Weather affects grape crops
Despite an early freeze, most of Washington’s grape crop was harvested.
These Concord grapes near Quincy, Washington, were hit by the early October freeze and left unharvested.
Weather adversely affected the 2009 juice and wine grape crops coast to coast. Agricultural economist Trent Ball told Washington State Grape Society members recently that an October freezeone of the earliest on recordimpacted grape harvest on the West Coast, while a wet, cool spring and harvest impacted production on the East Coast.
An arctic cold snap, lasting from October 8 11, hit parts of eastern Washington and brought freezing night temperatures with highs only in the low 40F range. Daily low-temperature records of 10 F were broken in some areas.
Washington juice grape growers produced 211,000 tons in 2009, slightly higher than the five-year average of 196,000 tons. But eastern growers' yields were off by about 30 percent, totaling an estimated 173,000 tons, according to Ball, who serves as director of Yakima Valley Community College's Vineyard and Winery Technology Program. Ball gave the 2009 grape crop review in November during the annual meeting of the Washington State Grape Society in Grandview.
About 15 percent of Michigan's juice grape crop was not harvested because sugars were too low, he reported. New York and Pennsylvania growers also experienced a wet growing season, resulting in big berries with low sugars and yields. The total 2009 juice grape crop for the nation was estimated to be 384,000 tons, down from 447,000 in 2008.
Most of the Concords in Washington State had reached sugar by the early October freeze, Ball said, but he estimated that about 1,200 tons were lost from shatter during mechanical harvest. Cash prices received by Washington growers in 2009 were around $195 per ton, down from $215 per ton in 2008.
Since the flurry of acreage removal that occurred in 2007 and 2008, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in Concord vineyards in the state, Ball said that acreage has stabilized in Washington. Concord acreage is estimated to be around 21,500 acres, with another 1,570 acres of Niagara grapes.
"Acreage looking towards 2010 will stay pretty steady, and inventory should remain controlled or go down because of 2009's decreased production," he said, forecasting that cash prices for the coming year will be similar or slightly higher than current prices.
Consumption of Concord grape juice in recent years has increased slightly, from 0.3 gallons per capita in 2006 to 0.55 gallons in 2007. The increase is attributed to the antioxidant health benefits of Concord juice. Research has shown that Concord juice is twice as high in antioxidants as orange juice and more than twice as high as 100 percent cranberry juice blend.
The early freeze also affected Washington's wine grapes, putting harvest and crush into overdrive, Ball said. And while some growers experienced some yield loss, the overall state wine grape production for 2009 is still predicted to hit the original estimate of around 155,000 tonsa record-setting cropup from the 2008 crop of 145,000 tons.
"The earliest-on-record frost put the industry in hyper drive," he said, adding that at times some wineries were processing double the normal amount. Moderate weather after the freeze allowed the fruit to hang fairly well, and most of the crop got harvested.
"But some varieties were left hanging," he said. "Riesling, Syrah, and Pinot Gris had a rough go."
More wine was sold in the United States in 2008 than in 2007 (753 million gallons compared with 746 million gallons), but the retail sales value was lower, reflecting the economic downturn and the trend of consumers to buy cheaper wines. Nearly 40 percent of wine sold in the United States cost $7 or more per 750-milliliter bottle, the fastest growing market segment in sales.
Ball noted that 2009 wine sales through October, as tracked by the Neilsen Company, were up slightly from 2008.