Puget Sound AVA heading for another warm year in 2015? I am a weather geek as my wife will tell you. Sure I obsess over weather statistics and climate information. I am always trying to stay a head of the game in the grape growing world. I am especially interested in how this pertains to growing grapes in a cool climate. I have to admit I am a sucker for cool climate wines. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling… I love them all (as long as they aren’t sweet!). When I started this journey, we barely had the internet and it was hard finding information about grapes and growing techniques for the Puget Sound, or for that fact just about anywhere in the world. It was all in books and, yes, I did order books from Germany and Australia because the had more complete information about the climate of the Puget Sound than books from the USA. But, even they were based on a few weather station mostly located at WSU research stations which can be quite a bit cooler than the best places to grow grapes in the Puget Sound basin. Namely, I am thinking about the Mt. Vernon research station, which is in a very cold location.
Anyways… I got off track a little there! But it goes to show you how public perception of something (Seattle is rainy and cold) is not always the case. But, we are really looking at some good weather for the next few weeks here in the Seattle area. The Climate Prediction Center is predicting a warmer and drier trend for the next 90 days or so. They are saying we are on the tail end of an El Nino year and this should all end by the middle of the sumer.
Here is what I think… There is no way this is bad for grower in the Puget Sound region. Warmer and drier weather means an early start to the growing season. Having an early start is always a good thing west of the cascades because you never know what is coming. I have definitely seen the weather fall apart before harvest. 2010 was a good example of a year that started off great, but when September came it rained and rained for a full month and wiped out my crop. BUT, I have also seen where we got off to an warm, early start and things cooled off and because we had an early start, we were allowed to harvest in a reasonable time.
I guess the bottom line to the story for growing in the Puget Sound AVA is warmer is always better no matter when it comes!
I’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!