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Winemaker's Journal — Big wineries getting bigger

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Columbia River's Edge Winery was one of Washington's biggest wine producers last year. This year's production will be be bigger yet, says Victor Palencia, the Mattawa bulk winery's head winemaker. Harvest of the state's record wine grape crop gets rolling in early September and continues into October.

Also known as J&S Crushing, the winery produced more than 1.9 million gallons of various wines last year from the company's own vineyards and others mainly in the Wahluke Slope AVA. The winery is owned by Jack Jones of Wenatchee and Dick Shaw, who lives in the Puget Sound area. The two families own more than two thousand of acres of vineyard on the Wahluke Slope.

The Puget Sound Business Journal put the winery's production at fourth in the state, behind Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (8 million gallons) in Patterson, Coventry Vale Winery 4.3 million gallons) in Grandview and Hogue Cellars 2.6 million gallons in Prosser.

Fifth on the list was Wahluke Wine Co. with 1.8 million gallons. Wahluke Wine Co. is owned by Butch and Jerry Milbrandt, who make Milbrandt Vineyards and Ryan Patrick wines as well as many others at their custom crush facility located a few miles from Columbia Rivers  Edge.

The journal also named Wahluke Wine Co. number seven on a separate list of the state's top 10 wineries. The company sold nearly 322,000 gallons of wine under its own labels in 2012. Co-owner Butch Milbrandt said the company will use more of its production in the future for its own wines.

The production numbers are for 2012 and taken from the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

Columbia Rivers Edge sells most of their wines to Ste. Michelle Estates, Columbia Crest and other wineries. Palenicia also makes the Jones family's own private label Jones of Washington wines there. Shaw is getting ready to release an ultra premium wine made at the plant. Palencia is also making wines for his own labels.

Palencia said Columbia Rivers Edge has grown much larger in the past year. He expects to make more than 3.3 million gallons this year. Added together, Rivers Edge and Wahluke Wine Co. expect to produce more than 6 million gallons of wine this year.

"It's a lot of solid grape-driven wine and it elevates the whole state," Palencia said. As the winery grows larger it can add new technology and new equipment that takes winemaking to the next level, he said.

The growth impacts the wine industry at every level creating work for machinery fabricators, wine distributors and advancing knowledge and technique for other wineries that increase business for other wine-related businesses, he said.

"It's definitely an economy of scale. It's advanced, but it still comes down to art and how you run the machinery. You still have to craft great grapes into great tasting wine," he said.