The trend towards producing more red wine grape varieties continues, with production today of white varieties only slightly higher than reds. Fifteen years ago, production of white varieties outnumbered reds by more than three to one. The trend toward red, a result of market demand and potential for higher returns, does not come without some concerns, according to Dr. Raymond Folwell, Washington State University agricultural economist.
Some of the new red varieties like Sangiovese are very vigorous and fruitful and present ripening and winter hardiness challenges. Some growers had difficulty ripening Cabernet Sauvignon despite the mild weather last fall.
"The Washington wine industry is still on the steep slope of the learning curve and will have to adjust practices in the vineyards and wineries to judiciously make premium table wines from such fruit," he cautioned.
Folwell is also concerned about the global surplus of wine. The U.S. wine industry continues to compete against an influx of imported Australian, South American, and European wines. The sales by volume of domestic table wines in U.S. retail grocery stores in the year ending July 2005 were up by 2.5 percent, according to A.C. Nielsen data. But in the same time period, imported table wine sales were up by 7.5 percent.
Another trend he identified is the changing structure of the wine industry. Wineries are getting larger, consolidating, and merging with medium and small wineries to achieve economies of scale and growth. "It is cheaper to assume and acquire others for growth rather than starting new wineries with new labels and distributions/marketing systems."
Growers will need to adapt and adjust to the industry concentration as they deal with larger wineries and buyers, he advised.
"Hopefully, the quality of wine that is produced by the larger corporations will not change the basic philosophy in the Washington wine industry and doesn’t tarnish the Northwest quality."