Washington's wine grape harvest will begin as early Monday, thanks to an unusual variety being grown in one of the state's most famous vineyards.
Paul Champoux, owner of Champoux Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, plans to pick Marquette early this week. It is a cross of several grape varieties, including Pinot Noir and Frontenac.
The red variety was bred at the University of Minnesota and is gaining importance in the upper Midwest because of its ability to withstand icy winters. Champoux planted a few rows of it because he went to Marquette High School (now La Salle) in Yakima.
Champoux said he believes he will get at least a half-ton of grapes, which will go to Charlie Hoppes, owner of Fidelitas Wines on Red Mountain.
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"I don't know much about the variety," Hoppes said. "Paul wants to make it into a red wine. He's having some fun with it."
Typically, wine grapes are picked when they measure 21 to 25 brix -- a measurement of sugar.
Champoux said his Marquette measured 27.6 brix last Monday.
He said he will likely end up with about 50 cases of the wine, but he isn't sure what he will do with it -- maybe give some to his high school buddies.
Champoux said he still has some work to do to figure out how to farm the new variety, which was introduced in 2006.
"I'm trying to figure out what to do with it next year," Champoux said.
He plans to trellis it differently because it wants to grow more like Concord grapes than classic European wine grapes. He said he needs to change his trellis system to avoid as much fruit exposure to the sun, which resulted in a lot of sunburned grapes this year.
Todd Newhouse of Upland Vineyards on Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley said he has worked at the family vineyard off and on since 1985 and full time since 1997, and this would be the earliest harvest in his memory.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates might want some of his Sauvignon Blanc grapes as early as Aug. 26.
"I hope everything can hold off until Sept. 2-3," he said. "But there are some really good flavors right now."
He said the 1998 crop was pretty early, too. "But we have some varieties and sites we didn't have back then, so we'll see."
Champoux said the rest of his grapes are about a week earlier than normal. His early varieties include Chardonnay, Muscat and Cabernet Franc, and he thinks he'll bring them in around the first week of September.
The Chardonnay will go to Powers Winery in Kennewick, and the Muscat goes to Powers, as well as Januik Winery in Woodinville.
Hoppes said Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc is ripening quickly.
"It's quite likely we could pick some whites before Labor Day," he said. "It's possible we could get some Merlot right after Labor Day. It's good to be this far along. A lot can happen in the next three weeks, but I'm pretty happy with where we are."
Dick Boushey, who is in the somewhat cooler Yakima Valley north of Grandview, is about 10 days ahead of normal and thinks he could be picking Sauvignon Blanc in three weeks or so.
"Other grapes will follow suit after that," he said.
Boushey also manages vineyards on Red Mountain and said some grapes he handles already are 100 percent purple.
"This weather is warm at night," he said. "The grapes are like little sugar factories."
Andy Perdue with Great Northwest Wine is a wine journalist, author and judge.