TRAVEL FOR GOOD: How Washington’s vineyards are adapting to climate change

Washington State is the second largest wine producer in the United States, behind California. Climate change and its unpredictability have created new challenges for producers. It’s one of the many reasons wineries across the state are adopting practices that make their grape crops more resilient.

At Two Mountain Winery in the town of Zillah, yellow-flowered mustard grass grows beside and under the vines. Patrick Rawn, vineyard manager and co-owner, said that in the past his crews mowed the mustard grass. Grass competes with vines for water and nutrients, or so conventional agricultural wisdom says.

But it turns out that mustard grass flowers are irresistible to thrips, a type of flying insect that likes to eat grape buds.

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“So if we can let this mustard grow, the thrip will spend its time here and not eat the grape buds,” Rawn said.

In addition to pest control, mustard grass also provides protection against scorching heat.

“Part of that is keeping the ground temperature down during the heat of the summer, so the grass acts as a layer of quasi-insulation,” Rawn said.

Last year’s heat wave set a new record high of 120 degrees in this part of the state. It was hard for farmers, including winegrowers. Rawn said his grapes didn’t grow that big that year. And his harvest was 20% lower than expected.

This year, Rawn will let mustard grass grow on about a third of the 300-acre vineyard.

Caption: Wine barrels are in storage Wednesday April 20, 2022 at Two Mountain Winery in Zillah.

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Young consumers, Millennials and Gen Z in particular, are driving a trend toward sustainable practices, according to the Washington Wine Growers Association, the state agency that oversees the industry.

A 2019 survey by the agency notes that “consumers want to know how the products they consume are made. They want clean products from socially responsible companies.

The agency told KUOW that most growers strive to adopt practices that are less harmful to the environment, such as ditching pesticides or using controlled irrigation.

Caption: Patrick Rawn stands for a portrait Wednesday April 20, 2022 at Two Mountain Winery in Zillah.

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Rawn runs Two Mountain Winery with his brother Matt. They are fourth generation farmers.

The Winemakers Association recently granted Two Mountain Winery a new sustainability certification. The vineyard is one of only six in Washington with this certification, which the state rolled out last year. Certified vineyards include:

This article is from our eight-part Travel For Good series, highlighting tourism insights across the state that teach our fragile wonders and how we can help protect them. Check out more stories from the series here.

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