The 2015 growing season is considered to be one initially showed phenomenal potential. The forest fires 35 miles up Lake Chelan and to the north in Okanogan county and British Columbia erupted blanketing the northern two thirds of Washington State in smoke. The heavy smoke lasted six weeks (July through the end of September). Smoke taint damage was a forgone conclusion. Some vineyard locations experienced more damage than others. Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sangiovese appear to be very susceptible to the effects of smoke. Smoke tainted grapes result in wines possessing the flavors and aromas of; old cigarette ashtray, the acrid smell of a campfire which was just dowsed with water, rubber boots, latex or skunk.
The Winter: Mild winter temperatures with the low being a balmy plus 8 degrees enabled the vines to coast through the season. Although the weather was not terribly cold, it was cool enough to help vines obtain the rest needed to commence with the 2015 growing season.
The Spring: Temperatures in eastern Washington vineyards and the Lake Chelan AVA in particular resulted in a decent spring for bud break during the month of April. April was rather dry. May was another story all together. It rained 1.28 inches. A dry June set the stage for a very warm – very dry end to spring.
The Summer: Late – June, July, August and early September temps were warmer average. The precipitation was much lower than normal. The high temperature reached was 105 degrees. While everything we brought in around the state possessed very good ripeness levels, the odor of smoke taint began to rear it’s ugly head in the young fermenting wines. Sadly, this was the final Merlot crop we accepted from the Buoy vineyard due to the ravages of Leaf Roll virus.
The Harvest: This year, we purchased both American and French oak barrels. 1,600 cases worth of fully ripened grapes were hand sorted and crushed into our fermentation vats. We kept our fingers crossed and modified some winemaking techniques to try and mitigate the potential smoke damage. Try as we might, smoke damage was present in most wines. Smoke tainted wines resulted in us dropping the price of our wines to reflect the smoke taint damage.
Post Harvest: In the best interests of our wine fans, we actually dumped our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. So, no sparking wine cuvee plus we tossed the 2015 Merlot. These three wines simply did not meet our quality standards. The remaining wines possessed very slight amounts of smokey aromas. Amounts small enough to pass as unusual barrel flavor notes.