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Winegrapes may set record


Washington crop could reach 170,000 tons; acreage, value continue to grow


By DAN WHEAT


Capital Press


Washington winegrapes may well bounce back with record tonnage this fall after recent years of cool weather and freeze damage, a leading vintner says.


"So far looking at my grapes, I would say they probably will be more fruitful than I originally thought," said Wade Wolfe, winemaker at Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser and past chairman of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.


When Wolfe spoke at the association's annual meeting in February he said it might be another year before winegrapes returned to normal volume because buds for each year's crop start the year before.


The 2012 crop potentially would remain light, he said, because its buds that started in the summer of 2011 didn't get the light and temperature they needed.


The state produced 142,000 tons of winegrapes in 2011, down from 160,000 tons in 2010 and 156,000 in 2009, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.


Wolfe now says severely injured vineyards seem to be recovering nicely and that, with new acreage coming into production, the state may see 170,000 tons this year.


The association will estimate the volume in early August based on assessments by major growers and wineries.


Winegrapes in Washington's earliest regions -- Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope -- are getting close to bloom, said Ryan Flanagan, a vineyard manager for Milbrandt Vineyards of Mattawa.


Crews have been busy clipping sucker growth from vine trunks at the company's vineyards. The goal is to develop the canopy on the cordons (vine arms) on trellis wires. Too much sucker growth on trunks saps strength from the cordons. Excess growth on the cordons also is removed.


Workers train newer plants onto trellises. Irrigation and fertilizer is critical to reaching the right balance of canopies, Flanagan said.


Grape clusters are thinned in July.


Flanagan also said the upcoming crop looks solid and said he's busy planting 180 acres of new vineyard at the old Spanish Castle orchard between Quincy and Wenatchee, 180 acres in the company's Evergreen Vineyard near George and 40 acres just north of Mattawa.


Washington has 43,000 acres of vineyards. Wolfe said it's still growing by a couple of thousand acres annually, partly because California has taken out acreage and is forecasting a winegrape shortage.


It typically takes three years for a new vineyard to produce its first crop and five to six years to reach full production, Wolfe said.


A new study for the Washington Wine Commission, released one month ago, shows the value of Washington wine up $8.6 billion over five years ago and $14.9 billion for the nation.


The Washington wine industry, second only to California, continues to grow at a faster rate than the national industry, the commission said.


The study, done by the Stonebridge Research Group of St. Helena, Calif., said the industry generates more than $237 million annually in tax revenues for the state and pays nearly $1.4 billion annually in taxes across the country.




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