Wineries juice state economy, study says

YAKIMA, Wash. — Anyone who enjoys a glass of Merlot with dinner likely knows Washington’s wine industry has been a bright spot in an otherwise sour economy.

A new study released Tuesday shows just how bright.

The study commissioned by the Washington State Wine Commission, the industry’s leading promotional group funded by member growers and wineries, shows Washington wine contributes $8.6 billion annually to the state economy and nearly 30,000 jobs.

That’s nearly three times the $3 billion concluded by a similar study in 2007.

Steve Warner, the commission’s executive director, said the results show that Washington state wine is a vibrant and thriving contributor to the regional and national economies.

The industry’s annual contribution to the national economy is $14.9 billion, according to the study.

“This report shows that the future is indeed very bright for Washington State as one of the marquee premium wine growing regions of the world,” said Ted Baseler, president and chief executive officer of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the largest producer in the state.

“Everything we do in Washington is about producing the highest quality wines,” he said.

Washington is the No. 2 producer of premium wine behind California, with 739 licensed wineries and 350 vineyards. The number of acres planted in wine grapes has grown to nearly 44,000.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire noted the industry’s success Monday while signing a bill that included $5 million toward a Wine Science Center in Richland.

She recalled a trade mission to Europe in which someone asked her about California wine. Her response: “They make jug wine. We make fine wine.”

The Washington wine industry produced 11.2 million cases of wine in 2010 and generates more than $237 million in annual tax revenues in Washington, according to the study.

The study also showed that direct winery revenue topped $1 billion in 2010 and that the industry generated wages of nearly $1.2 billion within the state.

“We’ve all worked so hard to get our industry to the point where it is today, and it’s so gratifying to see the tangible results of all that hard work,” Lynne Chamberlain, chairwoman of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, said in a statement.

For the first time, the study also provided a snapshot of the industry’s economic impact at the county level: $3 billion in King County, which is home to the winery-driven community of Woodinville, $927 million in Benton County, $527 million in Yakima County, $502 million in Walla Walla County, $227 million in Grant County and $221 million in Chelan County.

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