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Washington winegrapes rebound

Tonnage hits new high after slipping to 142,000 in 2011


Capital Press

PROSSER, Wash. -- Washington winegrapes rebounded faster than expected from the pre-Thanksgiving Day freeze of 2010.

The state's vineyards produced 188,000 tons in 2012, up 32 percent from the prior year, according to a new report from the Washington field office of USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Tonnage reached the new high after slipping to 142,000 in 2011 from the prior high of 160,000 in 2010, according to NASS.

The postharvest, pre-Thanksgiving Day freeze of 2010 and lack of heat in the summer of 2011 caused the dip in 2011 tonnage, Wade Wolfe, winemaker for Thurston Wolfe Winery of Prosser, told growers at last year's annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. At that time, he said, volume might not return to normal until the 2013 crop because buds for the 2012 crop might have been damaged by the freeze and cool summer.

In looking at the latest NASS report, Wolfe said the increase is probably due to recently planted acreage coming into production and some recovery from the freeze.

"This year some blocks were back to 100 percent and some still had reduced fruitfulness from the cool of 2011," he said.

Areas of the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills were not back up to 100 percent yields, he said. Buds didn't set as many clusters in 2012 because of the cool summer of 2011, he said.

Wolfe, who reviews the last growing season and crop at each annual meeting, noted that the 188,000 tons for 2012 is 9,000 tons less than the forecast of 197,342 tons the association released July 30. He said various factors can play into the difference. The tonnage is used to calculate grower assessments that fund the Washington Wine Commission.

Overall production of red varieties was up 48 percent in 2012 compared with a 19 percent increase in whites, NASS said.

That's not too surprising, Wolfe said, since reds are more winter-sensitive and were more impacted by the freeze.

Of the top four producing varieties, Merlot showed the most increase, up 58 percent from 2011, NASS said.

Growers received an average of $1,040 per ton for all varieties in 2012, up $53 from 2011 and equal to the price in 2010, NASS said. The $1,040 is preliminary and subject to a July revision.

Wolfe said he is skeptical of NASS prices because data do not include value of fruit grown by a winery for its own use, only grapes that are sold.

Of all published varieties, Petit Verdot received the highest price per ton at $1,585, NASS said. White varieties in 2011 accounted for 55 percent of total production and dropped to 50 percent in 2012. Chardonnay was the top producing variety at 36,900 tons and 20 percent of the total. White Riesling was a close second at 36,700 tons, Cabernet Sauvignon was third at 35,900 and Merlot was fourth at 34,900 tons.


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