Grapes and Snakes at the Powerline Vineyard, Washington State
“We finished crush Monday, so now we have to press…”
VP of Winemaking and Viticulture Brennon Leighton told me the other day. “Everyone is tired, but things have been great – it went extremely well.”
Yes, harvest 2020 is slowly winding down, tying a tight, juicy bow on what could have been a messy year. Despite numerous obstacles — COVID, wildfires, climate change — our Washington vineyards made it through not just unscathed, but actually better than expected.
B.Leighton enjoys the view in the Barrel Room at Charles Smith Wines Jet City, Seattle
“It was a year that had really temperate weather,” Brennon explained, “never too hot, never too cold, so a great growing season: great spring, great summer, amazing fall. We had some extended growing season, with cooling in early September that worked well through October. There wasn’t anything weather-wise that disrupted what we wanted to do or gave us pause – we basically just picked fruit and made good wine, and everything came out beautiful.
Asked exactly what he meant, he explained:
“We got even ripening, where the flavor, phenolic, and tannic maturity was even with the sugar maturity. We didn’t have super high sugars, and acids were good. It was one of those vintages where you got stuff and you say, ‘oh, that was perfect.’ I think in some areas we’ll have lower alcohol and nice tension.”
“It really was just one of those amazing vintages,” he said, shaking his head in wonder.
Of course, ever cautious, Brennon hedged his enthusiasm with some pragmatic comments, although even then he couldn’t quite contain himself.
“Now, I haven’t gotten myself out of it yet, and I do another assessment in February when I’m clear,” he cautioned, “but right now I see nothing but beautiful color beautiful aromas, great mouthfeel… it’s a vintage that has re-inspired my passion for winemaking.”
Now that’s high praise.
But even with these seemingly preternatural perfect natural conditions, COVID managed to make things a bit more complicated on the human side. As Brennon noted, “we’ve been taking the threat extremely seriously, even closing our Seattle tasting room / winery through harvest for everyone’s safety.
“We took serious safety precautions. People coming from inside would wash themselves off, clean their boots and wear masks. We were careful with distancing. It was weird, ‘cause we couldn’t go out and drink beer at the bar after work, but we got through it pretty well. COVID is a motherf****r… I’m grateful it didn’t hit right before crush and we didn’t know what to expect. Having spring and summer to climatize ourselves on safety made crush easier, and thankfully we didn’t have anyone get sick or have anything happen that was an issue. So ultimately, I’m happy.”
Cultural challenges aside, in talking to him Brennon ’s happiness was almost more contagious than COVID, punctuated by his final comments.
“In my twenty-plus years of making wines in Washington, I can’t remember a better vintage,”
he gushed (pun intended). “Lots of great wines came out of it… there were a couple of concerns early on with the smoke, but they turned out to be a non-starter. What I see is some really good wines, it’s going to be one of those vintages for the history books.”