Momentum for Oregon’s wine industry continued to build in 2018, with across-the-board growth in production, value and sales, according to a new industry report.
The Oregon Wine Board has released its annual Vineyard and Winery Report, conducted by the University of Oregon Institute for Policy Research and Engagement.
It shows the state added 24 new wineries last year — including 16 in the South Willamette Valley — up to 793 total. Grape growers also planted nearly 2,000 more acres of vineyards, up to 35,972.
Overall production jumped from 91,342 tons of winegrapes in 2017 to 100,133 tons in 2018 — a 9.6% gain. While the average price per ton was down slightly, the estimated value still managed to top $200 million for the first time ever, at $208.7 million.
Tom Danowski, president of the Oregon Wine Board, pointed to increasing recognition and demand for high-quality Oregon wines.
“Visit any winery or vineyard now in the midst of harvest, and it’s easy to see the skills, experience and extra effort from winemakers, vineyard managers, growers, tasting room staff and everyone involved in the process of crafting Oregon wines,” Danowski said in a statement.
Pinot noir remains king in Oregon, accounting for 57% of planted acreage and 59% of winegrape production, but several other varieties are gaining ground. Merlot added 116 acres, or 26% over 2017. Cabernet Sauvignon added 272 acres, or 25%, and Syrah added 282 acres, or 21%.
The vast majority, about 56%, of Oregon winegrapes are in the North Willamette Valley, though the fastest rate of growth is in the Rogue and Umpqua valleys in Southern Oregon.
Steve Renquist, extension agent for Oregon State University in Douglas County, said the bulk of newly planted acres in the Umpqua Valley do not appear to be coming from new growers, but rather existing businesses that are expanding their capacity.
The Umpqua Valley may be appealing to growers, Renquist said, because land prices are roughly half what they are in Willamette Valley.
“People who want to develop more vineyards go to where the land is most affordable,” Renquist said.
Sales of Oregon wine are also increasing in just about every category, including domestic sales, export and direct to consumer. Winemakers sold 4.15 million total cases in 2018, up 15% from 3.6 million cases in 2017.
In-state sales rose by 71,030 cases, while national sales excluding Oregon grew by 333,467 cases. Exports, meanwhile, jumped by 10,126 cases, sold mostly to Canada and emerging markets in Mexico, Scandinavia, Hong Kong and China.
Sally Murdoch, spokeswoman for the wine board, said the numbers show the Oregon wine industry is still on a growth curve.
“It feels like it’s sustainable, this growth,” Murdoch said. “The more we’re talking outside the state, the more we’re growing our base ... We’ve had a couple good years getting our name out there.”
Oregon represents just 1% of all wine produced in the U.S., which Murdoch said makes the industry “a small fish in a very big pond.” The challenge will be maintaining a presence in the crowded market.
“Our challenge is to really push the Oregon brand name out there,” she said.