Puget Sound vineyard update

In Puget Sound, 2011 is turning out to be the coolest year on record for grape growing. Currently, we’re approximately 4 weeks behind normal heat accumulation, and a full week behind 2010 which was terribly cool. According to the WSU site (at Mt Vernon, but the best records for Western Washington), Puget Sound has had 1054 degree days this season (we need 1600 or so to ripen the cool climate varieties). Cf. WSU Washington AVA records.

My own Regent grapes have great-looking clusters, definitely well-rested after the poor showing in 2010. But veraison has not started at all, and with 6 weeks needed between color change and harvest, we’re pushing late October (and rain potential) for harvest.

This has me wondering about one model of what climate change might bring: that heat inland forces air to rise there, which then pulls in more marine layer from the Pacific Ocean. Under that model, places like Napa Valley that have coastal outlets could get cooler and wetter (while the central valleys bake). Decanter article here. This might make sense in Puget Sound, too: south sound, foothills, and eastern areas would heat up, pulling in cool air, and making Puget Sound that much cooler and wetter. I hope not!

So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the rains will hold off until November, and the “month-late” pattern will persist with sun until then.

Tasting my 2009 wines

Just did a taste of my five 2009 wines from their carboys. Four of these were made from Eastern Washington grapes (Cab, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah), while the fifth is a mix of my own grapes (Regent, Dolcetto) plus some of the Cab & Merlot.

The best two now are clearly the Merlot and the Regent blend. The Merlot has big fruit, moderate acidity, and is a little on the hot side.  The Regent blend is the darkest of all the wines — thanks to extended maceration — and has a complex Bordeaux profile with more tannin than any of the others (even the Cab). It could very well be the best of all the wines in the end. If so, it will be a testament to the extremely closely tended vineyard (because it’s in my yard and I could tend it almost daily). Every Regent and Dolcetto grape that went into that wine was an absolutely perfect berry.

The Cab has a good deep flavor but is not very complex. The Sangiovese is fruity but a bit thin and somewhat acidic. It is very light in color. I might go light on the wood with it and make it a chillable rose’ alternative. The Syrah is still a problem: it has good fruit and balance, plus a very distinctive Syrah pepper taste and a long finish. But it has lingering problems on the bouquet that I just can’t get rid of, a bit of faint H2S. the Syrah grapes were definitely in the worst shape when I received them and it’s showing up.

I’ll try the Sangiovese again in a month or two and then decide whether to go ahead and bottle that. The others get at least another six months and probably twelve months of aging.

Warmest winter ever and my grapes have buds swelling

It was officially the warmest January ever on record in Seattle, averaging more than 6 degrees warmer than usual for the month. The average daily temperature was 47 instead of the usual 40.

This has my vines getting ready to bud. Usually that means it would be time to prune … but I’m worried it could still freeze in February or March. Last year I estimate I lost at least 1/2 of the crop to a hard freeze. So I’m going to hold off on pruning until early March if possible. Leaving the vines unpruned will delay growth in the close-in buds and hopefully protect against the chance of a freeze.

It’s exciting to think that bud break will probably be 4-6 weeks earlier than last year. If the summer is consistent and long we could have a very nice crop.

Micro-vineyard in Seattle

I have a small vineyard growing behind my house in Seattle. Seattle is certainly on the cool side for wine grapes, but my plot is on a west-facing slope, so it’s relatively sunny. And I planted mostly a cool-weather varietal, Regent.  Regent makes a rich, red wine.

Currently I have 14 producting Regent vines, 6 more planted; and 4 Dolcetto vines (which need a little more heat, so they’re experimental). They’re planted in two rows with high density (3×4 spacing). My hope is to get 7-10 gallons of fruit once they’re all mature.

The first crop last year was small — due to vine maturity and a late freeze — but the wine (just finishing MLF phase) is excellent: dense, fruity, dark. I did an extended maceration and a couple of weeks after fermentation was complete, it was acidic and tasted very much like blueberry wine. Since then, it’s settled down and has a strong Bordeaux character.

David Coffaro great bargain wines

I haven’t written about wine yet on this blog, but it’s a big hobby of mine — both enjoying and also growing my own grapes for winemaking. One of my favorite wineries is a small, little-known winery in Sonoma County: David Coffaro winery. They make fabulous wines for people who love tasty, fruit-forward, big red wines. On top of that, Coffaro is a critic of high-priced wines. He prices his to make a “fair” return, no more. While many Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels are $40 or more, for instance, his are $28, or under $20 if purchased on futures.

In his New California Wine, Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator wrote that Coffaro “never makes a bad wine … I have friends who routinely order six or eight cases … they’re all lovely: intense, free of intrusive oakiness, and purely made.”

If you’re visiting Sonoma, they do a great tasting including both released wines and often a barrel tasting. If not, check out the online ordering and give them a chance. I recommend to pick 4 different blends or Zins, a great investment of about $100. My personal favorites are the Zinfandels, Block 4 field blend, and Escuro, a dark, rich, blend. David Coffaro Winery home page. Cheers! (And no, I have no connection to them, am just a fan, and tired of too much overpriced wine!)