SEATTLE – As predicted last fall, Washington’s wine grape crop fell short of record numbers, according to the annual harvest report released this week by the Washington State Wine Commission.
The total crushed last fall added up to 227,000 tons, down 16 percent from the 2016 vintage, when winemakers crushed a record 270,000 tons. Even so, the 2017 harvest equaled 2014 as the second-largest ever.
Leading the way was Cabernet Sauvignon, which weighed in at 62,200 tons. The noble red variety has led the way in Washington for the past three years, and continues to, but appears to have reached its zenith.
Growers across the state pointed to last year’s harsh winter as one reason for the lower crop size.
Wade Wolfe, owner/winemaker of Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser, heard of temperatures reaching as low as minus-14 in areas, damaging buds and reducing not only the number of clusters but also the size.
Dick Boushey, who farms his vineyard in the Yakima Valley, as well as several on Red Mountain, pointed out the wet winter and spring also led to mildew pressure, damaging mostly white varieties. He observed this to be a widespread problem.
He also pointed out with the record size of the 2016 vintage that many wineries have the inventory to cover most shortfalls.
Riesling fell to 33,000 tons from 41,300. This is widely viewed as a market correction by Chateau Ste. Michelle, the world’s largest Riesling producer.
Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards for Ste Michelle, said upwards of 200 acres of Riesling got grafted to different varieties, and some fruit was lost to mildew. He said one Riesling vineyard was pulled out because it wasn’t planted in a less-than-optimal spot. He said this is a reflection of the marketplace, and he feels the tonnage is more in balance with marketplace projections.
He also expects Cabernet Sauvignon to keep building momentum as new plantings come online this fall.
Wolfe said he is pleased with the quality of his 2017 wines so far. Even with the smaller crop, he had no issues getting all the fruit he needed.
Boushey said his client winemakers are thrilled with the quality and balance of their wines.
“I think I picked some of my best fruit ever last fall,” he said.