Well folks, 2011 is down to its last few hours. Below is a look back at some of the things that happened this past year in Washington wine. For more on the year that was and the year to come, pick up the Winter Edition of Washington Tasting Room Magazine where I write about trends in 2011 and predictions for 2012.
By far the biggest news of the year was the privatization of liquor sales and changes in wine distribution laws in Washington. Stay tuned as these changes continue to take effect next year.
The Washington wine industry continued to grow in 2011 with over 740 wineries currently bonded in the state. Washington also received its 12th federally approved viticultural area, the Naches Heights AVA.
At the beginning of the year, the USDA announced that Washington reached a record level of grape production in 2010 at 160,000 tons. The state also exceeded 40,000 acres of grapes planted. 2011 numbers will be available in early 2012.
2011 saw a number of changes within the industry. Pacific Rim was sold, as was Betz Family Winery. Meanwhile Precept Wine Brands acquired Canoe Ridge and Sagelands. Trio Vintners also had an ownership change. E.B. Foote was sold in pieces. Additionally, Whitman Cellars was seized by the bank. The industry also saw some consolidation with Odom-Southern purchasing Seattle-based distributor Cavatappi.
The infrastructure for the state’s wine industry also continued to expand. The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center received a federal grant. The Washington Wine Commission committed $7.4M toward a Wine Science Center at WSU.
The Walla Walla Wine Alliance hired a new director, while executive director Robin Pollard of the Washington Wine Commission announced her resignation effective at the end of the year. The Commission hopes to have a new executive director in place near the end of the first quarter.
Washington wines continued to garner attention. Quilceda Creek and Long Shadows wines were served at a White House State Dinner. Treveri Cellars’ sparkling wines were also served at State Department events.
Critically, the accolades continued from the major publications. Washington had 16 wines that received scores of 95 points or higher by critic Harvey Steiman from Wine Spectator – ‘Classic’ in the magazine’s rating scale. This is compared to 17 the previous year. For perspective, a total of 66 Washington wines have ever received a score in this range from the publication, meaning half have occurred in the last two years. This is a clear sign of the exceptional string of vintages the state saw several years back as well as the overall explosion of wineries in Washington.
At Wine Enthusiast, critic Paul Gregutt gave the 2008 Cayuse Vineyards Bionic Frog a perfect score – his second ever. Overall, Wine Enthusiast gave 19 Washington wines ratings of 95 points or above.
At The Wine Advocate, critic Jay Miller gave a first perfect score to Cayuse Vineyards for the winery’s Tempranillo. Earlier this month, The Wine Advocate announced that a new critic, David Schildknecht, would be covering the Pacific Northwest starting in 2012. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile on the growing front, after a series of near perfect vintages, Washington saw its second straight cool vintage. Some fretted; other frowned; some cast stones; and others shrugged. Look for the 2011 whites to start hitting the shelves in March and April.
On the regulatory front, the Liquor Control Board clamped down on Walla Walla wineries for serving liquor to minors before having to backtrack. Yakima briefly lost its corkage free zone before getting it back. The state also started a pilot program for wine tasting at Farmer’s Markets. Meanwhile Starbucks started a pilot program for selling wine at its coffee shops.
Of course, a year of many gains also saw its losses. 2011 saw the passing of long time wine writer Bob Woehler. Glen Coogan, vice president of Northwest Operations for Ascentia Wine Estates, also passed away.
That’s all from me for 2011. I want to thank everyone for reading Washington Wine Report this year. I am sincerely grateful.
I’ll be taking a short vacation the first two weeks of 2011, although I may be posting some material ‘from the vault’ during this time as well as the occasional round-up. Look for regular new postings to resume on January 16th.
Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a great start to 2012. We’ll do it all again next year.