Late season creating concern for Washington wineries



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Posted on October 1, 2010 at 7:13 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 1 at 7:16 PM

WOODINVILLE, Wash. - It's called "the crush" - the time when grapes get squeezed for their juice, which later becomes wine.

This year, you could call it "the crunch" because, with a late running season, the pressure is on to get grapes out of the vineyards in Eastern Washington and into wineries like DeLelille Cellars in Woodinville.

"When you're two weeks behind, you can't afford to get any further behind," says Chris Peterson, DeLille's winemaker. Like most of Washington's wines, DeLille makes a high-end product. A bottle can range from $32 to over $100.

Peterson says his winery is holding its own in keeping up with incoming grapes, especially with the help of volunteers who team up to pick stems and debris off moving belts loaded with red goodness.

But as busy as things are, two-thirds of the grapes the winery has contracted for are still in the vineyards. In at least one case, more than 90-percent are still hanging on the vine. 

Last year, DeLille's season was wrapped up by October 6. This year, Peterson says the harvest could drag on to Halloween.

The risk is that the east side of the state can get cold at night in October. Last year, the first freeze came on October 10. So far, the forecast for 2010 promises freezing weather will hold off until at least the middle of the month.

A few weeks ago, some winemakers feared disaster. One wine columnist wrote the weather was gathering into a perfect storm for Washington wine - a late start to the season, a relatively cool summer and even rain on the east side of state threatened disaster.

"I have not been as concerned as some winemakers have been over 2010," said Bob Betz of the Betz Family Winery. "But, what we've seen is this cooler growing season and even a little bit of rain."

Betz has been at this for 30 years.

But just as the ink was drying on forecasts for failure, the weather changed for the better. It got much warmer.

"This last ten days, the last two weeks, we've had fabulous weather," said Betz. And so far, that's saved much of the crop.

Betz and other wine makers say 1999 was a very similar year. But 1999 produced some of the best wines the state has seen. Peterson says there's nothing like a little adversity.