Crush is in full swing at wineries across Clark County, and all signs point to 2016 being another banner year. While there’s not as much talk about an early harvest, the quantity and quality of this year’s wine grape crop has area vintners excited.
“April and May were very warm, and we had good bloom set. It gave grapes a big boost,” said Walt Houser, owner and winemaker at Bethany Vineyards. “The 2016 harvest is gonna be great.”
Houser sees the slightly later harvest as an opportunity for more hang time, which develops greater complexity and aromatics in the fruit. Historically speaking, however, 2016 will still go down as an early harvest overall, a trend experienced over the last four years.
Greg Weber at Confluence Winery is encouraged to see more land being planted to vines each year. As the Southwest Washington Winery Association makes gaining status as an American Viticultural Area a long-range goal, this is a required component of that process.
Weber predicts, however, that Clark County will see 1- to 10-acre sites producing quality fruit as opposed to vineyards of several hundred acres due to high land values.
Also on the horizon are increased plantings of varietals that can set Clark County apart from neighboring wine regions. Joe Leadingham of Stavalaura Vineyards introduced golubok in 2010 when he planted this northern European grape on his Ridgefield vineyard. Houser was intrigued by its early ripening capabilities, took cuttings from Leadingham and added 5,000 new plants to his site this past spring.
Maréchal foch is another grape being found in larger numbers. Brian Tansy of Olequa Cellars planted 2 acres of this French hybrid back in 2005; it was chosen as the grape to feature in the roundabouts leading into Ridgefield this past spring. April Joy Farm tends rows of the grape at their certified organic farm, and another vineyard in the Battle Ground area planted foch about five years ago. Confluence purchased local fruit for a 2014 and 2015 vintage and will do so again this year.
“We have a ’15 foch that is going to blow people away,” Weber exclaimed. “Ours is much more intense — similar to a syrah.”
Battle Ground’s Dolio Winery experienced an isolated weather hiccup back in June when a hail storm damaged their vines during flowering. The end result was a loss of half their pinot grigio and one-third of their pinot noir crop.
Co-owner and winemaker, Don Klase, said, “It was pretty depressing; but this is agriculture, and those things happen.”
Continuing to focus on Italian varietals, Dolio also purchases grapes from the Columbia Valley and is looking forward to crafting a dessert-style wine from orange muscat that will pair well with chocolate soufflé, cheeses and fruits.
Between their two Ridgefield sites, Three Brothers Vineyard has 15 acres planted to vine and 2016 will be their fourth year in a row of 100 percent estate grapes, according to owner Dan Andersen. The tonnage he’s now consistently pulling off caused him to increase his operations room by 1,600 square feet and purchase all new crush equipment for this season.
Clark County continues to source grapes from the east side of the state, as well as Oregon and California.
Year over year vineyard acreage is increasing, vintners are gaining more experience with moderate- to cooler-climate harvests and the industry is seeking its own identity by way of experimenting with varietals that can set it apart. Look for 2016 whites to be released in the late spring/early summer of 2017 and reds in the fall of 2018 or 2019.