Washington's 2013 wine grape harvest sets record

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KENNEWICK — A record 210,000 tons of wine grapes were harvested last year in Washington, an increase of 12 percent from the previous year's record harvest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Cabernet sauvignon was the top variety in the state, with 42,600 tons harvested, the USDA said. Second was chardonnay with 40,500 tons. White riesling was third at 40,200 tons, while merlot was fourth at 36,000 tons, the Tri-City Herald reported Tuesday.

All of the top four varieties increased production over 2012.

The record production is no surprise, since Washington's wine industry is in a growth mode, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

Increased production can't happen without more vines being planted and current vines reaching full production, she said. Washington, with about 800 licensed wineries, is the second-largest U.S. producer of premium wines after California.

"Wine grapes are Washington's third most valuable fruit crop, so the continued growth of the industry, as demonstrated in these new numbers, is good news for the entire state," state agriculture director Bud Hover said.

"A robust wine industry means more jobs, more revenue and let's not forget the recognition that comes from having many award-winning wineries right here in Washington," he said.

The wine industry's economic impact in Washington was estimated at $8.6 billion in 2011, according to the state wine commission. And the value of the state's wine grapes has risen, reaching $1,110 per ton for all varieties last year. That's up 7 percent from the previous year.

Consumer demand is driving the industry to focus on cabernet sauvignon, Scharlau said.

"We do virtually all varieties everywhere," she said. "But cab in certain areas, we are really dialing it in."

Cabernet sauvignon production grew by 19 percent in the state last year, up to 42,600 tons of wine grapes, according to the USDA data. The value of the grapes also increased to an average of $1,440 per ton.

Chardonnay, a white variety, has in general been at the top of the state's production since 1993.

Todd Newhouse, Upland Vineyards general manager, is anticipating continued growth in the production of cabernet sauvignon in the next five years.

Production of red varieties surpassed white varieties for the second year in a row, according to the USDA.