Wine industry priorities
Proposed labeling law would require 95 percent of grapes to be from Washington.
Winemakers, growers, and educators from across the state gathered in Yakima, Washington, in November for the Wine Industry Summit, where they discussed issues including funding for enology and viticulture research, education resources for industry workers, future employment needs, and truth in labeling.
Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers Chair Brenton Roy told the group that truth in labeling issues could move forward through Washington State's legislature, as well as the federal level. He said WAWGG has joined forces with the Washington Wine Institute to advance a measure that would change the state's labeling law to require 95 percent of the wine in a bottle labeled Washington wine to be made from Washington-grown grapes. Washington State now requires 75 percent Washington-grown grapes. Similar regulations in Oregon require 85 percent of the grapes used in a bottle of wine to be from Oregon; California statutes call for 100 percent California wine in that state's bottles.
WAWGG will also try to extend the amount of time allowed to growers to perfect a processor's lien beyond the 20 days now required.
And WAWGG will continue its support of WSU's $2 million capital budget request for the viticulture and enology program. That money would be used to complete a greenhouse under construction at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser. "Right now, we're low on the priority list" for capital projects, Roy said, "So we're watching the process, and talking with other agricultural groups to move it up."
WAWGG is optimistic other groups will support it, according to Executive Director Vicky Scharlau. The greenhouse will free up office and lab space for other crops, so its completion will benefit all programs at IAREC.
Also discussed at the summit were the wine industry's educational needs. Brian Bosworth, a partner in the consulting firm FutureWorks, presented the results of an industry survey regarding skill requirements and training for wine industry workers, from field crew to enologists. The grape industry has had explosive growth in the last decade, with the number of wineries increasing from 150 to more than 500 in the last eight years.
Grape growers who responded to the survey indicated "much concern about looming shortages of workers at all levels" over the next five years, he reported, including vineyard managers, assistant vineyard managers, viticulturists, and technicians. But the biggest worries focused on semiskilled labor. Nearly 95 percent of those who participated in the survey said they were concerned about future shortages of field workers. The survey projected 400 to 700 new viticulture jobs over the next five years.
The survey also looked at statewide educational programs that help address viticulture employment needs. Programs ary from a four-year degree at Washington State University in viticulture and enology, to certificate programs of the community college system, and the Latino Education Program at Wenatchee Valley College. That program, established in 1995 as the Hispanic Orchard Employee Education Program, was expanded in 2006 to include training in viticulture. The curriculum includes plant physiology, nutrition, pest management, crop management, irrigation management, and basic vineyard economics. It enrolled 13 students in 2007, with a target of 18 for 2008.
"Most education programs are relatively new, still small, and there are too few graduates to judge overall impact on the industry," Bosworth reported. "However, the trajectory seems good even if the pace seems modest."
Break-out groups at the summit also discussed the viability of an apprenticeship program that would expand on the current internships now offered through the state college system and WSU, and discussed reestablishing the Washington Viticulture and Enology Education Consortium.