RICHLAND, Wash. - Northwest wine grape growers are sure hoping their grapes hurry up. The countdown is on until the first freeze when grapes will lose their leaves and stop ripening. And certain red varietals need more sun-time than others to be ready for the bottle.

A harsh early freeze last year, a cold winter, a late spring and mild summer are adding up to big-time suspense in the vineyards. According to the USDA in Washington State there will be 15 percent less wine grapes than last year.

Out in the vineyard, managers are trying to do all they can to rush ripeness. John Derrick is manager of Mercer Canyons' Spice Cabinet vineyard high up on a bluff above the Columbia River. He says his workers have been busy this year taking off leaves and opening up the grape vines so sunlight can reach the grapes.

"One thing that is odd or particular to me this year is that even though we had a late year, we've have a great canopy," Derrick says. "We've had to leaf thin twice and shoot thin a little more aggressively than normal."

White grapes come off the vine first. But Derrick says some cooler sites across the Northwest may have trouble ripening their later varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon.

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