Early warm weather affects grape growth

Early warm weather affects grape growth »Play Video
BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Thursday was the warmest day of the year thus far. It feels great, but it could spell potential trouble for our area's number-one industry. Wine grape farmers tell KEPR the high temperatures have grape buds bursting, making them ready for summer ripening.

Kendall Mix makes his way into the 2,200 acres of Goose Ridge grapevines, now budding. The recent warm weather has pushed the buds into what is called "bursting," making them ready for the summer ripening.

"It's going to facilitate some of the leaves opening up and push things along closer to bloom," Kendall said.

It's part of the natural process. It could make harvest come a few weeks early. But the early heat also thrusts the buds into a vulnerable state.

The buds are formed microscopically, so they're very susceptible to something like a frost or high temperatures, like on Thursday.

"Vulnerable to spring frosts. So with the weather we had Monday night, the freeze warning we had, we were holding our breath a little bit," Kendall said.

A cold front is approaching. Temperatures could fall overnight. Kendall says Goose Ridge is ready, but if it gets below freezing, wind machines can only do so much.

"If that were to happen, it would drastically affect the crop level that we could carry this year," he said.

And it wouldn't just be Goose Ridge's grapes. A late frost could drive up the price for wine across the board.

"It would definitely have an economic impact across the whole industry, absolutely. So we're really at the mercy of Mother Nature," he warned.

Farmers are optimistic that if the good weather continues into June, they could be harvesting grapes as early as August.

"Lots can change in the next few months, so you just never know," Kendall said.

Farmers say 2013 was one of the warmest growing season in 20 years. They say if the weather holds, we could be looking at that early harvest.