Late Start and Rainy September Make for Irregular Grape Harvest

Late Start and Rainy September Make for Irregular Grape Harvest
PROSSER -- A rainy weekend hit at a bad time. Grape harvest kicks off this week and some winemakers are worried. All that rain over the weekend could mean rot on the vines.

Action News takes a look at what it means for our $4.7 billion wine industry.

The first grapes of the season are off the vine and it's time to crush.

But this harvest season is unlike any we've seen in more than a decade.

"I think winemakers need to change their perspective of what a typical year is because this is atypical," said Mercer winemaker David Forsyth.

Atypical because of how we started the growing season and now how it's ending.

"We've got two issues going on here. One is the cool weather which has delayed the ripening. But once you get wet weather on the top you've got additional issues of mildew and rot to start to grow on the grapes," said Forsyth.

So now the rush is on to get to the rot before it spreads to other clusters. It's the same story for wineries across the Yakima Valley, through the Mid-Columbia and Walla Walla.

Wineries are gearing up for a compressed harvest. Growers also are worried about frost, so the window has narrowed to get the grapes off the vine.

That means wineries must make room for the deliveries quick.

"We're being proactive but basically we're praying for good weather," said Forsyth.

But with all the curve balls Mother Nature has thrown our way this season, there still may be a silver lining.

"Very optimistic about the reds, they are like 1999 reds which was the vintage of the century. We are seeing good flavor development," said Forsyth.

And in the end that's what it's all about -- from vine to wine -- if it tastes good, a rough season can quickly turn into a very good year.

Researchers with WSU's agriculture extension center in Prosser say overall this season has been about 14 percent cooler than average.