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Washington growers continued to pull out Concord grape vineyards under pressure from prices that are creeping upward but hardly recovered, said Trent Ball at the Washington State Grape Society annual meeting in November. Washington growers harvested an estimated 175,584 tons in 2017, down about 20,000 tons from 2016, and received an average cash price of $125 per ton.

That’s up from the $110 per ton bottom the Concord market hit in 2014 and 2015, but still far shy of the over $200 a ton prices growers enjoyed earlier in the decade.

Trent Ball

But that price should rise further this coming year, thanks to shrinking U.S. acreage and the global supply that’s way down due to back-to-back challenging growing seasons in Argentina, the main supplier of U.S. imports, said Ball, the agriculture program chair at Yakima Valley College and instructor in the vineyard and winery technology program.

Imports for the year hit a 15-year low — about half of 2016, the previous low — just over 20 million gallons, he added.

After several years of building up, processors’ inventory is also coming down.

Three major processors in the East sold out during the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program last fall to spend $18 million on surplus grape juice, Ball said.

“The message I keep hearing is that things are looking up. I know I said that last year, but this year things are really looking up,” Ball said. “I love to deliver good news.”

Washington growers had a good season, producing high quality fruit and above average yields per acre, Ball said, although the yield was done from 2016. Growers also harvested 13,500 tons of Niagara grapes from about 1,300 acres in Washington.

Overall, the U.S. Concord harvest in 2017 was estimated at 424,000 tons. Growers in New York and Pennsylvania had a strong year, harvesting about 210,000 tons in the Lake Erie region. Wineries in the region are also buying some Concords, boosting prices somewhat.

Wine grape growers, on the other hand, continue to expand their acreage. Washington has about 55,000 acres of wine grapes in 2017, according to a new USDA survey, up almost 12,000 acres since 2011.

Driving that growth is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon plantings, but there are several hundred new acres each of Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling as well. •

by Kate Prengaman