After coming off the hottest year on record for eastern Washington, we had a very welcomed wet and snowy winter at our estate vineyard in Royal City. After a couple very dry years, the moisture was needed and very much appreciated. In many ways this winter felt more like what we used to consider “typical” back in the 1980s and 1990s when snow fell often and accumulated, and temperatures were fairly cold throughout the winter.
Unfortunately, the snow does moderate the temperature a bit and we haven’t been able to harvest ice wine grapes this winter, which looks to be our first miss since 2011. To harvest ice wine grapes, we need temperatures to drop below roughly 17 degrees and stay there for 24 hours minimum. We did hit some good lows at night, but the day time temperatures always came back up into the 20s. New Year’s Day was our best opportunity, but as you can imagine that’s a difficult day to facilitate anything. On the bright side, we don’t see any damage in the vines from this winter. We’ve been lucky over the years, but the 2013 and 2014 early freezes did cause some minor damage in a couple varieties.
We’ve really warmed up in the past week and are in the process of pruning third leaf vines, which will be trained to the trellis wire in the next few weeks. We will start pruning the older vines next week. We are also putting in posts, as we will be planting Syrah for Chateau Ste. Michelle, and Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault for ourselves at a new vineyard site we started planting last year. Our plan is to continue to build our rosé program and adding Mourvedre and Cinsault grapes will make it even more interesting. We will also be making a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend, or adding to the Vaucluse, from this vineyard as it’s warmer with ideal soil for Rhone reds.
I think I touched on this last fall, but we are ecstatic about the first vintage off of our Solaksen vineyard site and cannot wait to see what this year brings. The decision to plant at 25 and 29 degrees off-axis was proven dramatically in 2015 when we harvested premium fruit with little to no sun damage, while many of our other north-south vineyard blocks required at least one thinning pass to clean up sun burned and baked fruit. We also saw the evenness in the canopy and fruit set that we don’t see in all of the blocks. It’s always a bonus to be right when you’ve trusted your research and instincts. This makes us think seriously about trying it in other permanent crops.
We continue to be thrilled with our Walla Walla winemaking facility, M&L Production, (a joint venture between us and our winemaker, Aryn Morell), as the quality of wine is consistently improving, even in scorching hot years. We’ve added a couple large format round barrels — 70 hectoliter and 15 hectoliter vats — to our program for Vaucluse and Riesling that will be used for years and years to come. Every year we aim to improve on quality, and barrel selection is paramount to that. The 2013 wines that have been and will be released this coming year spent some time in our new facility, but the 2014 wines will really show what full control over every aspect of the process can do for the wines.
While I write this, sometimes it’s a challenge to find something unique to discuss about our vineyards when things are “business as usual.” The vineyard has made leaps and bounds while constantly expanding so the future appears to be bright there, but the easy part is growing the grapes and deciding which grapes to turn into wine. The difficult job is to take my vision and turn it into not just something ordinary but something great. Without our winemaker Aryn, our tasting room managers Joe France and Warren Ball and their staffs, Alison Huntzinger who manages our wine club and other customer relations and marketing projects, my wife Lisa who heads up marketing and operations, and our new national sales manager, Eric Swikard, this would not be possible. I want to thank them for all of their efforts and I am truly excited for where this journey will take us. So, enjoy the wine knowing that we loved making it, almost as much as drinking it, and will always be striving to deliver you a greater experience in every aspect.
Thanks again for all your support,