Washington wine grapes down 11 percent
Updated: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 12:08 PM
By DAN WHEAT
Washington wine grape growers lost about $27 million in tonnage in 2011 but it wasn't the worst year in recent memory, says a former chairman of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.
Freezes reduced the crop 30 percent in 2004 and 1996, said Wade Wolfe, past chairman and a Prosser winemaker who tracks industry crops.
Washington produced 142,000 tons of wine grapes in 2011, down 11 percent from the prior year, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Service report issued Feb. 23.
The report was one month late mainly due to budget cuts but also to a first-time joint tonnage survey by NASS and the Washington Wine Commission, said David Knopf, director of the Washington field office of NASS.
Production of red varieties was down 20 percent and whites were down 2 percent. Whites dominated at 55 percent of the total tonnage. Of the top four varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, a red, showed the largest decrease -- 28 percent from 2010.
White Riesling was the top variety in production at 31,700 tons or 22 percent of the total. Chardonnay was second at 28,500 tons or 20 percent. Cabernet Sauvignon was third at 23,100 tons and 16 percent. Merlot ranked fourth at 21,900 tons and 15 percent.
Growers received an average of $987 per ton for all varieties in 2011, down $53 a ton from 2010, the report stated. Growers made about $140 million off the 142,000 tons.
The drop in tonnage was due to the Nov. 23, 2010, freeze, Wolfe said. Reds were hit harder than whites because they are more sensitive to freezes and were in areas where temperatures dropped the lowest, Wolfe said. That included Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope, he said.
Cabernet Sauvignon is heavily produced in the Horse Heaven Hills and areas affected by the freeze, he said.
The industry has seen $50 swings in returns per ton before but combined with reduced yields the decline in dollars per ton was a big deal, Wolfe said.
White Riesling was No. 1 in tonnage in 2011, 2010 and 2008.
White Riesling led the industry years ago but fell behind in the late 1980s and through the 1990s due to soft prices, Wolfe said.
"Thousands of acres of whites were pulled out and replanted to reds," Wolfe said. "Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay dominated for many years. Now White Riesling is coming back. We're kind of returning to our roots. I think it's good because we make the best Riesling in the world."