The Washington State Grape Society gathered this week in Grandview, Washington, to honor industry leaders, learn about the latest research and get updates on the Concord crop for 2022.
The society gave its Lloyd H. Porter Grower of the Year award to Gary Schrimsher of Kennewick. He was the longtime vineyard manager for Snake River Vineyards in Walla Walla, and, during the 1980s, industry representatives from around the country would visit to learn from Schrimsher about how he was achieving record-breaking yields, said Catherine Jones, president of the grape society. He also ran his own orchards. Now retired, Schrimsher lives in Kennewick with his wife of 63 years, Peggy.
Schrimsher, who was quite surprised by the honor, told the audience that he was lured to the meeting under false pretenses by his brother-in-law. His time in the industry was “a very fun time, we worked hard and we grew a lot of grapes and I enjoyed all of the people I worked with,” he said.
Today, farmers are facing a lot of challenges and “it’s really tough, I’m glad I’m retired,” Schrimsher said. “Thank you all for keeping up the fight and doing the good job that you are.”
Then, Washington State University viticulturist Michelle Moyer presented the Walter Clore Award recognizing service to the industry to someone who “burns the candle at both ends with their work ethic,” and has “worked tirelessly for agricultural commodities for 35 years,” Melissa Hansen of the Washington Wine Commission.
Hansen, the research director for the commission, was surprised with the award after sharing an update on the industry’s research efforts on smoke impacts, disease management and mechanization. She previously covered the grape industry for Good Fruit Grower for 20 years and before that, worked for the California table grape industry.
“This is really special because I’ve written about these award winners for many years,” Hansen said. In fact, her first article for Good Fruit Grower was an interview with Walter Clore about the early years of the Washington Wine Industry, so it’s a special honor, she said.
Another annual tradition at the meeting is the “State of Grapes” economic update and outlook from Trent Ball, who directs the vineyard and winery technology program and Yakima Valley College. For the second year in a row, he had good news to share: Washington’s cash price rose over $100 per ton to $407.
“It is not very often that you see the Washington cash price above the Eastern price, but it did happen in 2022,” he said.
Washington growers harvested 157,000 tons this year, averaging 9.9 tons per acre, while the New York and Pennsylvania region produced 191,000 tons, Ball said.
Washington used to be the leading region, but the steady pace of acreage removal has handed the lead to Eastern growers. This year, the Washington acreage in Concord production is just shy of 16,000 acres, he said.
Concentrate prices also remain high, which has previously caused some processors to turn to other types of juice, but this year, all the alternatives are also expensive. That’s good news for grape growers, Ball said.
In addition, a morning session focused on nutrient management research and an afternoon session focused on management of root knot nematodes.
Then, Dennis Devitt shared an update on the Sustainable WA certification standard, which the industry launched this year. As a member of the governance board, he urged growers to sign up for certification in 2023. Having a Washington-specific standard is going to benefit the industry as participation and consumer recognition grows, he said.
“We have a single standard. It’s going to make us look at lot better in the marketplace,” Devitt said.
The Grape Society meeting continues on Friday at the Church of the Nazarene in Grandview with talks on pest management, technology for crop load estimation, and an introduction from Jean Dodson Peterson, the chair of Washington State University’s new department of viticulture and enology.
—by Kate Prengaman