In Our View: Here’s a Toast to Wineries!

Statewide, industry has shown dramatic growth even in tough economy

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The collective wisdom of Washington state’s wine producers can be crushed down to just a three-word inquiry: What economic recession?Since 2007, the annual contribution by Washington wineries to the state economy has almost tripled, from $3 billion to $8.6 billion.

In 33 of the state’s 39 counties, there now are 350 registered vineyards and 739 licensed wineries, supporting almost 30,000 jobs. Grapes are grown on more than 44,000 acres. By making more than 11 million cases of wine per year, Washington wine producers rank No. 2 among states, trailing only California.

Over the past five years, what industry wouldn’t love to have experienced that kind of growth and posted those kinds of statistics? Certainly warrants a rousing toast, don’t you think?

This bubbly success story was described in a report released this week by the Washington State Wine Commission. And in the midst of brutal economic burdens descending upon most sectors of Washington’s business landscape since 2007, the state’s wine industry soothingly reminds us that the economy is not all bad.

Washingtonians are even starting to develop a bit of a strut when it comes to growing grapes and making wine. Last year on a trade mission to Europe, Gov. Chris Gregoire was asked about California’s No. 1 ranking among wine-producing states. “They make jug wine. We make fine wine,” she proclaimed dauntlessly.

With that same air of confidence, Gregoire on Monday signed a bill that directed $5 million from the state toward a Wine Science Center in Richland. That kind of spending by the state might elicit howls of protest from some who follow the Legislature. But when you consider that the wine industry annually churns out $237 million in tax revenues for the state, the state’s commitment toward the center in Richland seems more than justified.

And there are other impressive numbers in the box score. In 2010, Washington winery revenue exceeded $1 billion. A total of almost $1.2 billion in wages was generated. Top-producing counties are King (home of winery-rich Woodinville), Benton (the Tri-Cities area), Yakima, Walla Walla, Grant (Ephrata) and Chelan (Wenatchee).

The wine industry’s growth likely will continue. The report released by the commission lists several ways to increase production and sales. Smaller wineries could bolster marketing strategies. Sales in other states could be increased to snare more than the current 3 percent to 5 percent of the U.S. wine market. (Most of the state’s wine is sold in the Northwest, and 35 percent is sold within the state.) The commission also wants to develop “a coherent national reputation, especially at the consumer level.” That’s a challenge with so many small brands and such a vast diversity of wines.

And here’s the best news: Imagine how Washington wineries could grow even more if and when a national economic recovery kicks in!

Clark County wineries

Eleven local wineries are listed by http://www.clarkcountywine.com, including four each in Ridgefield and Vancouver and three in Battle Ground.

Three events on the website include a Memorial Day Weekend Tour (May 26-28), a Thanksgiving Food Pairing Tour (Nov. 23-25) and a Valentine’s Wine and Chocolate Tour (Feb. 15-16, 2013).

Visit the website for a map of local wineries and links to the wine producers’ websites.