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News / Northwest

2023 sees higher quality, lower yield for Yakima Valley wine grapes

Growers say ‘ideal’ weather could yield more flavorful crop

By Jasper Kenzo Sundeen, Yakima Herald-Republic
Published: September 29, 2023, 7:58pm

YAKIMA — Washington’s 2023 wine grape harvest could be smaller than last year’s.

That has not discouraged wine grape growers, though, who say ideal weather this growing season could result in a flavorful, high-quality harvest in the Yakima Valley.

“If you complain about this year, you’re in trouble,” said Dick Boushey, a Yakima Valley grape grower. “It just has the potential to be very high quality if we can get it in the next three weeks, maybe four.”

Boushey owns and operates vineyards in the Lower Yakima Valley, primarily around Prosser and Grandview, where he and a group of 80 skilled workers harvest many of the wine grapes by hand. He sells his grapes to around 50 wineries.

Boushey said climate change has made growing seasons unpredictable, but this year has been ideal and his grapes are showing good color and acid. He’s harvesting nearly a month earlier than in 2022.

Unlike past years, there were no periods of extremely hot weather, which can stop grape vines’ development. Instead, a shorter, cooler heat wave earlier this month accelerated ripening.

“We started (harvest) in August. I haven’t done that in a long time. We’ll be done at the end of October,” Boushey said.

Rain can dilute sugar in wine grapes and make it harder for workers to harvest, but this month’s wet spell didn’t discourage Boushey. Grapes are reaching the perfect ripeness now, he said. He and his workers are rushing to pick what they can before frost sets in.

Cooler weather and an earlier picking season will mean grapes have less sugar and a lower alcohol content. But they’re ripe now, Boushey said, and flavorful.

Estimates on the statewide yield are lower than in 2022. Vicky Scharlau, the executive director of the Washington Winegrowers Association, said a survey is conducted before the fall harvest to get wine grape projections.

Last year, Scharlau said the grape yield could reach 310,000 tons. This year, the estimated yield is 250,000 tons.