Washington winemakers are seeing red after the 2012 harvest.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics released Friday afternoon, Washington crushed 188,000 tons of wine grapes last fall, easily surpassing 2010’s record of 160,000 tons. And for the first time in the state’s history, red wine grapes surpassed white grapes in total tonnage.
Washington is the second-largest wine-producing state after California, which typically crushes more than 3 million tons of wine grapes per year.
Washington’s 2012 total was a 32 percent increase over 2011. However, 2011 was a difficult vintage because of winter damage to vines. Compared with 2010, the 2012 crop was 17.5 percent higher. However, the harvest did not top 200,000 tons, which was one pre-harvest estimate.
“We saw higher tonnages in some varieties,” said Co Dinn, director of winemaking for Hogue Cellars in Prosser. “But in general, our crop estimates were a little higher than what actually came in.”
Chardonnay, Riesling lead way
Leading the way in 2012 was Chardonnay with 36,900 tons, the most ever picked in Washington. It was a 29 percent increase over 2011. Just behind Chardonnay was Riesling at 36,700, a record for that variety. It was nearly 16 percent higher than 2011.
For the reds, Cabernet Sauvignon led with 35,900 tons, a stunning 55 percent increase over the winter-damaged 2011 vintage. Not far behind was Merlot with 34,600 tons. This was the first time Merlot topped 30,000 tons in Washington, and it was a 58 percent increase over 2011.
“Cab is king,” said Doug Gore, executive vice president for winemaking, viticulture and production at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “It continues to chug along at a good clip. But with all the wringing of hands about Merlot, it’s an important grape. It works well alone, and it works well in blends.”
Gore pointed out that while there are about 1,500 more acres of Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot in the Columbia Valley, Merlot vines are able to carry bigger crop loads, which is why they ended up nearly even in tonnage.
Syrah also continued to grow, with 11,800 tons harvested, the most ever in Washington.
“Syrah is volatile,” Dinn said about sale of the red wine. “We see spurts of interest that are heavily dependent on scores. If our Syrah gets a great score, sales shoot up.”
A great – and big – vintage
Gore looks at 2012 as not only the largest harvest in the state’s history, but also among its best – especially after two vintages that were cool and difficult.
“It was an exceptional vintage,” Gore said. “We got everything harvested in a timely manner. ’11 was very compressed,” he said. “We know how to make that work, but we don’t want too many of them back to back.”
Dinn was quick to agree.
“It was what we would expect from a normal year,” he said.
He added that because of the cool vintage, the 2011 wines were higher in acidity and lower in alcohol. In 2012, the wines will generally be a little softer.
“A normal year means good, ripe fruit,” Dinn said. “In 2011, alcohols (for Chardonnay) are in the 12.8% range, while in 2012, they will be around 13.8%.”
Washington wine harvest numbers
Here is how the top varieties looked in Washington in 2012 (in tons):
- Chardonnay: 36,900
- Riesling: 36,700
- Cabernet Sauvignon: 35,900
- Merlot, 34,600
- Syrah: 11,800
- Pinot Gris: 6,400
- Sauvignon Blanc: 5,100
- Gewurztraminer: 3,500
- Cabernet Franc: 3,400
- Viognier: 1,900
- Malbec: 1,800
- Sangiovese: 1,200
- Grenache: 1,000
- Petit Verdot: 1,000
- Semillon: 1,000
- Chenin Blanc: 900
- Mourvedre: 800
- Pinot Noir: 800
- Other reds: 2,200
- Other whites: 1,100
Here are the totals:
- Red: 94,500
- White: 93,500
Prices also were up, matching the 2010 total of an average of $1,040 per ton. Red grapes went for an average of $1,235, while whites sold for $844 per ton. The highest-priced grape in Washington was Petit Verdot, which averaged, $1,585 per ton, just ahead of Mourvedre at $1,555.
Viognier was the only white grape that topped $1,000 per ton, averaging $1,024.