Washington wine grape crop sets another record

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) - The production of wine grapes set another Washington state record this year, increasing 16 percent from last year's record.

An estimated 218,000 tons of wine grapes were crushed this year, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

"It is going to end up being an amazingly fabulous vintage of Washington wine," Scharlau told the Tri-City Herald for a story published Friday ( http://bit.ly/1bcppOH).

Washington is the nation's second-largest producer of premium wines after California.

The total amount of Washington wine grapes, including white and red varieties, was up by about 30,000 tons from last year, when wineries crushed about 188,000 tons. Last year's crop was 32 percent larger than it was in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The growth is no surprise because of the additional acres that have been planted, 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 must grow to handle 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, has said he would like to see an additional 10,000 acres.

It's important for the growth to happen in incremental steps so growers can supply what wineries need, Scharlau said.

The wine industry's economic impact in the state was estimated at $8.6 billion in 2011, according to a 2012 report prepared for the Washington State Wine Commission. The industry and related businesses provided about 30,000 jobs statewide, 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 that this year was the sort of year that farmers hope for.

"The year couldn't have been more perfect for us," said McKibben, who finished harvest Nov. 5.

Warm weather will help improve the taste of this year's vintage, he said. It's the warmest year they have had since 2003.

The heat sped up the development of sugars, McKibben said. Then, a week of cool weather in Eastern Washington before harvest helped slow down development.

Kevin Corliss, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates' vice president of vineyards, said the maturity of the grapes was excellent, with good ripeness across all of the varieties.

Corliss said winemaking staff are pleased with the quality and the quantity of key varieties such as cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and riesling.

"We expect to have a really beautiful vintage," Corliss said.

Ste. Michelle owns such wineries as Columbia Crest, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Snoqualmie, Northstar and Spring Valley.

Some of the white wines from this year's crop will be out shortly after Jan. 1, Corliss said. It will take 18 to 24 months before the 2013 red wines will be available.

___

Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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