Truth be told, the whole year feels like a long stretched-out Halloween, with forest fires and pestilence being the marks of the 2020 vintage. Dozens of family-owned Napa wineries, among over a thousand structures in the valley, were decimated by the most recent Glass Fire. While Washington vineyards mostly escaped unscathed from the forest fires, the pandemic continues to loom over the state as hospitals brace for the fall surge of COVID-19.
It was early March when I placed my grape order. I decided to go with Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Tapteil Vineyard. The vineyard also supplies to Quilceda Creek Vintners, Long Shadows Vintners, and Cadence Winery. It seemed like it would be a slam dunk, and I was going with easy.
I mostly love Red Mountain Cab for its eagerness to please, both the palate and the wine makers. Also, the AVA is often ahead of the others in terms of Growing Degree Days (GDD), which usually indicates an earlier harvest.
|WSU Growing Degree Day Chart|
Like many things in 2020, nothing went quite as planned.
By late spring, Eastern Washington, the heart of the best vineyards in the state, became a COVID-19 hotbed, with possibly the highest rate of infection from Washington to California. Cultural and political factors strongly influenced the way the pandemic was managed. All that added to uncertainty in the vineyards and the health of their workers.
Then came Labor Day, when high winds blew through the State, downed power lines, and sparked 80 fires. Over 300,000 acres were torched. While not quite the catastrophic Glass Fire, the smoke pool in Washington was ubiquitous and air quality so bad that many were driven indoors. If the coronavirus pandemic was not enough concern to one's respiratory health, the smoke would seal the deal.
|Map of Labor Day fires|
The fires and smoke were thankfully contained when harvest rolled around for the red wine grapes. But the Cab in our allocated lot just refused to ripen! In fact, our grapes appeared to go into reverse aging. Sugar (Brix) was decreasing, and acidity (TA) was rising. After a few false starts, we finally went with a different parcel where the grapes were ready to go. A harvest date was selected.
The fall day arrived and did its round of sunshine, rain, and chill. At the crush site, the winemakers were appropriately masked as we weighed and distributed the grapes before running them through the crusher and de-stemmer. It had been a long wait for the grapes, and I was happy to take the must home.
|Pitchforking grapes into totes|
That was ten days ago, and my wine is now in the last stretch of alcoholic fermentation. It may be a time of pestilence, pumpkins, and potions outside, but for me, it is punchdown in my garage cellar.