Cabernet back on top as the state’s most produced grape

In somewhat of a surprise, wine grape production in Washington contracted slightly in 2015 to 222,000 tons, down 2% from the prior year. The decrease was largely a result of a drop in white wine grape production, which decreased 8%. Riesling saw the most dramatic decrease, from 50,500 tons in 2014 down to 44,100 tons.

Nicholas Quille of Pacific Rim said he was surprised by the decrease in Riesling tonnage. He speculated that supply and demand might be part of the cause. “There is too much inventory on the market, and you can see that in the drop in dollars per ton for Riesling,” Quille wrote via email. “I bet some Riesling did not get picked last year.” Indeed, the average cost per ton for Riesling dropped sharply from $799 in 2014 to $760 – the lowest cost since 2007.

While the decrease in Riesling production in 2015 is notable, 2014 had also been a banner year for the variety. The state saw a whopping 25% increase in production in 2014, from 40,200 tons to 50,500. In this regard, perhaps the 2015 numbers reflect a slight correction in production.

Though white varieties were down overall, most red varieties showed modest growth. Total red grape production increased from 107,700 tons in 2014 to 112,800 tons. Of note, Cabernet Sauvignon is once again Washington’s most produced grape variety. A record 47,400 tons of Cabernet were produced in 2015, up from 42,200 tons the previous year. Overall, Cabernet accounted for 21% of Washington’s production.

The modest growth in red wine grape production in 2015 can most likely be accounted for by increasing acreage. Some winemakers noted during harvest that cluster weights were actually down in 2015, in some cases by as much as 20-30%, due to the vintage’s record setting heat. However, increasing acreage largely offset this.

Overall, the slight decrease in production in 2015 bucks a recent trend of dramatic growth for the state. For perspective, the 222,000 tons of grapes Washington produced in 2015 were more than twice as much as the state produced in 2005 (110,000 tons). With the exception of the cool 2011 vintage – which also was affected by a late 2010 freeze – the state has seen an increase in production every other year over the last decade until now, with each year breaking a previous record. Unless these preliminary numbers see significant revision in July, Washington’s record-setting 2014 production numbers will stand for at least another year.

Graphs courtesy of the Washington Wine Commission.