2012 a good year for state’s wine industry

By most accounts, 2012 was a year of moving forward in the Pacific Northwest wine industry.

After two difficult vintages, the weather cooperated in 2012 with what is expected to be a record-sized crop. New leaders entered the picture in Washington and Oregon, Gallo moved into Washington in a big way, and the wine industry continued to help drive the economy forward.

Here are the top stories to come of the Pacific Northwest wine industry in 2012.

1. Near-perfect harvest across Pacific Northwest.

After two years during which Mother Nature created all kinds of challenges for grape growers and winemakers across the Northwest with cool temperatures, 2012 turned out to be nearly perfect.

Throughout the growing season, weather cooperated with consistent temperatures, low moisture and few issues with pests or diseases. In Washington, harvest started on time right after Labor Day — about two weeks earlier than in 2010 and 2011 — and was calm throughout. A warm September led to a dry October and a harvest that stretched to Halloween without incident.

2. Gallo buys Columbia Winery, Covey Run.

In June, one of the world’s largest wine producers confirmed that it had purchased two of Washington’s oldest wineries.

Columbia Winery, which started in 1962 as Associated Vintners, was made available by the implosion of California-based Ascentia Wine Estates. Gallo, based in Modesto, Calif., also purchased Covey Run Winery from Ascentia, as well as the two wineries’ facilities in Woodinville and Sunnyside.

3. Precept buys (back) Ste. Chapelle.

Precept Wine, the Pacific Northwest’s second-largest wine producer, purchased Idaho’s largest and oldest winery.

On May 14, the Seattle-based company announced it acquired Ste. Chapelle in Caldwell, Idaho, from Ascentia Wine Estates as the Healdsburg, Calif., company sold off all of its Northwest wine operations.

Precept was launched in 2003 by Andrew Browne and the Baty family. Two years earlier, the Baty-owned Corus Brands sold most of its wineries — including Ste. Chapelle — to Constellation Brands.

4. Washington gets out of wine (and liquor) sales business.

In 2011, residents voted to take Washington state out of the liquor sales business. So on June 1, 2012, the state’s monopoly ended after 78 years, opening the doors to privatization.

Large wine retailers such as BevMo! and Total Wine &More moved in as I-1183 shuttered 166 state-operated liquor stores. And while citizens enjoyed increased convenience — retail options grew from 328 to more than 1,400 stores — many were confused by the pricing. Some merchants chose not to display the taxes they are required to collect at the checkout stand.

5. Approval of two new Washington AVAs.

Washington winemakers were given approval to use two new regions on their wine labels in 2012.

The Naches Heights American Viticultural Area was approved in mid-December 2011 and became official Jan. 13. The Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley AVA was approved in mid-October and became official Nov. 19.

Naches Heights, near the city of Yakima, has by far the fewest grapes of any in Washington, with fewer than 100 acres planted. Ancient Lakes near the Columbia Basin towns of Quincy and George is well established with 1,500 acres of vineyards. It is a favorite location for growing Riesling and other white wine grapes.

6. New executive directors in Washington, Oregon.

Steve Warner and Tom Danowski built impressive resumes outside of the wine industry, but both returned to their native Pacific Northwest to take over the marketing efforts on the behalf of winemakers and grape growers in Washington and Oregon.

On Feb. 9, the Washington State Wine Commission announced Warner would replace Robin Pollard as its executive director. A month earlier, Danowski began his duties with Oregon Wine Board.

7. Wine Science Center moves forward at WSU Tri-Cities.

Washington State University and the state wine industry made great strides toward building the Wine Science Center.

The $23 million research and teaching center will be built at the WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland, with construction expected to begin in fall 2013.

After the state Legislature voted to kick in $5 million in April and the U.S. Economic Development Administration added another $2.06 million in October, the center was well on its way, with more than $17 million raised.

8. King Estate co-founder dies.

King Estate, one of Oregon’s most iconic wineries, lost its co-founder when Edward J. King Jr. died June 3 at the age of 90.

King launched the renowned King Radio Corp., in his Kansas basement and grew it into an aviation communications giant before selling it in 1985 for a reported $110 million. Six years later, he and his son, Ed King III, created King Estate outside of Eugene, Ore.

King Jr. developed Oregon’s largest winery with an annual production of 250,000 cases.

9. Washington wine industry worth $8.6 billion.

A study released in April showed the Washington wine industry has grown to $8.6 billion per year in statewide economic impact, up $3 billion from a similar study from 2006.

The study showed the state wine industry accounts for 27,000 jobs worth $1.2 billion in wages.

In Benton County, the largest wine-producing county in the state, the wine industry is worth $1 billion to the economy and contributes nearly 5,200 jobs. Grant County is the second-largest wine-producing county, according to the study.

10. Provincial boundaries slowly fall in Canada.

On June 28, C-311 was signed into law in Canada. It allows wineries to ship beyond their own province to consumers throughout the country. Alas, most provinces continue to cling to the 1928 law.

American ex-pat Sandra Oldfield, winemaker, president and CEO of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, B.C., continues to lead the fight in her adopted Canada. She proved that she can buy a shotgun over the Internet and have it shipped from Saskatchewan, even though it is illegal for her to ship wine to one of her wine club members in Ontario, for example.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degermanc over the Northwest wine industry at GreatNorthwestWine.com.

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