By Karl Klooster
If you read OWP’s 2014 Oregon Wine Almanac, you’ll know we compiled Oregon’s top 20 wineries, by production at the facility. Now, I am aiming to extrapolate an estimate of the state’s total production. (See www.oregonwinepress.com for chart.)
Gaining perspective from past reports, the top 20 wineries produced 1,461,000 cases or 57.7 percent of the statewide total of 2,532,000 cases in 2009. In 2011, it was 1,640,000 cases, or 62.7 percent of 2,614,000. In 2012, it was 1,638,000 cases or 51.8 percent of 3,161,000.
A swing of 10 percentage points in this measure of productivity reflects the fact that numerous variables come into play in the winegrowing game at harvest, and some years are considerably more vexing than others. Still, even though Oregon’s wine industry is heralded as small and artisanal, it’s noteworthy that fewer than 5 percent of the state’s wineries produce more than 50 percent of its wine.
Admittedly, these are only projections — educated guesses if you will. Short of gathering detailed information from the vast majority of wineries, hard numbers for the sales of wine from any single harvest would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to calculate.
However, sales in any given year are easily tracked because the state taxes wine and tracks the figures. In 2009, total industry sales, not including bulk, came to 1,660,202 cases. In 2012, it was 2,379,165 cases, a 43.3 percent increase in just four years.
This, of course, reflects sales spanning a spectrum of vintages. In any given year, most wineries will likely sell wines from three or more vintages.
Using our estimate of 1,989,000 cases for the top 20 wineries in 2013 — and assuming that amounts to about 55 percent of total production — this year’s production total should be in the neighborhood of 3.6 million cases. That’s a 14 percent increase over 2012, which coincides with the Oregon Wine Board’s 2013 Harvest Report, released Dec. 30.
The OWB report said, in part, “The 2013 harvest in Oregon appears to be larger than 2012, possibly in the low double-digit percentages. One knowledgeable winegrower believes the yield could top the 2012 record harvest of 50,000-plus tons by as much as 20 percent. Others are somewhat more hesitant, predicting yields will be up in the 10 percent to 15 percent range.”
Let’s look at it from the standpoint of harvest crush tonnage. Employing a widely used rule of thumb of 63 cases per ton, the OWP estimate of 3.6 million cases translates to 57,100 tons. Compare that with the OWB range from 55,000 to 60,000 tons, and we are right in the ballpark.
Tonnage always leads the way in gauging a given vintage. But of near equal importance in assessing trends is planting. How much vineyard acreage will be coming online next year, and what about the year after that?
Occasional low tonnage years, such as 2010, are inevitable in cool-climate regions. Despite this, a continuing increase in the volume of planted acreage reaching harvest stage has contributed to unabated production growth.
Look at just the short three-year period from 2010 to 2012. In 2010, planted acreage reached 20,300 and harvested acreage 16,800. The average yield per acre was a scant 1.83 tons. In 2012, planted acreage reached 25,448 and harvested acreage, 22,687, reflecting gains of 25.4 percent and 35 percent, respectively. The per-acre yield was a more normal 2.21 tons.
Reaching back to 2001, the first year total case production was formally calculated, we find that it stood at 1,436,000 cases, made from 22,800 tons of grapes. At 3.6 million cases from 57,000 tons, the 2013 estimate is 150 percent.
As the Oregon wine industry matures, such large percentage leaps will be less likely. But the raw numbers should continue to rise. With major players from other states and even other countries beginning to enter Oregon, investing in the development of new vineyard acreage, those increases could remain impressive for years to come.
Following in the footsteps of a stellar year, which 2012 inarguably was, 2013 would have been perceived as inferior right out of the starting blocks, owing to the challenging conditions at harvest. But the rising reputation of Oregon winemakers has blunted potential media negativity, instead causing critics to reflect on successful examples from the unfairly maligned 2007 vintage and even more so from that of 2011.
Difficulties in 2013 put savvy old hands to the test, while making some newcomers throw theirs up in dismay. But all in all, wide agreement now prevails that the good wines from this vintage will be very good indeed, and they will be plentiful.
Growers with the patience to wait out record rains, banking on renewed sun lying beyond the gloomy cloud cover, gained the blessed benefit of longer hang times. Their reward was beautifully balanced fruit.
It should be emphasized that 2013 was a year in which Southern Oregon should particularly shine, as most of the weather problems took place in the northwestern corner of the state, leaving the southland to bask in excellent growing conditions. In the words of one Rogue Valley vintner, “The weather was near perfect for Southern Oregon.” A couple of years lie ahead before we know just how good it was. But if the smiles on Southern Oregon faces impart any karma to what’s in the barrel, watch out, wine world.
Nor was the weather wealth restricted solely to the south. The Columbia Gorge suffered some from the end of September deluge, but then a warm and dry October set in. One grower hailed it as “the endless summer.”
And it is what 2013 will be remembered for in Northwestern Oregon. Call it stormy seas followed by smooth sailing. As a result, the OWB’s 2013 Wine Harvest Report concluded with this comment from an unnamed but obviously longtime Oregon vintner: “Contrary to casual anecdotes from critics, aghast at five inches of rain, expect the best of most of the 2013 wines. The best wines from 2013 will be equal to our best from our superior years.”
Karl Klooster is the associate editor of Oregon Wine Press and writes a wine column for the News-Register in McMinnville. He became professionally involved in wine in 1972.