Top Wine Producers of 2008

By Karl Klooster

Our top 20 producers report debuted in the January 2008 issue of Oregon Wine Press. The purpose was to provide readers with an up-to-date snapshot of Oregon’s wine industry through the prism of its largest players.

 The disclaimer then and now is that it was possible only to make production estimates based on the single commonly shared statistic available so soon after harvest: tons processed.

Depending on wine variety and methods employed to press off the juice, gallon yield per ton can vary from winery to winery. Losses from racking off the lees, topping up, and barrel emptying range from 5 to 7 percent by the time the wine makes it into the bottle.

Given the inability to achieve absolute accuracy, two methods are commonly employed to arrive at a reasonable estimate of the average number of 750ml x 12 bottle (9L) cases of wine that result from processing one ton of grapes.

Either multiplying by 64 cases per ton or multiplying by 152 gallons per ton then dividing by 2.38 gallons per case, provides the desired results. With either formula, the resulting totals are within 0.2 percent of one another.

Using these yardsticks, we have once again sought to list wineries by size in two categories: brand and facility (rounded off to the nearest hundred cases). Keep in mind that these are strictly quantitative rankings.

The “Brand” listing ranks by estimated annual case production the marketing name(s) under which a given winery sells its wine and the “facility” listing ranks the total number of cases of wine produced at that winery, whether for itself or for others.

Using the 2007 vintage projection of 2.4  million cases, the companies and facilities covered in this report account for roughly 44 percent of the state’s total wine production for 2008.

Last year it was noted that so-called “custom crush” wineries—facilities that make wine for multiple clients—played a greater industry role than ever before. This trend did not diminish in 2008. Some 380,000 cases were made at these wineries.

Total tonnage was down for 2008 owing to a number of conditions around the state. Early frosts affected budding in some places. Even more significantly, concerns about weather late in the season compelled growers to drop fruit to ensure ripening.

Although that measure proved prudent—growers and winemakers alike are raving about overall quality of the 2008 vintage—the diminished crop load was coupled with smaller than normal berries and consequently lighter-weight clusters.

As for winery rankings, King Estate took over first place in both the brand and facility categories. The Lorane-based estate winery crushed 2,500 tons of grapes during the 2008 harvest, which calculates to 160,000 cases.

Pinot Gris accounted for much of the increase from 134,400 cases in 2007.

In a strong second position were the combined A to Z / Rex Hill brands at 120,000 cases, even though that was down from a previous all-time high of 153,000 cases in 2007. The winery facility just east of Newberg ranked fifth for overall production.

The third place brand, Willamette Valley Vineyards, was also down from 111,700 cases in 2007 to 91,400 in 2008. Still, that quantity put its facility in second place.

Sokol Blosser, while holding onto fifth as a brand from the previous year, increased production by 20,000 cases—from 70,000 to 90,000. Much of that is made for them elsewhere to augment their widely distributed Evolution and Meditrina labels.

Duck Pond Cellars in Dundee, which owns an even larger winery in Washington, advanced to sixth place as a brand with its own 20,000 case production jump from 55,000 to 75,000 cases. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, made at the Oregon winery, accounted for 35,000 cases of the 2008 total.

Firesteed Cellars held a solid seventh position with 57,600 cases, only 1,200 off its 2007 figure. The winery reported that its own estate tonnage came in right on projection, but sourced grape totals were slightly down.

Indicative of the many growers who experienced lower yields at harvest, 16th-place Ponzi had estimated 430 tons from all estate vineyards, which turned out to be only 350. 

Erath slipped from fourth to seventh with a drop of more than 37,000 cases from the 110,000 reported in 2007.  However, the 72,700 cases for 2008 is based only on the 1,136 tons processed at the Dundee Hills facility, 975 tons of which were Pinot Noir.

Since the winery’s corporate owner, Ste. Michelle Estates, does not disclose brand-by-brand production figures, it’s difficult to estimate the actual amount of wine from this or any subsequent vintage that will be marketed under the Erath label.

Similarly, some of the wineries on the brand list buy bulk wine to maintain continuity and augment their marketing programs. As a consequence, these figures do not necessarily reflect the quantity of wine from the 2008 harvest that will bear that brand. ◊

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