Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fruit of the Vine: Oregon's Grape and Wine Industry

The modern era of Oregon's grape and wine industry began in the 1960s when vines were again planted in southern Oregon's Umpqua Valley. Other pioneering vintners traveled north and planted pinot noir grapes on Willamette Valley hillsides; today, the area is considered the epicenter of winemaking in the state. Many Oregon wineries operate their own vineyards and are often family owned and operated. Oregon's industry has a national reputation for unusually high average returns per ton and higher than average revenue per case. Oregon's sustainable agricultural practices are an integral part of many operations as is the internationally recognized "green" certification of qualifying wine production practices.

Oregon's vineyards are found in many places; they may cover large expanses of rolling hillsides or be tucked away in sunny, sheltered valleys. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has defined five growing regions in Oregon. Of these regions, in 2010, the North Willamette Valley was home to 59 percent of the state's vineyards and accounted for 64 percent of the 20,400 acres planted. Productive Yamhill County, included in this growing region, reported more than 6,000 acres planted; 84 percent of which was in pinot noir. Neighboring Polk and Marion Counties ranked second and third in acres planted. Again, pinot noir was the leading variety followed by pinot gris and chardonnay. Wine grape production has increased as the acres planted and harvested have grown over the years; however, as with all other agricultural products, the yield per acre is impacted by weather, pests, and other, often uncontrollable, factors.

The graph above, detailing the number of vineyards and acres planted between 1986 and 2010, shows a growing industry. This period saw a 374 percent increase in the number of Oregon vineyards and a 433 percent increase in the number of acres planted in wine grapes. Investment in wine grape cultivation, especially just prior to the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, can be seen in the surge in acres planted - a 37 percent increase between 2005 and 2008. This vineyard expansion corresponded with a 17 percent increase in the number of wineries.

Wineries differ from vineyards in that their primary function is the manufacture of wine. In 1970, there were five bonded wineries in Oregon and 35 vineyard acres. In 2010, the USDA reported 419 wineries and 20,500 planted acres. By March 2012, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reported 463 permitted wineries in Oregon.

In less than 30 years, Oregon's grape and wine industry has gone from 179 vineyards to 870, added over 17,000 acres planted in wine grape, and seen the addition of more than 400 new wineries. This growing industry is leaving an ever-expanding footprint across the hills, valleys, and marketplaces of Oregon.

Learn more about Oregon's wine industry in the full article, written by Workforce Analyst Annette Shelton-Tiderman.

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