Winemakers get late start on grape harvest, could be the ‘vintage of the decade’

Winemakers say grapes are flavorful and will make for delicious wine if the harvest is done at the right time.

SNOHOMISH, Wash. – Winemakers in western Washington are getting a late start on harvesting grapes this year, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing, as far as taste goes.

At JM Cellars in Maltby, owner John Bigelow has been eagerly awaiting the 2022 harvest.

“I want my Sauvignon Blanc to end up crisp and refreshing. We picked this last Friday. This is just juice at the moment. It’s about 21% sugar,” Bigelow said, pouring a glass. “It tastes like this intense apple.”

Like many crops this year, Bigelow says the fruit has been slow to develop.

“This year’s spring was a record cold, wet spring,” said Bigelow. “My estate vineyard is in Walla Walla. It’s called Margaret’s Vineyard and our annual rainfall is 6 inches of rain a year. By the end of June, we had 17 inches of rain.”

Bigelow says he just checked on his vines on Red Mountain in Eastern Washington a few days ago.

“We ended up getting kind of behind to the point where we are about a month later than a normal year right now,” said Bigelow. “I was in the vineyards this last weekend, and I’m walking through, and I thought to myself, ‘This is the way these vines should look at the end of August, and we are at the end of September’.”

He says the weather has provided an interesting dynamic.

“What that did is it put us behind a normal year for growth. So we knew we were going to be coming into a late year,” he said.

In addition, smoke coming in from wildfires in Oregon this year also set the harvest back another week or so by blocking out the sun.

“The beauty of it was, it was high-level smoke, so it didn’t affect the flavor of the grape. But what it did do was filter the sun. So, instead of having that week of really great growth, we never got over 75 out there.”

Bigelow says the cold spring was followed by a warm June and July and a very hot August.

“We had that nice warm June and that nice warm July, and then we had a record-hot August,” said Bigelow. “That really messed up the vines. I think they were thinking, ‘What is going on?’”.

He says as a result of all the wild weather, the fruit isn’t getting as much sugar as he typically sees. He says the alcohol content will also be slightly lower coming out of one of their vintage wines. However, he says the grapes have a nice acidity and the flavors will stand out in a big way.

“These are living beings they adapt just like we do, and I think what we are seeing is the carbohydrates in the wine are just being intensified, growing that fruit. You aren’t wasting any energy on leaf structure or the vine. It’s all going to the berries,” said Bigelow.

Potentially he says, it could be the best vintage that his customers have ever tasted.

“Some of the flavors I’m tasting are the best I’ve tasted in 25 years,” said Bigelow. “If you have the great flavors, and the fruit is super ripe, it could be the vintage of the decade.”

At Kasia Winery in Snohomish, owner Kasia Kim is also waiting to harvest her grapes. She says most of her vineyards are located on Red Mountain.

“It’s a very interesting year because we had a really late start with summer and because of that, everything is delayed by a few weeks,” said Kim. “What we really want is the grape to hang on the vine as long as possible.”

She says this year, the longer they are on the vine, the better. She’s hoping for a warm and mild October into November.

“The scary part is, we are late. So, we are facing the probability of frost and rain, which, none of that is really good for the grapes. So we are praying that Mother Nature will be good to us,” she said.

She agrees with Bigelow that the grapes are flavorful and will make for delicious wine if the harvest is done at the right time.

“I think we had a very nice and steady summer, even though it was late, so the flavors are amazing right now,” she said. “So far, what I’ve tasted is just delicious.”

At JM Cellars, Bigelow says they are fermenting Pinot Noir with California grapes.

“This is the third year I’ve made it, and you can see the berries are just beautiful,” he said, showing off a barrel of berries.

Bigelow says the JM Cellars staff will be busy painting wine barrels and cleaning the equipment at the winery in preparation for the Washington grapes to come in. He anticipates that the staff will be very busy in a few weeks when the harvest begins.

“We have done way more cleaning than we’ve ever done, because we’ve just been waiting for the fruit to get here. So, my drains are spotless and it’s really been good to have the time to prep. Each of the crews in all the vineyards is set and ready to go,” said Bigelow. “We are going to have in about a week an onslaught of fruit coming in and everybody is going to be super busy.”

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