2014 Warmest year ever?

2014GDDI’ve been growing grapes for almost 17 years (wow that’s a long time!) here in the Puget Sound AVA. The first year – 1998 – was one of the warmest in decades and I was a bit pissed off that my vines weren’t mature enough to enjoy the super hot weather. I’ve had ups and downs over the years. 2009 was another hot year and I was happy to have a vineyard full of mature vines then and I made some killer wines that year. Then came 2014 and put everything to shame. It was the hottest year in Washington state in recent memory and here on the western side of the mountains, it was a year to go do in the history books. Or, is this the new normal?

I remember back at the beginning of the year there were starting to predict a warmer than normal summer, but with most predictions, you take them with a grain of salt. Things got off to a fairly normal start if not a little early on the bud break, but nothing too much out of the ordinary. Things dried out and got warm in May, but as is the usual around here June came and while warm enough, we had 12 days of precipitation that month and while the eventual crop ripeness wasn’t effected, the amount of grapes we got was about 1/3 the normal crop load due to rain at flowering time which is always a danger around here. Especially in early, warm years like 2014 when we still get a fair amount of June gloom. It’s always a problem here in the Puget Sound. June and October make or break the crop.

After June went, it was clear sailing until the middle of October. From October 11th it rained every single day until November, which is also very typical. But, as the year ended we had the warmest year in a long time. Here at the 21 Acres WSU AgWeatherNet station, we had exactly 2300 Growing Degree Days, which was about 400 more degree days than  2009. The difference with 2009 was that we had a rainy June and in 2009 it was sunny and warm through June. We suffered through several crappy years that made me want to throw in the towel, 2010 and 2011 were exceptionally cold. 2012 was funny in that it was cooler, but I still got a decent crop that year and made a barrel of wine.

The 2015 long range forecasts are calling for mild and dry weather this spring. Predictions out through the end of the growing season are very unreliable at this time so all things being equal, if we jump off to a warm and early start to the season, I’ll take that!