Harvesters shook plump, juicy grapes from their vines Saturday on Red Mountain, while visitors swirled, sniffed and sipped the wine created from previous harvests.
About 350 people spent the day exploring the wineries and vineyards of the state's smallest grape-growing region near West Richland and Benton City during the "Rendezvous on Red Mountain" event.
The once-a-year chance to meet Red Mountain winemakers and growers brought visitors from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and Montana.
At Upchurch Vineyard, winemaker Chris Upchurch offered a peek into his 20-acre estate vineyard. Most of the grapes grown on those acres go to DeLille Cellars, but Upchurch uses about 20 percent of the harvest to make about 500 cases of his own label.
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Upchurch, also the winemaker for DeLille Cellars, planted the sustainable vineyard in 2007. An acre is planted with native wildflowers and grasses to help encourage good bugs such as praying mantises that combat pests. Grasses hold down the soil between rows of vines and drip irrigation provides water when needed.
He's a big believer in low yields, which he said result in concentrated grapes. A single vine of Cabernet Sauvignon, clone 191, will give Upchurch about 3 pounds of fruit to work with.
At Fidelitas winery, visitors got a chance to sample three Cabernet Sauvignon clones from the 2013 harvest. The wine had been pulled from the barrels that morning into wine bottles with the clone number written on blue tape.
Clones help make wine multidimensional -- they are to wine what spices are to cooking, said Fidelitas owner and winemaker Charlie Hoppes. He's particular to clones 169 and 191, but very little are planted in Washington. He likes to use the earlier, fruitier clones as components.
Hoppes gets some grapes from those clones from Quintessence Vineyards and Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. And he plans to plant about 10 acres to add five more clones at his estate vineyard.
Hoppes thinks clones are what is next for the Washington wine industry, he said. With the focus the industry is placing on Cabernet Sauvignon, the top-selling wine worldwide, the progression seems natural.
Cabernet Sauvignon makes up the bulk of the grapes grown at the 10-acre MonteScarlatto Estate Winery vineyard on Red Mountain. But owner Joel Mackay has planted seven other wine varieties as well.
He said most of the grapes from this year's harvest already have been crushed.
"We try not to mess with it a whole lot, and we hope that the vineyard comes through in the taste of the wine," he said.
MonteScarlatto pruned a lot this spring to get the young vines even, reducing the amount of grapes they harvested this year, Mackay said. The vineyard was planted between 2007 and 2009.
But the reduced amount of grapes is resulting in more intense flavors, he said.
"It's going to make some just impeccable wine," he said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org