The 2022 grape growing season got off to a slow start.
But the “unique” year – which included a cold and wet spring, a later-than-usual bud break and bloom, brief but hot summer temperatures and a fall that brought ideal weather – means “it’s going to be an exceptional year for the quality of the wines,” said Chris Stone, deputy director of the Washington State Wine Commission. “I think it will be an incredible vintage.”
In all, Washington vineyards harvested 240,000 tons of grapes in 2022, which was a 34% increase over 2021. That included 136,870 tons of red and 103,130 tons of white grapes.
Cabernet sauvignon once again was the top variety, with 67,015 tons harvested.
Next up was chardonnay, with 39,450 tons harvested.
In all, red varieties grew by 23% over 2021, and white varieties shot up by 50%, according to the 2022 grape production report put together by the state wine commission.
On the red side, cabernet sauvignon grew by 32% over the year before. That variety represented 28% of total production in the state in 2022.
Among the white varieties, pinot gris saw the most growth, with a 70% increase over 2021. Sauvignon blanc also saw a significant jump, up 54% over the previous year.
Because of that sizeable growth in white grapes, red varieties saw their hold on total production slip from 62% in 2021 to 57% in 2022, according to the grape report.
Farmers brought in an average of $1,370 per ton in 2022, a drop of $90 from the year before, the grape report said. Cabernet franc garnered $2,074, which was the highest average price per ton.
Stone said that once the growing season got going, conditions were good.
The cold and wet spring meant that bud break and bloom were two to three weeks behind when they historically happen, and summer weather didn’t come until late June.
But “the surprise – in a very, very good way – was the incredible fall we had. It allowed the grapes to really ripen at a pace and level we rarely get, where the flavor maturity was there before sugar maturity or ripeness,” Stone said. “Oftentimes, sugar development can outpace flavor development, but this year it was reversed and that’s a really good place to be. We were fortunate to have a really beautiful fall.”
In fact, the Columbia Valley saw “ideal growing conditions (in October), with temperatures 5 or more degrees above average, resulting in near-perfect finishing weather given the coolness of the season,” according to a 2022 vintage overview put together by the state wine commission.
“Growers and winemakers did 10-12 weeks of work in half that time or less. The final crop was heavier, particularly for white varieties, due to larger berries and clusters. Growers who managed to thin appropriately delivered exceptional flavors at lower Brix and higher natural acidity. It is expected to be a very high-quality vintage for white wines and a standout vintage for higher end reds,” it said.
Along with the exceptional vintage expected, Stone pointed to another highlight of 2022: the launch of Sustainable WA, a sustainability program built by and for the state wine industry.
The program includes a third-party audit and certification process for vineyards managed by Washington Winegrowers. The state wine commission handles branding and marketing, and the Washington Wine Industry Foundation and Washington Wine Institute also are partners.
The program was developed “to be very specific about sustainability issues that are relevant in Washington. It’s a really comprehensive program, setting a new standard for statewide sustainability programs. It was built on some old models that were already in place, but it raised the bar on all the requirements, and we got a third-party certification partner involved,” Stone said.
The idea is to get as many acres of Washington vineyards certified as possible.
The current total is about 11,000 acres, Stone said. “For year one, that’s a pretty remarkable achievement, and it’s going to grow from there,” he said, adding that a longer-term goal is to develop a sustainable winery program to go hand in hand with the vineyard program.
Stone said he expects 2023 to be another good year for Washington wines.
The growing season got off to a slow start once again, but “all signs are looking very positive.”
“I think the Pacific Northwest in general is just an incredibly exciting place in the wine world right now. There’s so much growth potential still, and the quality of the wines coming out of here has never been higher. It feels like the world is finally discovering what we’ve known for a long time: This is one of the most exciting wine regions in the world. There are incredible opportunities ahead of us.”
He said to watch out for the Washington Wine Month in August – branded as “WAugust” – which is billed as a 31-day celebration of the state’s wines. Wineries, restaurants, retailers and others will be running special promotions, and “it’s a great time to get out there and see wine country,” he said.
“Drink local. It’s a sustainable choice and the quality has never been higher,” Stone said.
“Washington can provide wine for every palate, every person and every occasion, and I promise you it will over-deliver at every price point,” he said.
Daily and Monthly NewsSign up now!