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The red state of Washington wine

Monday, March 26, 2018

If we go back to the beginning of Washington’s modern day wine industry, the state was believed to be too cool to successfully grow many red grape varieties. Indeed, it is for this reason, that cooler climate offerings like Riesling became so prominent in the state. However, with Washington now producing an abundance of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and numerous other red varieties, it’s clear the state is very much capable of growing top quality red wine grapes.

While over time, red grape production has grown larger and larger, white varieties, led by Riesling and Chardonnay, still continued to pace production. Then in 2012, red production for the first time pulled ahead of white production, by a scant 1,000 tons out of 188,000 tons harvested. That gap widened to 34,000 tons in 2017, with red varieties now making up 57.5% of production. Though there’s the caveat that white production was down in 2017, Washington’s grape production, led by Cabernet Sauvignon, is becoming more and more red.

The numbers are even more tilted looking at wines I sampled in 2017. A full 75.25% of those wines were red wines (21.54% were whites; 3.21% were rosés out of 1,588 wines sampled). What this indicates to me, which squares with my experience, is that, while the state produces an abundance of white wines, the bulk of those wines in terms of production come from larger producers. That is to say, there are fewer individual offerings of white wines, but some of them are made in higher volume.

What does all this mean? It means that Washington has squarely become red wine country. Don’t get me wrong, white varieties can very much succeed here, and I taste numerous high quality white wines from Washington each year. But red wine is increasingly where the action is. And the state is only going to get redder in the years to come.

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1 Responses to The red state of Washington wine

  1. PaulG Says:
  2. Interesting analysis. Red wines are more expensive to produce (later releases, barrel costs, etc.) but white wines are more difficult to do well. In terms of a global reputation, unless you're Champagne, your standard-bearer had best be red. The downside here, especially for small producers, is a lot of competition at very high prices. White wines can be sold quickly at lower, more competitive prices.

     

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