October 12, 2009

Vineyards on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula? Warming temperatures could make it possible

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Global warming often has a flip side, but it’s always a ‘be careful what you ask for’ kind of thing.’ This time it’s grape growing on the west side of Washington state, where Puget Sound farmers are finding that boutique grape growing is becoming a reality in places like Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

“In the 1970s, the Willamette Valley (in Oregon) was at the cool-climate fringe for wine; it was one of the coolest places you could go and reliably ripen the fruit,” said Gregory V. Jones, a climate scientist and wine expert at Southern Oregon University. But as temperatures warm in northern latitudes, “today Puget Sound is becoming that place.”

Seattle Times reporter Craig Welch today writes about Tom Miller and his wife who brought their Sequim property in 1995. Miller, who first grew kale and oats on the property to feed his sheep, visited a Bainbridge Island winery in 2000 and thought, why not?

Warming temperatures around the globe over the past 30 years have wrought changes in grape growing and wine making, Welch writes. Warming trends have increased the alcohol content of rieslings in Germany’s Rhine River Valley, and in Napa and Sonoma, Calif., earlier springs and fewer frosts have helped boost wine quality. On the downside for grape growers, Australian vineyards have extended droughts, and other European growers are facing  bug infestations they have never before faced.

Vineyards are even cropping up in places – such as southern England – where they haven’t been seen since before the Little Ice Age and the reign of Henry the VIII five centuries ago. And some, like Miller’s Dungeness Bay Vineyard, now are appearing where they haven’t been seen at all.

After spending the weekend touring six Olympic Peninsula wineries, I can say that the ground is fertile and the first seed crop has — literally –  already been sown. Most of the wineries currently import grapes from eastern Washington, as they do in the Woodinville area wineries east of the Seattle area. But as Tom Miller’s experience shows, that could change as conditions allow certain grapes to be grown in Puget Sound’s cooler temperatures. The photos below shows wine making operations at Port Angeles’ Camaraderie Cellars, a small wine making facility in Port Angeles run by Don and Vicki Corson, where grapes are imported from eastern Washington.

— Rita Hibbard

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