I got to accompany our winemaker Joe to the vineyards this morning! We were picking up Merlot grapes from Pepper Bridge and Tempranillo grapes from Les Colline. The short drive was absolutely picturesque, with miles and miles of vineyards rolling along the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
Last night, the temperature in Walla Walla dipped below freezing for the first time this season. Frost is highly damaging to the vines and the grapes, and a real freeze could spell disaster to the year’s vintage. Here is where good “block” selection can make a world of difference to a winery. (Vineyards are planted in rows, called “blocks”, and grapes are contracted by block. A good winemaker with extensive knowledge of the region can help select the blocks that are most likely to produce the best grapes.) Take last night’s frost for example…
Joe explains to me that frost has a tendency to “pool” in the valley, so blocks in the lower-lying areas are the most risky for our grape contracts. The most desirable blocks will be on the hillside at an upper elevation, and they are also the most expensive. As we drive through the vineyard, he points out the brown- shriveled- crackly leaves that were wiped out by the frost last night. As we climb the foothills, the leaves become a fat, healthy green again. A mere fifteen feet of elevation can create a notable difference. Our block looks great, and the grapes taste wonderful.
We still have red Zinfandel on the vine until Monday, and our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes need at least another two weeks. After the remarkable growing season, it would be a shame to lose the block to an early frost. Winter attire notwithstanding, I sure hope the weather cooperates.