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About three tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are transferred to a gondola for transport to a winery. Very little MOG is included in the load of fruit.<b>(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)</b>

About three tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are transferred to a gondola for transport to a winery. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower file photo)

September U.S. wine sales rose from $3.3 billion to $3.7 billion, helping set an annual pace to boost the industry’s overall retail value for the 11th consecutive year, Yakima Valley College agriculture professor Trent Ball said at the annual meeting of the Washington Grape Society in mid-November in Grandview, Washington.

Red blends led the surge with 18 percent growth in off-site sales, he said, while Cabernet Sauvignon increased in sales across nearly all price points.

In fact, $15 wines are one of the hot growth points in the industry, while red blends now represent the second largest red segment behind Cabernet Sauvignon, said Brett Scallan, vice president of marketing for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, also a speaker at the conference.

Chardonnay is still the largest and fastest-growing white variety.

A lot of wine industry growth is being driven by millennials, young people open to new things, including imports, and willing to spend money on quality, he said.

Washington’s crush estimate is 292,000 tons, according to the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, the sixth increase in seven years.

Through the growing season, growers were reporting good quality with limited sunburn and insect pressure, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Associated of Wine Grape Growers. “We didn’t have any pockets of horribleness.”

Washington wine grape acreage is 56,073, Scharlau said.

California, by comparison, is expected to produce 3.9 million tons, while some speculate the nation’s leading producer may crack the 4 million mark.

Winemakers there reported a good quality harvest with average yields as rainfall surpassed that of the previous four drought years, according to an October story on the website of the Wine Institute, a California industry group. •

– by Ross Courtney