MATTAWA — Washington wineries and vineyard acreage have been growing as fast as the vines themselves in recent years.
There were 739 wineries and 43,896 acres of wine grape vineyard in the state as of 2011, a recently published report by the Stonebridge Research for the Washington wine industry says.
Go back 30 years and there were about 20 wineries and a couple thousand acres of vineyard.
Butch Milbrandt, co-owner of Milbrandt Vineyards, said he believes vineyard acreage will more than double to 100,000 acres or more in the next several years. A lot of those new acres will be planted in Grant County, where there’s still a lot of room and great grape growing soil and climate, he said.
The increase, he believes, will be driven by larger wineries, but he said there’s still room for people with passion, energy and capital to start new boutique wineries.
The state’s five largest wineries produce about 70 percent of the state’s wine. The next 30 largest wineries produce about 20 percent. The state’s 700 small boutique wineries, meanwhile, account for less than 10 percent of the state’s 11.2 million case wine production last year, according to the wine report.
“It’s a growing industry. Consumption keeps growing. The U.S. is now the largest wine consuming nation in the world and it’s just getting started,” said Milbrandt, who with his brother Jerry, farms about 2,000 acres along the Wahluke Slope near Mattawa and other vineyards near George and Quincy. Longtime Basin farmers, the brothers started planting grapes in 1997 to sell to Ste. Michelle and as many as 50 other small wineries.
The winery also buys grapes from about 30 other growers in the Columbia Basin for its custom crush operation in Mattawa. It sells grapes, juice and wine to about 20 wineries today. The brothers started their own Milbrandt Vineyards label in 2007. Since then, it’s grown from 8,000 cases to 50,000 cases of wine this year.
“We’ve had to cut back on the growers we supply and use more of our grapes for our own wine,” he said.
Vineyard acreage in the state has to grow at least a couple thousand acres a year just to keep up with Chateau Ste. Michelle’s growth, he said. The state’s largest wine producer, Ste. Michelle’s annual growth has been between 7 and 9 percent.
Milbrandt’s own production has grown 20 percent each year since 2007 and 35 percent last year after some of its wines received 90 point ratings by Wine Spectator magazine.
“Those high scores really do sell wine,” he said. The winery is expanding some of their vineyards by about 200 acres as a result. In addition, Jerry Milbrandt is partnering with Ryan Flanagan to plant another 180 acres at the old Spanish Castle orchard site along Highway 28 east of Rock Island Dam.
Flanagan manages vineyards for the Milbrandt family as well as his own family which started Ryan Patrick Vineyards. That winery and its label — but not the vineyards — were bought by the Milbrandts last year.
“There’s certainly demand for more grapes,” said Flanagan, whose family has been growing grapes in the Quincy area since 1996. Some of the world’s largest wine producers have become increasingly interested in Washington grapes, said Flanagan said. “Supply and demand are pretty much in balance right now, but any change can really push the dynamics.”
It takes about three years for new vines to produce a crop and five or six years to reach full production.
E&J Gallo the world’s largest wine producer, recently purchased Columbia and Covey Run, two of Washington’s oldest and largest wineries. Together, those wineries produce about 300,000 cases of wine annually. Gallo is expected to increase that production over time.
Washington wineries produced 11.2 million cases of wine in 2010. It is the second leading wine producing state, far behind California. Grant County, with only 15 wineries, is the second leading wine producing county in the state, turning out more than 6 million gallons last year, according to the Washington Wine Commission.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151