NEWS / FEATURES

Acres, Types, Tons All Told

By Karl Klooster


The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistical Service annual report on Oregon wine, released Feb. 20, is an invaluable information resource.

It gives anyone interested in the industry the ability to track trends, project growth and generally gain a clearer understanding of the factors that shape what may well be Oregon’s most fascinating, homegrown consumer product.

But before we launch into the world of comparative statistics, the overriding fact in regard to the 2008 harvest is that it’s about as good as it gets. Reports from around the state indicate a near-universal two thumbs-up for both quality and quantity.

That couldn’t be better news, particularly for northwestern Oregon, where variable weather is an ongoing concern.

Despite the ever-improving ability of both winegrowers and winemakers to minimize the negative impact of unfavorable climatic conditions, there’s still no substitute for great grapes.

And ‘great grapes’ was the byword last fall with a total of 38,600 tons harvested from 14,900 acres. They were processed at 274 winery facilities, encompassing 395 wineries across the state.

That thumbnail synopsis is, however, just a bare outline of the big picture.

The future of Oregon wine continues to be on the grow, quite literally. Total planted acreage stood at 19,300 acres at the end of last year, with 14,900 acres harvested.

Even if no additional planting were to take place in 2009, those 4,400 acres— representing 22.8 percent of the total—will soon be coming into production.

Yielding acres increased from 13,800 to 14,900, and total acres increased from 17,400 to 19,300 in 2008. Though the current economic downturn is predicted to cause a temporary slowdown in vineyard expansion, that situation will not remain static.

Total acreage may have increased between 2007 and 2008, but total tonnage declined slightly. That’s because the 2008 vintage yielded an average of only 2.35 tons per acre as compared to 2.8 tons in 2007.

Further reflecting the significance of that reduced tonnage is the fact that average Pinot Noir yields were even lower, which accounts, at least in part, for the quality spike that is causing excitement over prospects for the variety at all price points.

Pinot Noir remained, by far, the dominant variety, yielding 17,571 tons, which accounted for 50.6 percent of statewide production. The Burgundian variety may be Oregon’s flagship wine, but several other varieties are also making their mark.

Holding down second position is Pinot Gris, at 5,894 tons, considerably outdistancing White Riesling’s 2,633 tons, which earned the number three spot.

The popularity of Gris remains strong, though northwestern Oregon growers find it difficult to justify putting in more plantings owing to the huge price differential—almost two to one—compared to Pinot Noir.

Riesling makers continue to tout its potential in AVAs around the state, and Viognier, though still a small player at only 307 tons, is showing tremendous promise. Both these white varieties may find welcome homes the Southern Oregon AVA.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the front-runner among warmer-climate reds. The famed Bordeaux variety took fifth position in total production with 1,177 tons crushed in 2008. It was followed by Syrah at 1,120 tons, and Merlot at 967.

Whereas both Rogue and Umpqua wineries are becoming known for their red blends, neither Southern Oregon AVA grows as much Cabernet Sauvignon as the eight northeastern Oregon counties lumped into the report’s Columbia River statistical area.

That area, which includes the Columbia Gorge, Walla Walla and Columbia Valley AVAs, accounted for 302 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as 142 tons of Merlot.

Syrah, on the other hand, is rapidly emerging as Southern Oregon’s shining red star. Jackson and Douglas counties produced 231 tons of the variety’s 444 total tonnage in 2008.

By extrapolation, total case production anticipated from the 38,600 tons crushed in 2008 is approximately 2.4 million cases. Sales for 2008 from all sources were 1,748,282 cases, up just 2 percent from 2007, but carrying a 17 percent greater value.

If sales increase over the next two years by no more than 4 percent, and annual production stays steady, the industry appears to be left with a surplus of inventory by as early as 2010. ◊

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