KENNEWICK – Washington farmers grew another record-breaking crop of wine grapes this year as wineries push to fill the demand created by a growing U.S. thirst.
The harvest is up 16 percent from last year’s record.
Estimates put the total amount of wine grapes crushed at almost 218,000 tons, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t release the final crush number until the first quarter of 2014.
The total amount of wine grapes, including white and red varieties, was up by about 30 tons from last year, when wineries crushed about 188,000 tons of Washington wine grapes. And last year’s crop was 32 percent larger than it was in 2011, according to the USDA.
The growth comes as no surprise because of the additional acres that have been planted and because newer acres are coming into full production, Scharlau said.
“It’s the direction that the industry has been planning to go,” she said.
Officials from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates – which uses about two-thirds of all the wine grapes grown in Washington – have said the company aims to grow to meet the rising demand created by increased wine consumption in the U.S.
Washington had 43,000 acres of wine grapes planted as of last year, according to the USDA. Ted Baseler, CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, told the Herald last year that another 10,000 acres “would be a nice start.”
It’s important for the growth to happen in incremental, planned steps so growers are meeting what wineries need, Scharlau said.
The wine industry’s state economic impact was estimated at $8.6 billion in 2011, according to a 2012 report prepared for the Washington state Wine Commission.
The wine industry and related businesses provided about 30,000 jobs statewide, with more than 8,500 of those jobs in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties, according to the report.
Benton County wineries produce the most wine in the state, at about 11 million gallons, according to the report.
Norm McKibben, who manages Seven Hills and Les Collines vineyards near Walla Walla, said this year was the sort that farmers hope for, but rarely get.
“The year couldn’t have been more perfect for us,” said McKibben, who finished harvest Nov. 5.
The warmth grape vines received this year will help improve the taste of this year’s vintage, he said. It’s the warmest year they have had since 2003.
“It is going to end up being an amazingly fabulous vintage of Washington wine,” Scharlau said.