Wine Harvest 2023 in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley

Grape in hand

The 2023 Wine Harvest season is officially upon us!

Wine Harvest is one of the most exciting times of the year in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley. The vineyards buzz with activity as workers pick grapes from sun up to sun down, and vineyard crews crush and de-stem the harvest in real-time. 

Plus, many wineries offer vineyard tours, crush pad demonstrations, and barrel tastings to give visitors a one-of-a-kind experience that can only happen during this small window of the year.

Here’s some insight into the inner workings of this year’s wine harvest and how the 2023 season is shaping up in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley.

An Early 2023 WA Wine Harvest

The timing of the wine harvest differs each year and depends on climate and weather conditions during the growing season. In general, the harvest may happen anywhere from mid-August to mid-September.

Many Lake Chelan wineries saw bud break (the beginning of the grape-growing process) at the end of April, and sunny and dry conditions during the ensuing months translated to a prolonged ripening period.

The Lake Chelan AVA has a cooler climate than the surrounding Columbia Valley, which typically yields later than most Washington State wine-growing regions. This year, a long and hot summer allowed many Washington State AVAs to kick off an early harvest, and the Chelan-area wineries followed suit during the last weeks of August.

The harvest season is measured using a metric known as Growing Degree Days (GDD). For reference, a very warm growing year in the Lake Chelan AVA averages about 2800 GDD. The 2023 Lake Chelan wine harvest has so far experienced a cumulate GDD of 3055. So, while there haven’t been considerable peaks in temperatures through the summer, there were enough consistent days in the high 80s and low 90s to put this growing year firmly in the “hot and early” harvest category.

Which Grapes Are Picked When?

Wine grapes closeup

As a general rule, sparkling and white wine grapes are the first to go, with red wine grapes harvested later in the season.

On a technical level, the final picking schedule depends on the sugar and acid content of the grapes. Each winemaker has different preferences on the sugar and acid levels they want reflected in their wines, and the picking schedule is ultimately at their discretion.

Sugar & Acid

Winemakers monitor Brix levels — a measurement for sugar content — to assess the ripeness of the grapes. Harvesting grapes at the right Brix level ensures they have sufficient sugar content, which is vital for fermentation and achieving the desired alcohol content in the wine.

Determining whether each block of grapes is ready for harvest involves carefully balancing Brix, acid, and flavor development. The winemaking team must decide how to get the most flavor out of their product without producing excessive alcohol content or acidity. The lower the sugar content, the higher the acid, ultimately affecting the characteristics of the final product in-bottle.

Since most sparkling and white wine varietals benefit from lower alcohol and higher acidity, the wineries pick these grapes first.

Lake Chelan’s Harvest Schedule

Fall grape crush

Sparkling varietals are ideally picked at 18 Brix and are the first grapes to be harvested. The primary sparkling wine grapes in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley (and most of Washington State) are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Wineries will then move on to harvesting white wine varietals. In general, wineries pick these grapes at around 22 Brix, depending on the varietal and preferences of the winemaker. 

Certain white varietals are amplified by a higher acidity, so, consequently, they’re picked first. Varietals that benefit from a higher acid content include Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Albariño. 

After these, wineries pick Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Viognier. German varietals such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer hold up well to the fall weather and are typically picked last. The white wine harvest is in full swing and may extend into early to mid-October in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley.

Next up are the red varietals! These are picked just a few weeks after the whites, giving them more time to sit on the vine and develop their flavors. 

Wineries harvest these grapes at around 24 Brix, depending on the varietal and wine-making style. In Lake Chelan, the primary order of the reds harvest begins with Pinot Noir (coming up in just a few short weeks), then Syrah, with Malbec and Cabernet Franc picked last.

Forecast for 2023 Harvest

Wine cheers

The 2023 Wine Harvest is off to a great start, with vineyard crews already hard at work! 

An early harvest combined with consistent temperatures into fall means less risk of butting up against cold and frost, which can damage the grapes and require a premature (and expedient!) harvest.

As for wine harvest festivities, a visit to the Lake Chelan Wine Valley promises no shortage of options! There are vineyard tours, harvest parties, paint & sips, barrel tastings, and winemaker dinners planned well into the fall. Find the full calendar of events here and please do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions about the Lake Chelan wine harvest.

Cheers to a bountiful season!

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