When I was new to Walla Walla, 16-odd years ago, a visitor to the tasting room I was managing, told me he was a geologist from Napa and he wanted to buy vineyard land here.
I was curious as to why someone from Napa wanted vineyard land outside of California. After all, Napa was the mecca for American wine viticulture and while I was a strong advocate for Washington wine, I still thought we had a lot of work to do to reach a broader audience of wine-consuming fans.
“You see your scores?” he said as he pointed to our display of 90+ scores from the various wine publications. “You get these scores at these prices (all under $50 then). That’s unheard of in Napa.”
Fast forward and vineyard land in California is out of reach of many aspiring wineries. Coupled with mounting land use restrictions in many areas and the growing concern about the consistent supply of irrigation water, the time for Washington and specifically, Walla Walla has arrived.
That’s not to say, growing grapes in Washington is without its challenges. Winter freeze both coming in at the end of harvest or before the grapes have had a chance to shut down for winter and in the spring during bud break are constant worries.
“Every vineyard in the Columbia Basin is subject to frost and freezes,” says Kevin Pogue, professor of geology at Whitman College in Walla Walla and an expert on wine grape production.
Apart from shaky weather, starting a vineyard is also a considerable investment. Pogue said it takes as much as $20,000 to $30,000 per acre just to get started, including the cost of planting and installing irrigation systems.
From there, the first grapes won’t be harvested for three years. It could take up to a decade before a farmer sees any profit, Pogue said.
“You look into the economics of it, and it’s a daunting challenge,” he said. “You aren’t going to be making money for a long time.” 1
Despite the challenges, owning a vineyard is a powerful magnet for many, primarily because of the lifestyle associated with it.
That lifestyle? You get to live in a beautiful part of the country, with plenty of sunshine and warm summers. You connectwith the amazing people both in the industry ranging from winery owners, winemakers and winery staff, to the people who are attracted because of the industry such as artists and restaurateurs. And you feel the satisfaction of building something natural, using your hands, brain and resources that results in a product that enhances people’s lives.
For many of us, it remains a deeply fulfilling endeavor.
Pendleton poses challenges for growing grapevines, By GEORGE PLAVEN
EO Media Group 10/03/2016