2011 Grape Report for Washington State

Just like the 2011 harvest, the Federal Grape Report was released very late (just yesterday).

Before we hit the numbers, just a reminder that 2011 was the third consecutive year of painfully lower-than-average heat units. For the “glass is half-full” optimists, the spin is the 2011 vintage will be reminiscent of 1980’s harvests, showing more balance and uplifting coy, secondary flavors. For the “glass is half-empty” party poopers, this vintage will hasten opening up those cellared 2005-2007 big bombs that provided more immediate gratification. Whatever your choice of opinion, let’s just be thankful you’re a “spinner.” …

The 2011 harvest can be summed up as a “recovery year” after a deep freeze over the previous winter. Many of the younger vines lost their set, thus could not produce a significant crop. Then, in some regions, a nasty mildew outbreak in the spring ruined some emerging clusters. Topping it off, the sun chose an extended vacation in Europe and Texas, leading into perhaps, the coolest summer  growing temps over the last 15+ years. A late August heatwave and a mild autumn brought the heat units almost up to 2010’s low standard and that had the harvest set back at least a couple weeks, with the last grapes picked by Thanksgiving.

With the low accumulated heat over the growing season, there should be no surprise then that thermophilic varieties such as zinfandel, barbera, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and viognier did not fare as well as cooler climate grapes such as… the rest of the white wine grapes. Winemakers who advised growers to drop fruit early in the growing season were rewarded with fully-ripened grapes.

So, what to expect when the wines are released in 2013? Again, expect many reds to require several hours in the decanter. Sub-14% alcohol levels. Toned-down flavors. Longer cellaring potential. Predict more wines will fail the “wow!” factor on release.

The good news is the 2009s have begun to perform in the tasting rooms and, with that being the first “cool” vintage in the current string, expect this year’s top performer to be wines that are predominantly cabernet franc-based. Some notables with high expectations for their cabernet francs will be Dubindil Winery, Adams Bench Winery, Betz Family Winery, and Barrage Cellars.

To the numbers…

Overall, 142,000 tons of wine grapes were harvested in 2011 (down from 160,000 tons in 2010 and similar to 2008). Of that total, 78,300 tons were white varietals (down from 80,100 in 2010) and 63,700 tons were reds (way down from 79,900 tons in 2010).

Top grape harvested was white riesling, with 31,700 tons, followed by chardonnay at 28,500 tons, cabernet sauvignon at 23,100 tons, merlot at 21,900 tons, and syrah at 10,100 tons.

Pinot gris showed the biggest increase, coming in at 7,500 tons compared to 6,100 tons in 2010. Malbec, curiously, had a slight increase of 200 tons over last year’s 1,100 tons. One can suspect with the high price commanded ($1,655 per ton in 2008) that more growers added malbec to their rows but lost significant production due to the severe winter weather.

Grapes that finally received their own statistics, symbolizing their significance as a major grape instead of being lumped in with “other” include: grenache, petit verdot, and mourvedre.

A misleading statistic was the average price per ton, with white varietals averaging $794 per ton and reds averaging $1,224 per ton. Both were slight decreases year-on-year, but as small wineries know, that’s still about one-half to one-third what they pay for access to their single-vineyard gems. For consumers, the take-home lesson is do not believe any winery that justifies their price increases from higher commodity prices. That’s just bullshit.

And, all things considered, with a warm winter in the greater Columbia Valley AVA, let’s hope for Alby Gore’s hypothesis of “global warming” to make an overdue appearance to our glacial shores. After all, when Washington receives heat units in the 2700-3300 range, all California can do is grow Thompson Seedless and Malvasia. And that can only be a good thing!

Source: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Washington/Publications/Fruit/winegrape12.pdf

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13 Responses to 2011 Grape Report for Washington State

  1. Scott Abernethy says:

    I’m looking forward to tasting the last three vintages. I’m starting to really enjoy the lower alcohol reds. Not much of a fruit-bomb fan. These should be good sniff-swirl-sipping wines that can truly be enjoyed! Curious to see how the whites taste from the 2011 vintage. I think those winemakers that have been around a while will be able to work their magic and produce some fabulous wines. My biggest concern is the Lake Chelan AVA. Did they ever get enough heat to harvest?

    • Scott, I got to tell you the 2011 Whites from Mellisoni are delicious. You will have to try them to believe it yourself. We will release the 2011 Pinot Grigio and 45 Degrees this Memorial Day weekend to sale.

      • csabernethy says:

        Great to see the exchange with Wawineman on your wines. I’m going to try to get up that way some time this summer and I will make it a point to come see you. I’ll call and set up an appointment when my plans come together.



  2. wawineman says:

    I am also looking toward this year’s releases and hope that some winery will prove me wrong. I do not mind the alcohol level of wines, as long as I don’t taste the “heat” from them. After all, the TTB is quite a bit lenient when it comes to listed alcohol levels.
    White wines should not be affected by the recent spate of cool weather so they may, if anything, show better against lesser competition from the reds.
    Lake Chelan… sigh, their pinot noir sucks. Horrid. Abominable. Bewildering. Stick to Columbia Gorge AVA pinots if you don’t like Oregon elegance. LC wines cater to the tourist trade so there’s no pressure to make outstanding wines. They could serve their wines out of a box and still make a decent profit. And they should, but that would stain the reputation of boxed wines. Maybe I am being a bit harsh as I just got out of a group meeting, but ask me the worst section in the Columbia Valley AVA and I immediately think Lake Chelan. Heck, and most of their wines are made from outside-the-AVA grapes, too. I don’t think it’s the grapes so much as it is the winemaking there. And, I am not alone in this thought. It’s just that no one else has the balls to say it.

  3. Scott Abernethy (@Wino4ever) says:

    Agree with you on the LC Pinot. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with some of the reds coming out of some of the wineries. Many are starting to use only “AVA” or estate fruit. I especially enjoy many of Tsillan Cellars’ wines. Eventually, I think whites is where LC will shine, although I’m curious to see how the Italian red varietals pan out. Have you been back to taste the Mellisoni lineup lately? I’m still waiting for my first tasting there. My only exposure to their wines was at the Festival a couple years ago.

  4. wawineman says:

    I will take your word and try more of the other reds coming out of Lake Chelan.
    Of course, there are a handful of good producers and others that have improved the winemaking, but (feeling a little less sleep-deprived) I am still disappointed with the AVA as a whole in its current state. I have not been back to Mellisoni. They do make very good wines, but at very high prices. I am confident they will improve with time.

    • Just an FYI we won 3 double golds last year at Seattle Wine Awards. We are a boutique winery with very small lots that we produce with each vintage. It is called economy of scale to produce the wines. You will need to contact us for a tasting and please introduce yourself. We would love to take you on a private tour and show you what Mellisoni is all about.

  5. The Lake Chelan AVA is alive and kicking. Mellisoni Vineyards just was informed that we received two Double Golds from the Seattle Wine Awards 2012. We received a Double Gold on our 2011 Pinot Grigio and 2011 45 Degrees, which is our proprietary blend of 70% Riesling and 30% Gewurtztraminer. All Estate Grapes from Chelan at Mellisoni Vineyards. Even though 2011 was a cool year, it was fantastic for our white varieties. Have a great day fellas.

  6. wawineman says:

    Rob & Donna,
    Hey, I had a tasting of your pinot grigio and it was unreal. I wanted to get a few bottles but not at $35 per. What gives? That one wine is such an aberration from the rest of the Lake Chelan wineries. It’s really good. Probably best p-grij in Washington good, if not top three.
    True, I would spend that for a Buty chardonnay, but not p-grij. Not now. Not for awhile. Maybe tops $20 like Cooper Wine Company’s.
    I hear you go to Bothell a lot. What’s up with that??? I may have to get my munkeyass up and out of Woodinville if you keep avoiding us!

    • Hi Wawineman, just wanted to let you know that we appreciate your comments and that you loved our wine! I also wanted to let you know that we just won another set of Double Gold awards for both our 2011 Pinot Grigio and our 2011 45 degree at the Seattle Wine Awards 2012. We just received notice from them last night. We have been invited to the Grand Tasting at the Rainier Club on July 22nd, to pour our wines for all the top Restaurants, Judges, and Industry people as well as for those who want to participate in the event from the public. We also won Double Golds on the 2010 versions of those same two wines as well as our 2009 Riesling last year. I think we are making some of the top White Wines in Washington State and hopefully in the world one day! As far as the pricing goes, it’s the same as that Chardonnay from Buty that you pay for, ours is just as good and deserves the price it has. We have many fans that buy it all the time and never even blink at the price, maybe cough a bit, but still buy them because of how good they are. There are many great White Wines in the world that cost $100’s of dollars per bottle, so I think ours at $35.00 is a pretty good deal actually. I am one of those that actually buy those $100.00+ bottles regularly and enjoy them immensely, we are trying to emulate those wines, and I think we’re doing a fair job of it too. I hope you’ll come visit us sometime at the Winery here in Chelan, and we can sit down and taste through all our different wines together, eat some great food while we’re at it and get to know you better, you sound like a pretty good guy. Also, I know we go to WineStyles a lot in Bothell, but we are also in the Barking Frog and Fireside Cellars at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville, they carry our Pinot Grigio, 45 degree, and Gewurztraminer at this time, with more varieties coming soon. Please let us know when you are coming to town and I’ll set up a private tasting with us for you. It’s a lot of fun and we’re right on the lake with a great view and relaxing ambiance. See you soon,

      Rob & Donna

  7. wawineman says:

    Rob & Donna,
    I have to admit, I agree with all that you stated. And, I would love to accept an invite for a private tasting as long as you protect the identity of the wineman! What goes on at Mellisoni, stays at Mellisoni. You know, the more I exchange with you, the more tempted I am to just shut it and send my lackey/junior executive to go buy a bottle. I like a winemaker with some spine. They make for the best interviews.

    • Hey Wawineman,
      Come on out and have fun with us, at Mellisoni your happiness is our utmost concern! Of course discretion is most important to us as well, we’ve had quite a few high profile customers at our Winery and discretion is is paramount. you’re safe here!. Just let me know when you’d like to join us and we’ll set it up,


      Rob & Donna

  8. wawineman says:

    Thank you! Will do.

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