CASHMERE, Wash. — The rate of growth of Washington wine grape vineyards has slowed in the last six years while still maintaining a good clip.
There were 55,445 acres of wine grapes in 2017, up 26.4 percent from 43,849 acres in 2011. Between 2006 and 2011, acreage was up 41.4 percent from 31,000 acres, according to the state 2017 vineyard acreage report issued Nov. 8 by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The biggest jump was 24,000 acres in 1999, up 116.2 percent from 11,100 acres in 1993.
It’s not just acreage. Growth in wine grape vines follows a similar pattern at 53.4 million vines in 2017, up 35.5 percent from 39.4 million in 2011, which was up 52 percent from 2006.
The density of plantings per acre is a bigger deal in the neighboring tree fruit industry. Older plantings of fewer trees per acre are being replaced with higher densities. But most of the state’s vineyards have been planted since the 1980s at desirable densities so there’s not the same movement toward greater densities as in tree fruit.
“Unlike most other fruit crops, wine grape supply and demand is tied extremely closely to wine market demand and trends,” said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Winegrower Association in Cashmere.
Changes in acreage mirror demand, and clearly red varieties remain the trend with their “reputation for exceptionalism in Washington,” Scharlau said.
Kevin Corliss, vice president of viticulture at Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville, the state’s largest winery, said new-acreage planting is tapering as the industry nears balance. Vineyards approximately 40 years old are being replanted with second-generation vines with more care to put the right varieties in the right areas according to temperature, he said. Multiple clones of each variety give vintners subtle flavor differences with which to work, he said.
The 2017 acreage breaks down at 35,852 acres of red wine grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates with 18,608 acres. Merlot follows at 9,071 and Syrah at 4,572.
There are 19,593 acres of white wine grapes, with Chardonnay leading at 7,782, closely trailed by White Riesling at 6,695.
Cabernet Sauvignon acreage has grown the most of any red or white variety in the past six years, up 80.7 percent from 10,293 acres.
“That’s been an area of the market that’s very strong. We grow great Cabernet in Washington,” Corliss said.
It needs a long, warm season free of frost and has propelled much of the large growth in the Horse Heaven Hills American Viticultural Area, he said. Horse Heaven Hills acreage has grown by 40.8 percent since 2011.
Chenin Blanc acreage has fallen from 600 acres in 1993 to the current 67. Semillon has fallen from 700 acres to 235 during the same period. Those are “pioneering varieties” whose “time is past” but still make some great wines, Corliss said.
By AVA, Yakima Valley leads at 15,963 acres followed by Horse Heaven Hills at 14,909, Wahluke Slope at 8,045, Columbia Valley at 8,010, Red Mountain at 1,885, Rattlesnake Hills at 1,807, Walla Walla Valley at 1,645, Snipes Mountain at 749, Columbia Gorge at 355, Lake Chelan at 264, Puget Sound at 102 and Naches Heights at 45.
The 2017 report shows an average density of 963 vines per acre compared to 898 in 2011.
The state produced 270,000 tons of wine grapes in 2016. The 2017 crop is estimated at 260,000 tons.
The state also has 21,632 acres of juice grapes, down 17.3 percent from 26,169 acres in 2011. Concord is tops at 20,601 acres and Niagara is 1,031 acres. There’s a total of 15.3 million vines at 712 per acre, down from 18.9 million vines at 722 an acre six years ago.