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caption: Wine grapes from SJR Vineyard
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Wine grapes from SJR Vineyard
Credit: Brooke Delmas Robertson

The heat, the smoke, the pandemic, rising costs. It's not an easy time to make wine in the PNW.

In 2020, wineries in the Pacific Northwest had to rethink how they did business. Because of the pandemic, they couldn't keep their tasting rooms open.

Wildfire smoke got into grapes and changed the way their wines tasted, often not for the better. The supply chain wineries relied on started faltering. And, of course, our summers are getting hotter and drier.

So, what does it look like to run a winery when so many elements you rely on are rapidly changing?

KUOW's Soundside reached out to Teresa Owen, the owner of Red Mountain Trails Winery in the Tri-Cities area, and Brooke Delmas Robertson, the director of winegrowing for Delmas and SJR Vineyard in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, Oregon.

The biggest challenge right now? The HEAT.

When you're a customer facing a tasting room with outdoor seating, people don't want to sit in 90 plus degree sunshine to drink wine, and that's caused Red Mountain to close early. On the grower's side, grapevines stop processing once the temperatures hit 95 degrees, so vineyards are facing a lot of concerns with stalled growth.

Another challenge is rising costs.

Owen said that while the cost of buying grapes to make wine may have increased, it's also the competition that they have to factor in.

"We're seeing buyers from out of state purchasing Washington wine grapes," she explains. "So we have a little more competition there."

There's also the cost of staffing that they have to keep in mind — glassware, bottles, corks, labels, even buying new chairs.

"During the pandemic, we saw a lot of changes in how we provided service," Owen said. "People wanted to sit down for a flight. So we were all scrambling to buy more seating, because it was no longer a bar tasting scenario."

Those bottles have to come from somewhere too.

"The glass is really been an issue especially, because for most of us, our glass comes from either China or Mexico," Robertson said. "The more you order, the cheaper it is. But if you're a little guy, you don't really have that luxury."

But in the end, what we all really need is to drink the wine we love.

"Drink whatever you love," Owen said. "Really super cold Chardonnay. I don't care what anybody says, I serve it colder than recommended for myself."

She also recommends for the red wine aficionados, "If you like a red, a cold Cab Franc can be wonderful."

For lovers of Northwest wine, Robertson recommends "fringy whites."

"So if you can find a Riesling, Gewurztraminer, German whites are going to be awesome right now," she said.

And don't forget a local favorite.

"I would definitely put in a plug for a Viognier from the Rocks District is phenomenal," Robertson said.