Wineries drink up crop
High production absorbed by increasing sales
By DAN WHEAT
Washington produced a record-high 160,000 tons of winegrapes in 2010, but industry leaders say there's no major oversupply.
Large wineries bought up unclaimed fruit and state wine sales increased almost 6 percent in 2010, which probably means the 3 percent increase in grapes was absorbed, said Ryan Pennington, spokesman for the Washington Wine Commission in Seattle.
The record winegrape volume was reported Jan. 21 by the Washington state office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Washington is second only to California in U.S. wine production. California produced 3.3 million tons of winegrapes in 2010, the NASS report states. Of all grape types, California produced 6.1 million tons, Washington 336,000 and Oregon 40,000.
A Thanksgiving cold snap damaged vineyards enough to prevent 2011 from being another record year, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers in Cashmere.
Most growers plant new vineyards only if they have contracts for the grapes, Scharlau said.
"You have a place to send the grapes or you have bird food," she said. "Without a strong relationship with a winery, a grower is planting blind."
There are bubbles of oversupply from year to year, depending on marketing, loss of contracts and weather, Scharlau said.
Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards for Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, said it's hard to simplify the supply story. There are excesses within certain tiers or prices within varieties, he said. Ste. Michelle is the state's largest winery, using about 60 percent of the state's winegrapes.
Pennington said he thinks the industry will continue to work its way through supply and demand issues in a positive way.
"I think the economy has bottomed out and sales will be up in 2011," he said. "We still have more wineries coming in so there is demand for existing fruit."
There are more than 700 wineries in Washington, which is almost double five years ago, he said.
Of Washington's top four varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon showed the largest increase, up 16 percent, NASS reported. Malbec received the highest price per ton at $1,540 and growers received an average of $1,040 per ton for all varieties in 2010, up $51 from a year ago and $10 per ton higher than the previous record of $1,030 set in 2008.
Production of red and white varieties was almost evenly split in 2010. Production of white varieties decreased 6 percent from the prior year while red varieties increased 13 percent. White Riesling was the top variety grown in the state at 33,500 tons, 21 percent of total state production. Cabernet Sauvignon ranked second at 31,900 tons. Chardonnay was third at 28,600 tons and Merlon was fourth at 28,300 tons.
Washington produces about 10 million to 12 million cases of wine annually, Oregon 2 million and California about 237 million.