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2014: Best Vintage Ever?

Report provides snapshot of Oregon wine country, shows banner harvest year

Like the grapes that are harvested, the Oregon wine industry just keeps growing.

That was the major takeaway from the annual Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census Report, which was released for 2014 last week. The study, conducted by Southern Oregon University Research Center, found that Oregon’s wine industry is healthy and still continues to improve.

Overall production in the state grew to 78,000 tons in 2014, representing a 39 percent increase over the 2013 figures.

The report indicates every region around the state showed production increases, but that the northern Willamette Valley far outpaced any other area with two-thirds of the state’s overall production and representing a 41 percent increase over the prior year.GARY ALLEN - Banner year - The 2014 Oregon wine harvest combined quality with quantity, according to an Oregon Wine Board report. The organization added that the 2014 vintage might be the ‘vintage of a lifetime.'

Some of those production increases could be attributed to the 8 percent increase in vineyard operations (bringing the statewide number to more than 1,000 for the first time). But there may be other factors at work.

The average production at A to Z Wineworks in Newberg has varied widely over the years, from as little as 2 tons per acre to 3.5 tons in 2014.

“That’s a big difference, if suddenly you are receiving from growers one-third more fruit,” winery marketing and sales officer Deb Hatcher said. “Whether the berries are bigger or more abundant, whatever the reason, that’s a huge jump in production. I’m not 100 percent sure it’s because so many more vineyards have come on.”

A to Z was not alone in the large 2014 harvest. Another Oregon Wine Board report detailed the 2014 harvest season from perspectives around the state, describing the 2014 vintage as the “vintage of a lifetime.”

“Growing conditions were mostly dry and warmer than normal throughout the spring providing a great environment for flowering and fruit set,” the report explained, adding how the 2014 vintage broke previous records for heat accumulation during the growing season. But it wasn’t because of the daytime highs, but rather then higher than normal overnight temperatures.

“Last year we had the highest minimum temperature ever, and this year our minimum is more typical in that we still cool off at night,” Hatcher said.

Joe Dobbes of Dobbes Family Estate described the 2014 vintage as “one of those rare vintages when you have high quality and high quantity simultaneously.”

Besides the production increases and record harvest, some sales trends emerged in 2014 including a sizable increase in export sales, up 50 percent from 61,000 to 92,000 cases sold internationally.

This marked increase, OWB chairwoman Ellen Brittan said in a release, is a result of expanded international marketing efforts over the past few years, particularly in Asia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries.

A to Z has seen success in exports to Canada, but has dialed back from the China market.

“Quebec and Ontario are very good markets,” Hatcher said. “They are growing to understand Oregon as a region.”

The China market is just too big to satisfy, Hatcher said.

“It’s like trying to put a little drop of food coloring in the ocean and expect it to change color. It’s not going to,” she said.

In-state sales of Oregon wine grew 12 percent, while national sales were up 5 percent. Overall sales of Oregon wine, both nationally and worldwide, are trending up 11 percent at this point in 2015.

Pinot noir unsurprisingly continued to lead production in Oregon with 45,239 tons produced statewide last year, up 40 percent from the previous year.

But at A to Z, one of the more surprising trends was what Hatcher described as the “tremendous upsurge and excitement” about Oregon chardonnay, which is the bestselling chardonnay in the country.

“Our chardonnay market is growing wildly faster than our others,” Hatcher said.