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Washington Wine Industry Fills Tanks to Capacity

March 2017
by Peter Mitham

Kennewick, Wash.—With its latest crop in the range of 300,000 processed tons, leaders of the Washington state wine industry gathered in Kennewick last month looking to a future that could see vintners sending more wine into an unpredictable world.

With wine consumption up across the board and few of the key global wine regions with excess juice, Washington’s rising production of premium wines offers the right mix of richness and fruit to satisfy the world’s palate.

“Right now, inventory is much more of an asset for people,” said Steve Fredricks, president of Turrentine Brokerage, summarizing the industry for growers.

Judging by comments in Kennewick, Washington has plenty of inventory. Capacity at many wineries maxed out this year, with more than a few clusters left to hang on the vine for want of tank space—suggesting the state could have recorded a much larger harvest if space allowed.

Whether or not Washington wines will reach the world is another question.
The new administration’s trade policies are creating uncertainty for many exporters, with vintners among those potentially affected by the renegotiation of trade deals with Mexico, Canada and the possible negotiation of one-off deals with nations such as the UK.

Derek Sandison, director of the Washington Department of Agriculture, told convention attendees that federal trade policies promise to have the biggest impact on Washington producers, including grapegrowers, whose work supports $8 billion in crop exports each year.

Participants braved winter conditions unprecedented for anyone under the age of 50 (and even a few older hands).

Recapping the 2016 vintage, Wade Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser—now entering his 40th vintage in the state—told growers that he hadn’t seen such a cold, hard winter since 1978. The period from Dec. 1 through Jan. 31 was 14° F below average, with four zero-degree events.

A couple of hours after Wolfe finished speaking, more snow fell, cooling the heels of vineyard managers eager to start pruning. Some larger growers had started pruning vines in order to keep on top of work, while others ventured forth with a few trial cuttings to gauge the extent of winter damage.

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