Seven Hills Vineyard south of Walla Walla. She said Cabernet Franc was the first to break bud – which is typical for Washington. That was followed by Sangiovese, Sèmillon and the workhorse variety Merlot.

On Red Mountain, bud break looks normal, said J.J. Williams of Kiona Vineyards.

And throughout Washington, things look good to Kevin Corliss of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. His company, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, brings in grapes from every American Viticultural Area in the state, except from the Puget Sound AVA.

This week, Corliss said there are lots of swollen buds in the Horse Heaven Hills, particularly in Chardonnay. And he has similar reports on the Wahluke Slope.

Winter damage light for Washington wine industry

Corliss isn’t seeing a lot of winter damage yet from the historic snowfall that hit the Columbia Valley this winter.

He said bud injury evaluations didn’t show anything significant, except in a few spots in the Walla Walla Valley. He said he’ll have a better idea in about three weeks after bud break is complete and can be evaluated.

Williams reported little damage on Red Mountain, and Drury said some lower areas of Seven Hills got hit, but she expects a normal crop at this point.

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