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'17 Tour Guide

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Grape production in Washington was down 16% in 2017, with 227,000 tons produced. This is compared to a record 270,000 tons in 2016.

Cabernet Sauvignon led the way at 62,000 tons, representing 27% of total tonnage. While Cabernet tonnage was down from 2016’s outrageous number of 71,100 - which represented a 50% (!) increase from the previous year - the 2017 numbers were still well above the 47,400 tons produced in 2015. This indicates that the apparent surge in Cabernet Sauvignon production in Washington is real. That is to say, 2016 was not a complete outlier for production of this variety, unless of course 2017 is too.

Most of the 2017 red grape numbers were well aligned with the numbers from 2013-2015. One exception was Syrah, where production in 2017 was closer to the record harvest of 2016. Does this represent growth in production of Syrah? Time will tell. To the extent this is occurring, it might be due to the popularity of the red blend category more than an increase in demand for Washington Syrah itself.

Putting 2016 numbers aside, Grenache and Mourvèdre showed modest growth from 2015, though overall tonnage numbers were exceedingly low. Malbec, meanwhile, has shown continuous growth since 2010. This is the only variety where this has been the case, though, again, production numbers were extremely small.

Chardonnay was the state’s second most produced variety at 39,300 tons followed by Riesling (33,000) and Merlot (32,700). Syrah (20,800) rounded out the top five.

Notably, white grape production was down significantly in 2017, at 96,500 tons. In contrast, production has been in excess of 103,000 tons ever since 2013 and has been as high as 119,300 tons in recent years (2014).

Riesling production showed the largest drop-off. Notably, this marked the third straight year Riesling production has decreased. Chardonnay also showed a significant dip from recent numbers. Some of the decrease in white grape production is likely the result of significant powdery mildew issues – unusual for the state – which occurred due to the cool, wet spring in 2017.

Should there be concern about the overall decrease in production in 2017? No. While we are used to seeing continuous growth in the Washington wine industry, the drop off from 2016 to 2017 doesn’t come as a surprise. Cluster sizes and cluster weights were well above average in 2016, leading to the historic harvest (read a harvest report here). 2017 was going to be a smaller harvest before a single bud broke. Quite simply, 2016 was an outlier in terms of production whereas 2017 was more aligned with recent vintages.

What is interesting to see, however, is the overall trend. With the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon, and to a much lesser extent Syrah, production for most other varieties has been fairly static in recent years (again, throwing out 2016 numbers). Is the state currently at a plateau for non-Cabernet varieties?

Additionally, 2017s overall production numbers (227,000 tons) were closely aligned with recent reports from 2015 (222,000 tons) and 2014 (227,000 tons). This again might seem to indicate a slowing or perhaps even a stoppage of overall growth. However, if white grape tonnage hadn’t shown such a significant decrease in 2017 and that tonnage were more aligned with recent averages, the state would have shown modest growth. Still, most of the growth is unquestionably coming from Cabernet Sauvignon. As I’ve written on a number of occasions previously, Washington is increasingly becoming Cabernet country.

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