By DAN WHEAT
ROCK ISLAND, Wash. -- You round a corner northbound on Highway 28, halfway between Quincy and Rock Island, and at first glance you think you're in a national cemetery.
It looks like an ocean of tombstones. But it's orange juice cartons placed around wine grape vines newly planted on an 8-by-6-foot grid as far as the eye can see.
The cartons protect the fledgling vines from wind which can be strong in the canyon along the Columbia River.
This is Spanish Castle Vineyard on 180 acres of what was previously Spanish Castle Orchard but is now owned by Milbrandt Vineyards and Ryan and Wendy Flanagan. He is vineyard manager of northern holdings of the Wahluke Wine Co. and Milbrandt Vineyards of Mattawa.
Workers are wrapping up two months of planting. Flanagan believes it's a good site based on temperature, frost and other weather data from a Washington State University AgWeatherNet station just a few miles north at the WSU Sunrise (research) Orchard.
The vineyard is just part of the company's "significant" investment this year in new vineyards totaling 300 acres, Flanagan said. The other new sites are to the south at the Gorge and George and near Mattawa.
Market demand is driving the expansion and other large wine companies in the state are planting more wine grapes but not equal to the "massive jumps" of 1996 and 2000, Flanagan said.
He noted the state's wine industry, second only to California in the nation, gained attention a month ago when E. & J. Gallo Winery, of California and the world's largest privately owned winery, bought Columbia Winery and Covey Run Wine in Washington.
Syrah and Chardonnay have been planted at Spanish Castle Vineyard. Trellis work will be finished this summer. Young vines will be trained late this season and next spring. The first crop may come in 2014.