How climate change is affecting Washington winemaking

It’s getting warmer. The Washington wine industry has a plan to do something about that, including planting different varieties of grapes, and more of them, in new locations.

WHEN ROB GRIFFIN started his career as a Washington winemaker 40 years ago, it was cooler in the Columbia Valley. In fact, he recalls that the 1977 harvest began the second week of October. In 2014, Washington’s wine grape harvest began Aug. 7. Last fall, Griffin brought in his first few tons of grapes on Aug. 18.

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The already-arid wine country has gotten warmer, a fact noticed by all who work in the industry. Many are working to mitigate that, with ideas such as:

More grapes: One of the biggest concerns about warmer vintages is that the grapes ripen before the flavors develop. Higher sugar ripeness means higher alcohol levels without any flavor complexity. There’s also the issue of losing all-important acidity before harvest. One way to stave off early ripening is to leave more clusters on each vine. If a cabernet sauvignon vineyard carries 5 tons per acre of fruit instead of 3 tons, you can significantly slow the ripening. Finding the right balance is tricky, but this has the added bonus of increased production and more money going into farmers’ pockets.

Location: A few years ago, a climate scientist came to Washington wine country and told industry members their best solution was to plant more…

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