Grape crop predicted to be Washington's largest

Ingrid Stegemoeller, Herald staff writerAugust 22, 2009 

A slow start to growth in the spring followed by a recent streak of hot weather has Mid-Columbia wine grape growers looking at a crop that's right on schedule.

And if a production forecast from the National Agricultural Statistics Service hits the mark, the crop could be Washington's largest.

The Washington Field Office of the statistics service predicts the state's wine grape crop to be 155,000 tons. That's 7 percent more than last year.

Favorable growing conditions, more acres in production and maturing vines are contributing to the big number, according to the statistics service.

The Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers estimated the size of the crop at the end of the July was more than 149,000 tons, which is not a prediction of harvest but an estimate of the crop on the vines at the time, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the association.

About 3,500 new acres came into production since last year, she said.

Mostly stable weather since the spring likely will lead to a quality crop, she added.

"(Growers) are kind of excited, too, because last year, we had (heat) spikes right before harvest, so it got condensed, which makes for a crazy harvest," she said. "It's looking on time and orderly" this year.

At Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain, owner Jim Holmes said his grapes are exactly where they should be.

Workers are finishing the last of crop thinning activity, and Holmes anticipates harvest will start in about a month.

"Right now, it's terrific. Everything looks awfully good," he said. "At this point we really have no issues."

Yield depends on the winemakers' objectives, he said. Some prefer vines produce about two tons per acre, while Holmes opts for about 41/2 tons per acre.

Yield for wines made at Pepper Bridge Winery in Walla Walla is targeted at about three tons per acre, said winemaker Jean-Franois Pellet.

He also said he is pleased with the crop so far and said, "We couldn't ask for better weather."

An inch of rain that fell about two weeks ago washed away the dust and helped cool down the plants, he said. "You could see they were very happy."

Workers are just finishing up thinning at Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards, where Pellet gets his grapes, and he expects harvest to start about Sept. 10.

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