Washington produced a record crop of 188,000 tons of wine grapes in 2012 according to numbers released today by the USDA. This represents a 32% increase from the previous year. The prior record was 160,000 tons in 2010.

Red grape production – specifically Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – accounted for much of the increase from 2011. However, the overall increase in production compared to the 2010 vintage for these grapes was relatively modest at 4,000 tons for Cabernet Sauvignon and 6,000 tons for Merlot.

Grape production in 2011 was significantly decreased by a freeze that occurred in late 2010 that adversely affected a number of growing areas in the state, most significantly parts of the Horse Heaven Hills. As a result, red grape production decreased dramatically in 2011.

Overall, production numbers in 2012 were almost evenly split between red and white grapes with red grapes just edging out whites for the first time (94,500 vs 93,500 tons), a sign of an increasing focus on premium red wines in the state. Chardonnay remained Washington’s most-produced grape at 36,900 tons followed by Riesling at 36,700 tons. Cabernet Sauvignon was the state’s most produced red grape and third overall at 35,900 tons. With recent increases in plantings, it certainly seems possible that Cabernet production may overtake Chardonnay in the (very) near future.

In other news, Petit Verdot was the state’s most expensive grape on average at $1,585 per ton followed by Grenache at $1,555. The average price per ton increased for most grapes, with Sangiovese one of the rare exceptions ($1,350 per ton in 2011 down to $1,222 per ton in 2012). The USDA also included a breakout for Mourvèdre (800 tons, $1,428 per ton) for the first time, a sign on the ascendancy of Rhone varieties in Washington.

Steve Warner, president of the Washington Wine Commission, said, “Winemakers and growers are overjoyed with what has turned out to be a banner harvest in 2012 for Washington State. However, an even more important story of the vintage in the years to come will be the exceptional quality of the fruit picked during harvest. With continued interest and enthusiasm for Washington State wines at an all-time high, based on outstanding recent vintages, we couldn’t be better poised for the 2012 vintage to add to our growing reputation for premium wines with superior quality.”

While the record-breaking numbers are a sign of the continued growth of the state’s industry, don’t look for this new production record to last long. Given the sharp increase in plantings across the state, if all grows well, it might not last more than a year.

See the complete release from the USDA here.