2016 has been interesting, to say the least. As my first full year in Walla Walla comes to a close, all I can really say is “Abbie, you’re not in New England anymore.”
By the end of March temperatures were starting to reach into the mid-70s. On average, those temperatures are a good 20 degrees warmer than where I lived in Maine and Vermont, and 2016 was the first year I’d say I experienced Spring instead of Mud Season. Wheat and trees were blooming every day, which my allergies didn’t like, and bud break out in the vineyards was about a week early this past March. Vermont can sometimes still have snow on the ground in April, delaying bud break until mid-May and we’d be lucky to have temperatures in the mid-70s at the beginning of June.
As temperatures rose over the next couple months here in Walla Walla, harvest looked like a repeat of last year, with fruit ripening quickly and coming in wicked fast. My first day at Reininger was the first day fruit hit the crush pad and the Production Crew was trying to juggle that with a bottling session. Grapes were coming in so fast that the winery quickly ran out of space; new barrels were arriving and wines were being pressed sooner than planned because we needed the open top fermenters.
Compared to last year, the 2016 harvest has been nice and steady. We already have some of the Columbia Valley Syrah and Merlot in the barrels ready to age for the next couple years, and now that we’re three weeks into harvest, things are just ramping up with our Production Room full of open-top fermenters in various stages of fermentation.
Traditionally, the Columbia Valley ripens earlier than the Walla Walla fruit and this year fruit was right on schedule. The Stillwater Creek Vineyard Merlot in the Frenchmen Hills came out about a week before Walla Walla’s XL Vineyard Merlot and 10 days before the Seven Hills Merlot.
What’s interesting about these two harvests is that the Syrah is ripening at the same time as the Merlot. According to Chuck, last year was the first time we had really seen that before in Walla Walla, and to have a repeat of it is really interesting. Some wineries in the Walla Walla Valley actually harvested some Syrah before Merlot, but now with cooler weather and the bit of rain we’ve had on and off the last couple weeks, things are slowing down and harvest getting back on the typical schedule for the area.
For whites, we’ve already brought in our Birch Creek Vineyard Semillon from Walla Walla Valley and the Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay. The Semillon had low brix and acid, according to Chuck; it’ll be interesting to see how that wine turns out. The Chardonnay though is the best Chardonnay we’ve ever picked. The balance between the brix, acid and flavors is perfect.
The Stillwater Creek Vineyard Viognier was a little accelerated over last year, which is a good thing. Last year, it took a long time to ripen up, and Chuck’s signature Walla Walla Syrah co-fermented with Viognier skins unfortunately didn’t work out with timing. This year, the Viognier timing with our Syrah was perfect so we were able to “marry” the two.
Our limited production Stone Tree Vineyard SoRho (Wahluke Slope) blend was crushed last week. Chuck loves co-fermenting all three varietals: Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault. “I’m harvesting it so the Grenache is going to be a little on the ripe side, the Mourvedre is not going to be overripe but just there, so we’ll get a real nice balance. When it’s like that, we get some real nice complex flavors out of the SoRho,” said Chuck.
On the same day that the SoRho blend came in, we brought in the Seven Hills Vineyard Sangiovese grown right down the road from the winery. We’re excited to see what the 2016 Sangiovese will taste like as a main component in our Cima. Since we age that wine in oak barrels for five and a half years, we’ll be waiting anxiously for a while.
Yesterday, we brought in 10 tons of fruit and crushed it while it started to drizzle; Today now that it’s nice and sunny, some of our Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is coming in.
Out on the vine, we still have some of our most sought-after varieties hanging for increased phenolic development, including our Walla Walla Carmenere and Malbec; the Wahluke Slope Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot; and the Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.
Harvest here is typically over by Halloween, and luckily, with the steady, consistent pace we’ve been having harvest is still expected to be done about a week early. Everything should be in barrels or stainless steel just in time for our harvest crew to join in the Halloween festivities and relax before Fall Release Weekend here in Walla Walla.