Washington state “grape power”

Did you know that Washington’s grape production is second only to California?

There are two origins of the state’s grape and wine industry. The earliest history of Washington wine starts with 1825 plantings of the first grape vines in Fort Vancouver, by trade workers from Hudson’s Bay Company. The second origin of started in the 1860s and 1870s, when immigrants from Germany and Italy settled in the Walla Walla area and started larger grape and wine productions.

In the last decade, Washington’s grape and wine industry has become one of the fastest-growing industries in the state, especially in Eastern Washington, where the largest concentrations of grape-farming businesses are in Yakima, Benton, Walla Walla, Grant, Franklin, Klickitat and Chelan counties.

In fact, the fertile fields of Eastern Washington produce more grape juice than any other state in the nation.

By 2012, Washington’s grape-bearing acres grew to 69,000 and yielded about 370,000 tons of grapes, with a value of $235.8 million for all grape varieties.

No one could have estimated that grapes planted in Washington would become a major economic driver not only for the agriculture industry, but also for the manufacturing, trade, transportation, and leisure and hospitality industries. Grape farming alone paid $74.4 million to more than 3,400 workers in 2012. Across the broader array of industries, the state wine commission estimates that grape growing now generates $8.6 billion and 27,455 direct and indirect jobs in Washington state annually.

If you’ve read the news recently, the Wine Enthusiast has named the Walla Walla wine region as one of the top 10 wine-travel destinations in the world for 2014. This kind of global recognition is likely to fuel even greater economic value in the future.

Ajsa Suljic is Employment Security’s regional labor economist for Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Garfield, Franklin and Walla Walla counties.

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