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Cold Snap Damages Grape Crop

Washington vintners expect wine prices to shoot up Washington vintners fear they have lost up to half their grape crop to freezing weather, prompting speculation that prices will skyrocket.

“The price of Washington wine is definitely going to go up,” said Joe Algeo, national sales manager for Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, which lost its entire four-acre crop in the Valley. “We’ve spoken to everybody (vineyards) across the state and no one escaped.”

The catastrophe comes at a time when Washington was gaining momentum as a leader in premium wine production and sales. Washington wine sales, valued at $200 million in 1995, have increased nine of the last 10 years. The exception was 1991 when a cold snap wiped out part of the grape crop.

“I’m scrambling for grapes,” said Jack Worden, owner of Worden’s Washington Winery in Spokane. “But maybe it won’t be as bad as we think.”

Simon Siegl, executive director of the Seattle-based Washington Wine Commission, said growers won’t know the extent of damage until June when they can count grapes as they emerge. Higher yields could make up some losses if the weather cooperates and skillful pruning crews tend closely to the vines.

“Our fate is in their hands,” Siegl said.

Wineries also are expected to keep tighter control of the inventory produced from 1995’s record 60,000-ton crop, Siegl said. That may increase upward pressure on wine prices which have jumped twice this winter on high demand.

“You won’t be seeing any three-for-$9 specials,” said Worden’s wine maker Paul Vandenberg. “Suddenly we have half the crop and demand is increasing. There won’t be much point in promoting wines on price.”

Arbor Crest, which bottles about 40,000 cases per year, is the only winery that maintains a vineyard in Spokane. But every local winery is affected by the freeze because they buy their grapes from Columbia River Basin vineyards, which have all reported crop damage.

Washington is the second largest producer of wine in the United States, with more than 13,000 acres of vineyards supplying 88 wineries, the wine commission says.

, DataTimes

Tags: business

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