According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Oregon 2011 wine grape production was 41,500 tons, a 33% increase over 2010 levels. Production was distributed over a large number of grape varieties but Pinot Noir (23,726 tons) and Pinot Gris (6,046 tons) were by far the largest contributors. The next leading varieties, contrastingly, were Chardonnay (1,923 tons), White Riesling (1,899 tons), and Syrah (1,319 tons). Planted acreage in 2011 was 20,400 and, with average yield of 2.37 tons/acre, only Merlot, Muller-Thurgau, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and White Riesling produce above the great-wine benchmark of 3 tons/acre.
With the exception of the regions shared with Washington and Idaho, the Oregon wine growing regions are concentrated in the valleys that lie between the Coast and the Casacade Ranges. By functioning as a barrier to the warm, moist air flowing in from the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade divides the state into western (third of the state; heavy precipitation; moderate temperatures) and eastern (two-thirds of the state; low precipitation; more extreme temperatures) climatic zones.
|Source: Erath Winery|
According to Dr. Skinkis, the wine industry in Oregon is small (840 growers and 419 wineries) with the average grower working 20 acres of land. Most of the businesses are family-owned, many as second careers. In the cooler climate of the north, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Chardonnay are the varieties of choice while the warmer southern climes gravitate to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Pinot Noir (12,560 acres), Pinot Gris (2,590 acres), and Chardonnay (950 acres) represent the largest share of plantings in the state. Overall, 63.6% of the grapes grown in the state are red varieties.
Dr. Skinkis sees a lot of interest in the industry in biodynamics but not many of the growers are Demeter-certified. Instead a number can be classified as sustainable with LIVE as the most common certification and a large number of organic practictioners (The related panel at the Portland Wine Bloggers Conference lumped these viniviticultural practices together under a "sustainable" umbrella in that, according to the panel, they all focus on safety; safety of the workers in the vineyards, safety of the consumer, or safety of the environment. The panel saw sustainable as poorly defined and the lowest standard as it allows the viticulturist to "ebb and flow" according to conditions. Organic was more rigid but the certification of the grape versus the wine was viewed as very complex. Biodynamic was described as a self-nurturing universe. Natural winemaking calls for a conscious decision to intervene as little as possible during the process. (See here for my post on natural wine.) LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) is wine-grape-specifc and, according to the panel, is more rigorous in looking at the system than either organic or biodynamic. According to LIVE, 275 vineyards and 35 wineries in oregon are LIVE-certified.).
The industry works closely with OSUs OWRI (a Working Group of individuals who focus on wine-related issues) to address issues of concern. The industry's focus today is on increasing fruit quality and improving yield, according to Dr. Skinkis, and she assists this effort by (i) providing new information and research and (ii) integrating applied research and Extension outreach for the benefit of winemakers, growers, and owners. The areas of viticultural research that are currently being pursued are (Dr. Skinkis):
- Economic -- understanding the economic impact of different vineyard management practices
- Sustainability -- the economics and environmental effects of this approach and the role of cover crops in this area
- Yield management -- what level of fruit is the vine to ripen (Yield has become a measure of quality)?
For the future, Dr. Skinkis envisions the research needs of the industry pivoting to the following areas:
- Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of managing grapes in a cold environment and the roles of nutrients and canopy management in that process
- How to better manage for vine balance (versus today's focus on yield management)
- New ways to manage troubled fermentations (Two potential paths are new yeast strains or a better understanding of native yeast strains.).
In future posts I will examine the Oregon AVAs in detail.
©Wine -- Mise en abyme