Within a few hours of touching down in Seattle, and after a brief stop at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, we began to head up over the mountains on our three-hour drive to the Columbia Valley. We chatted about feeling "upsold" by the rental agency who had talked us out of our "value van" and into a higher priced SUV, which was great, but really - who needed it? We drove along the winding highway and up into the mountains marveling at the beauty of the landscape (so very different than Texas!) with all the giant evergreen trees on the steep slopes around us. With the words about the car rental clerk upselling us barely out of our mouths it began to snow as we made our way through the pass.
As Texans we are always delighted to see snow in any form and laughed like children at the flurries that coated our windshield and began to cover the road and mountainside around us with a blanket of white. We continued our drive through the pass (enjoying the safety and steadiness of our SUV) and down into the valley where the snow had not yet appeared and the temperatures were considerably warmer.
Little did we realize that the weather being experienced at that time and in the coming two weeks would affect the vintage report for 2011 in Washington state. To read more about WTF 2010 click here.
Below is the Wine Specator Vintage Report for Washington 2011:
The defining event of Washington's 2011 vintage occurred in 2010—a November freeze damaged vines across the state, particularly in the Horse Heaven Hills and Walla Walla appellations. A cool summer led to the latest harvest on record for many vintners. Despite alcohol levels slightly lower than normal, experienced vintners reported rich flavors.
Careful grape sorting at Figgins Family Wines in Washington state.
"It will be a year when consumers need to make decisions not just on [appellation], but on specific vineyards and specific wineries," said Bob Betz of Betz Family Wines. "The weather demanded precise steps by our growers: reducing yields, canopy management for light penetration and disease prevention, and even then we had [sugar] levels that were 1 to 2 degrees lower than typical. But the fruit was physiologically ripe."
"Warm years in many ways are more forgiving," Betz added. “A cool year like this one has made me appreciate even more who the really exceptional growers in the state are."
Vintners reported moderate acidity levels and low pHs, a measure of how tart the wines could be. This is an unusual combination, Betz noted. "Low total acid will give us a pleasurable balance while the low pH will provide stability and longevity. Flavors are full, complete and rich. So much pepper in Mourvèdre, smoke in Syrah, currants in Cabernet. No greenness."
One grower, Hugh Shiels of DuBrul Vineyard in Yakima Valley, described his Cabernet Sauvignon as his most ageworthy Washington Cabernet ever. He credited cool ripening conditions after the grapes changed color, promoting flavor development while sugar accumulation was slow.