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Winemaker's Journal — Record crop

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The official numbers aren't in yet from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but state wine grape officials are estimating the past crop at a record crushing 218,000 tons. Washington's previous record crop was 188,000 tons harvested in 2012, which was 32 percent larger than the previous year.

The increase is largely due to new vineyards that were planted in recent years and are now coming into production, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, based in Cashmere.

Washington is the nation's second leading wine grape and wine producing state, behind California. The economic impact of the state's 2011 wine production is estimated at $8.6 billion, according to the Washington State Wine Commission.

Scharlau said vintners were expecting a large crop after summer estimates put the crop at 213,000 tons while the grapes were still on the vine. The new estimates are based on actual tonnage of the grapes as they came into the winery crush pads and should be much more accurate. The numbers show the crop to be even larger than expected and larger than any Washington crop before. The trend of larger crops each year is the result of continued planting to keep pace with wine industry demand and public demand as more Americans discover wine, Scharlau said.

"Ste. Michelle expects growth every year," she said. The state's largest wine producer by far, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates hopes to see wine grape acreage grow by about 10,000 acres in next couple of years. Washington now has about 43,000 acres of vineyards.

Many large growers are getting contracts for bigger crops each year and not just from Ste. Michelle, Scharlau said. Other large wineries from California and elsewhere are getting into the act. The increased demand and guaranteed contracts encourages farmers to replant land that may have been planted to riskier crops.

One thing that could slow the wine boom down is the early December cold snap that sent temperatures plunging close to zero. Scharlau said it's too soon to know if there will be any damage to crop or vines from the cold.

"I haven't heard anything yet. I don't think anyone will really know for sure until spring," she said.

One thing that is known is that wine made from the 2013 crop will be the best in many years. Growing conditions provided by a hot spring and summer followed by a cool, long ripening fall were near perfect.

"Look for some good things in the bottle from this year," Scharlau said.