Wash­ing­ton a wine world force

State’s in­dus­try gen­er­ates $2.4B a year in rev­enue

Orlando Sentinel - - WALL STREET REPORT - By Nicholas K. Geran­ios

SPOKANE, Wash. — When Craig and Vicki Leuthold opened the Mary­hill Win­ery in 2001, there were about 100 winer­ies in the state of Wash­ing­ton.

That num­ber has since ex­ploded to more than 1,000 winer­ies this year, and the re­mark­able growth is likely to con­tinue.

Mary­hill Win­ery, just south of the re­mote town of Gold­en­dale, is part of that growth.

It has re­cently opened tast­ing rooms in Spokane and Van­cou­ver, Wash­ing­ton, and is in the process of open­ing a tast­ing room in the Seat­tle sub­urb of Wood­inville.

“Our tim­ing was great,” said Craig Leuthold, whose win­ery pro­duces 60 va­ri­eties. “Wash­ing­ton wine has re­ally in­creased in pop­u­lar­ity.”

Wash­ing­ton has be­come a force in the wine in­dus­try. The state has the na­tion’s sec­ond-high­est num­ber of winer­ies, af­ter Cal­i­for­nia. But Cal­i­for­nia, which has around 3,700 winer­ies, re­mains much big­ger than any­one else in the United States, sell­ing more than $40 bil­lion worth of wine in this coun­try.

Within the U.S., wines from Cal­i­for­nia are the top sellers, fol­lowed by wines from Aus­tralia and Italy. Wash­ing­ton ranks fourth in the sources of wine sold in the U.S., said Steve Warner, pres­i­dent of Wash­ing­ton State Wine, the in­dus­try’s trade group.

“More Wash­ing­ton wine is sold in the United States than French wine,” he said.

The state’s wine in­dus­try gen­er­ates about $2.4 bil­lion a year in rev­enue and con­trib­utes more than $7 bil­lion a year to the state’s econ­omy, Warner said.

Wash­ing­ton’s wines are con­sis­tently top-ranked, he said.

“Wash­ing­ton has a higher per­cent­age of 90rated wines than other top wine-pro­duc­ing re­gions in the world,” Warner said, re­fer­ring to the 100-point scale for rat­ing wines. “We are com­pet­ing against wine re­gions with 28 gen­er­a­tions of wine­mak­ers, who were do­ing it be­fore Amer­ica was a coun­try.”

Most of the in­dus­try’s suc­cess stems from the state’s cli­mate and soils, Warner said. Wine grapes like long sunny days and cool nights, which the vine­yards in the cen­tral and eastern part of the state en­joy.

The area also gets lit­tle rain­fall com­pared with other grape-grow­ing re­gions, which is a plus, he said.

Wash­ing­ton still has plenty of avail­able land at rea­son­able prices in wine coun­try, said Thomas Henick-Kling, di­rec­tor of the oenol­ogy and viticultur­e pro­gram at Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity in Pull­man.

The acreage ded­i­cated to grapes for wine is ex­pand­ing. Twenty years ago, there were 24,000 acres of grapes. To­day there are 59,000 acres of vine­yards.

Wash­ing­ton also has skilled farm­ers and wine­mak­ers, grad­u­ates of wine­mak­ing pro­grams at nu­mer­ous lo­cal col­leges, Henick­Kling said.

There were about 20 winer­ies in 1981. That grew to 100 winer­ies by 2001, just over 500 by 2012 and just over 1,000 now, Warner said. Growth has been av­er­ag­ing more than 70 new winer­ies per year for the past seven years.

Wash­ing­ton’s growth is no sur­prise, as the num­ber of winer­ies and wine con­sump­tion con­tinue to grow in the United States.

“The growth in winer­ies around the coun­try is very ex­cit­ing as wine sales con­tinue to grow, par­tic­u­larly at the pre­mium end,” said Gla­dys Ho­ri­uchi of the Wine In­sti­tute, which rep­re­sents Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies.

Wine ship­ments to the United States from all for­eign and do­mes­tic sources grew 1% in 2018. The Wine In­sti­tute said peo­ple are drink­ing more pre­mium wine, which starts at $8 per bot­tle.

The 1,000th ac­tive li­cense was is­sued to Jens Hansen, owner of Uva Furem win­ery in Maple Val­ley. Hansen re­tired from the Air Force, moved to the Seat­tle area and de­cided to be­come a wine­maker.

“I feel like the Wash­ing­ton wine com­mu­nity is a lot like the Air Force in that ev­ery­one looks out for each other,” Hansen said.

About 70 grape va­ri­eties are grown in Wash­ing­ton, with the most pop­u­lar reds be­ing caber­net sauvi­gnon and mer­lot. Chardon­nay and white ries­ling are the most com­mon whites.

Most of Wash­ing­ton’s winer­ies are fairly small. The own­ers “are pas­sion­ate about wine and work full­time and crush grapes on week­ends,” Warner said.

There are a smaller num­ber of mid­size winer­ies that en­joy na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion, plus a hand­ful of in­dus­try gi­ants like Chateau Ste. Michelle, he said.

More in­vestors from out­side the state are join­ing the in­dus­try, Warner said. It also helps that Wash­ing­ton has long had a lot of wealthy peo­ple who work for com­pa­nies like Boe­ing, Mi­crosoft and Ama­zon and have money to in­vest in the in­dus­try, he said.

Many of the state’s best winer­ies are clus­tered around the old town of Walla Walla, which used to be known pri­mar­ily for sweet onions and as home of the state pen­i­ten­tiary. Now it is home to world­class wine­mak­ers.

Warner ex­pected the strong growth rate to con­tinue.

“The line is not flat­ten­ing,” he said. “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if we get to 2,000.”

One fac­tor that could limit growth is cli­mate change, but Wash­ing­ton also seems for­tu­nate there.

The mighty Columbia River, which ir­ri­gates much of wine coun­try, is pre­dicted to be a sta­ble wa­ter sup­ply for many years to come, Henick-Smith said.

ELAINE THOMP­SON/AP PHO­TOS

Bar­rels of wine are moved into stor­age last month at Chateau Ste. Michelle win­ery in Wood­inville, Wash.

Mike Roh sniffs wine be­fore tast­ing it at Struc­ture Cel­lars wine tast­ing room in Seat­tle, Wash.

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