Oregon’s wine industry poured it on last year, topping the national growth rate by 1.6 percent.
Grape growers and vintners in the Rogue, Applegate and Umpqua valleys helped propel the expansion, opening new wineries and harvesting a third more tonnage in 2017, according to a report released by the Oregon Wine Board this week.
“By and large, the news was very, very good,” said Herb Quady, whose Applegate Vineyard Management farms 200 acres in the Applegate and Rogue valleys. “It just shows continued growth for Oregon overall, and Southern Oregon continues to make up its share proportionally with the rest of the state.”
Oregon’s signature pinot noir grape accounted for 58 percent of all planted acreage and 59 percent of wine production. Another 92 vineyards came online, increasing planted acreage 10.5 percent to 33,631 acres. Forty-four wineries opened their doors, including 13 in the Rogue Valley. The total crush increased 9.3 percent to 77,170 tons from 70,579 in 2016.
The report was prepared by the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Engagement and showed 35 new vineyards during 2017 in the Rogue and Applegate AVAs, pushing the total to 198. Planted acreage skyrocketed 32 percent to 5,059 acres from 3,827, while harvested land grew 26 percent to 4,129 acres from 3,276. The per-acre yield was marginally lower at 2.92 tons per acre from 2.97 in 2016, and it rose 26 percent to 12,061 tons from 9,716 tons.
Purely from the standpoint of industry growth, the news was all good. Even so, there is an undertow of concern that grape buyers may not always need the Oregon grapes, and over-saturation could reduce wine prices.
Michael Moore oversees Quail Run Vineyards, launched by his parents Don and Traute Moore 32 years ago. This year, he expanded operations by 24 acres and next year will add 40 more, pushing the total to 420. He said Quail Run is pursuing varietals best for the region.
“We’re focusing on grapes that do exceptionally well in Southern Oregon,” said Moore, as he rattled off a list of varietals including syrah, viognier, malbec, cabernet franc, tempranillo and grenache. “We’re not doing pinot or pinot gris anymore; we’re done with that, and we have everything locked up in contract.”
The difficulty Southern Oregon growers encounter, Moore said, is a dearth of large wineries, or an expansive market for the region’s best wines.
“So what we are trying to do is partner up with Willamette wineries that are wanting to do those grapes,” he said.
Moore’s family struck a deal several years ago with Willamette Valley Vineyards outside of Turner, which produces Griffin Creek label wines featuring Rogue Valley varietals.
“As Willamette wineries recognize they can partner with Southern Oregon, that’s going to become the next big move in the direction of plantings down here,” Moore said. “It’s not going to be to provide pinot for what they already do well up north. But to provide things they can’t do that we do exceptionally well.”
Quady said he’s experiencing demand for specialized varietals — cabernet franc, tannat, marsanne and petite sirah — by small wineries in Northern Oregon.
“There continues to be more interest in unique wines from this area,” Quady said.
Median per-ton prices — half selling for more and half for less — from Rogue Valley vineyards were generally less than the state as a whole. Overall, the local median was $1,850 per ton, compared to the statewide median of $1,952. However, when it comes to tempranillo, local growers are duly rewarded.
Planting without long-range plans and contracts can be a dangerous undertaking.
“People are always looking backwards when they make decisions,” Moore said. “If you were to go back two or three years, there was huge demand, particularly for pinot and pinot gris. But what I’m seeing is the market softening.”
He said it’s one thing to plant fruit, but another thing to find a buyer years down the road in a constantly shifting environment.
“Like with everything with agriculture, when prices are high because supply is low, everybody jumps on board,” Moore said. “By the time you’re ready to harvest, the picture has changed quite a bit.”
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.