What Washington winemakers are saying about the 2021 harvest
After posting my harvest update from Oregon winemakers, I want to also share how things went for our Washington winemaker friends to the north. Here’s what they saw and had to say about the 2021 growing season, harvest, their fruit, and more…
Corey Braunel // Dusted Valley
“2021 was another interesting and learning experience, marking our 19th harvest here at Dusted Valley. Of course, no two vintages are ever the same but 2021 really was not like the others… While there were areas of Washington affected by wildfire smoke again, it seems in the early going, that the impacts are far fewer and more dotted– rather than blanketed– across the state.
Like everywhere on the West coast, we were hot! Over 30 days of 95+ degrees resulted in a light crop in many locations and across multiple varieties, both white and red. I’m hearing a lot of enthusiasm from our team and peers about red wines. Syrah is sounding like an early favorite among many folks but only time will tell!”
Alexis Pouillon // Domaine Pouillon Winery
“Our 2021 Pét-nat and Piquettes are already in the bottle. Ramato, whites, and reds are in barrel, and we are looking back on another singular vintage from the Columbia Gorge – this one marked by intense fruit flavors and low yields.
The 2021 spring was cold and dry followed by a sunbaked summer. Thankfully, there was no smoke in our immediate area that would have affected the grapes. The cool, dry fall provided for a steady harvest, allowing us to pick the fruit when we desired, rather than forcing us to pick because of inclement weather. Our yields were below average, mostly due to the summer heat and parched soils. This produced berries on the smaller side, with a concentration of flavors. Natural ferments from our pied de cuve* did well and provided a lot of fruit-forward flavors, especially in our Syrah. Even though there was less fruit per acre this year, we were still able to produce our usual variety of exciting wines.”
*Pied de cuve, pronounced p-ed D coov, is a French term that roughly translates to “foot of tank” in English. This technique is often employed by wineries using native (also known as indigenous) yeast– rather than commercial yeast– in their wines. Winemakers pick a small amount of fruit from the vineyard prior to the main harvest. They then crush these grapes and allow them to begin fermenting before the majority of the fruit is harvested. After the ripe grapes are brought into the winery, this “starter” is added, ensuring that wild yeast from their vineyard dominates any others during the fermentation process.
John Abbott // Devona
“It has been a long harvest and fortunately Mother Nature has allowed for long hang times in most AVAs that we work with. The fruit needed that extra hang time to allow it to achieve flavor maturity. Dark fruit and softer, balanced tannins are what we are seeing in the fermenter and the early stages in barrel for the reds. We had many extended fermentations to achieve the balance and complexity that we were looking for.
I would say that 2021 is shaping up to be one of the better Washington State vintages that I have worked with since starting Devona. That is saying a lot! I rarely comment on a vintage until we have everything pressed and have had a chance to revisit the barrels a few times, but this year, we really like what we are seeing early.”
Lacey & Charlie Lybecker // Cairdeas Winery
“The 2021 harvest was an interesting one for sure. We saw record-breaking heat in June that lasted for 3 weeks. This early heat really stressed the vines, resulting in smaller berry size and fewer overall clusters. The vineyards that turned the water on early and kept it on seemed to fare the heat the best. Overall, I think crop loads were down about 30% across the state… but the grapes coming out of the vineyards were of great quality. The early and unstopping heat certainly sped up ripening for some varieties and slowed down ripening in others so we found ourselves picking our lots in a much different progression than usual (gotta stay on our toes!). Also because of the heat, we saw much higher sugars in the grapes accumulate while we were waiting for phenolic ripeness to catch up. Despite the heat, the grapes weren’t losing their acid as they have in other years. The resulting wines will be more powerful than the previous few vintages but have incredible depth and concentration. I am super excited about what we are tasting in tank and barrel right now. I think the 2021s are going to be amazing wines.”
Kelly Hightower // Hightower Cellars
“2021 was our 25th harvest – which is hard to fathom, but feels good! As you have probably heard, 2021 was the warmest year on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2015. The results of the heat and, in particular the heat spikes, reduced our crop size by about 30%. Berry size is normally already very small on Red Mountain– that is what gives them all that flavor– but even by Red Mountain standards, this year they were super tiny. We think the resulting wines will be intensely flavored and beautiful.”