Good Fruit Grower

February 2013

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Signs of GROWTH I f you've not seen the many new vineyards being planted recently, there are plenty of other signs indicating growth in Washington's wine industry. Grape nurseries have been reporting short supplies of planting material for more than a year, sales of stainless steel tanks are booming, wineries are offering grape contracts, and statewide and national wine sales continue to increase. There's definitely momentum in the growth of Washington State's wine category, says Rob Mercer of Mercer Estates Winery in Prosser. "It's slower than the last growth spurt but very steady," said Mercer, who's part of a fourthgeneration family farming operation in Horse Heaven Hills that planted some of the state's first wine grape vineyards in 1972. Growth on the planting side is in response to a steady growth in sales of Washington wine, he said. "But growth this time is based on solid, realistic sales and sales projections, not speculation." by Melissa Hansen The Mercer family is expanding its acreage. "We grow primarily for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and have been planting primarily for Ste. Michelle, but we're also increasing for our own winery as well," Mercer said. "We've had 10 percent or more of continued growth at Mercer Estates and see growth continuing as we pursue new marketing channels and retail outlets for our wines." Washington State's wine industry is in a growth phase. Right sites In the Horse Heaven Hills—a warm region known for some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the state—growers are planting primarily PHOTO BY GERAlDINE WARNER Viticulture Spanish Castle Vineyard is located along Highway 28 near Rock Island Dam and was planted last spring by Jerry and Ryan Flanagan. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and some Syrah. The Syrah and Merlot are used more for blending. "I'm seeing a push for planting, but it's for planting in the right sites," he said. "The industry has learned from past lessons, when planting was often in locations that weren't the best for some varieties." Although availability of land in Washington is not an issue, competition for that land is. Competition for open ground is as strong as it's been in decades. "With so many crops across the board doing well right now, there's a lot of pressure on ground," said Mercer. It seems everyone is looking for more ground, from apple and cherry growers to corn, hay, and dairy farmers. Even California wine grape growers and wineries are eyeing the relatively inexpensive land costs in Washington ($10,000 per acre in the Columbia Basin compared to established vineyard prices of up to $100,000 in Napa Valley) as they consider future growth and the possibility of locating in Washington. Keeping up Butch Milbrandt agrees that the industry is in a growth spurt. Sales of Washington wines are doing very well, according to Butch, who is co-owner with his brother Jerry in Milbrandt Vineyards. Butch noted that Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has been showing annual growth of between 6 and 9 percent, while Milbrandt Vineyards has posted growth of 20 percent or more for each of the last five years. The Milbrandt brothers planted their first grapes in 1997 near Mattawa, growing mostly for Ste. Michelle. They launched their own winery in 2005, building a custom-crush winery called Wahluke Wine Company and started the Milbrandt Vineyards label in 2007. Annual production is around 50,000 cases, and the brothers farm more than 2,000 acres of SALES ARE STRONG in wine-related industries PHOTO BY MElISSA HANSEN S ales of grape nursery stock and wine equipment are one way to gauge growth of Washington's wine industry. Demand for grape planting stock hasn't let up the last two years and is still as hot as ever, says Kevin Judkins of Inland Desert Nursery, a major grape nursery in Washington. Last year, the company sold out of Syrah and Merlot. Going into 2013, supplies of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are tight, he said, adding that growers need to plan ahead and secure material in advance of planting or they might have to settle for uncertified stock, lower grades of material, or greenhouse vines. Judkins is still fielding calls from California nurseries desperately looking for planting material to supply a grape planting boom that's going on in California. The Benton City nursery recently added another sales representative, Ryan Wells, to help keep up with growing business. Wells was grower relations manager at Ascentia Wine Estates, purchased last summer by the E. & J. Gallo Wine Company. On the winery side, sales have been strong at Spokane Industries, a Spokane Valley manfacturer of stainless steel tanks used in wineries and microbreweries. Greg Tenold, president of Spokane Industries, told Good Fruit Grower that business is thriving and the company is projecting a 50 percent increase in tank sales in the coming year over 2012—and that year was one of their best as they sold tanks for fermentation and storage to wineries who needed more tank capacity to process the state's largest crop ever. Spokane Industries makes tanks in all sizes, from 500 to 32,000 gallons. The company recently expanded its facility and will be able to manufacture tanks with capacities of up to 40,000 gallons. —M. Hansen Kevin Judkins of Inland Desert Nursery explains greenhouse propagation. 18 FEBRUARY 1, 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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