Over the past three decades Washington has developed a reputation for world-class wines, and a growing number of our state’s vineyards are incorporating organic farming practices, including cover cropping, revitalizing their soils with compost, and encouraging beneficial insect populations.
In 2011 more than 70 farms in our state grow a total of 2,599 acres of certified organic wine, juice and table grapes. While organic juice and table grape production have held fairly stable, organic wine grape production increased 28% to 1,115 acres. Certified organic wineries in our state include Badger Mountain, Lopez Island, Snoqualmie, China Bend, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Gordon Brothers Cellars, and Klickitat Canyon Winery.
While Washington is primarily famous for wines produced in the arid Columbia Basin, Brent Charley at Lopez Island Vineyards has demonstrated that varieties adapted for cooler climates such as Siegrerrebe and Mandeline Angevine can produce award winning wines: www.lopezislandvineyards.com.
Bill Powers of Badger Mountain Vineyard in Kennewick pioneered organic viticulture in the Columbia Basin. After starting out growing grapes with conventional practices, he converted to 100% organic production in 1988 and in 1990 Badger Mountain was awarded the first organic wine grape vineyard certification by the WSDA Organic Food Program: www.badgermtnvineyard.com.
Today Powers’ vineyard has grown to 71 acres of certified organic wine grapes, including Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Malbec, Merlot, Muscat Canelli, Syrah, and White Riesling.
Powers was one of the founding members of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. In 1997 he was honored with the association’s lifetime achievement award and in 2010 he was inducted to the Legends of Wine Hall of Fame and cited as an “organic pioneer.”
Joy Andersen is another of our state’s organic pioneers. One of Washington’s first women winemakers, Anderson’s first career was as a researcher and lab technician. After graduating with a BA in chemistry from the University of Washington, she worked at the USDA Tree Fruit Research Laboratory in Wenatchee. Anderson’s introduction to winemaking began in 1981 when she was hired as a lab technician with Chateau Ste. Michelle, where she became fascinated with art and science of winemaking.
In 1991 Ste. Michelle Wine Estates purchased Snoqualmie Vineyards near Prosser and appointed Andersen as their winemaker. She worked with the vineyard managers as they transitioned their first blocks of grapes to organic production, and in 1994 the vineyard had 100 acres of White Riesling certified organic by the WSDA . Since that time Snoqualmie has grown to the state’s largest organic vineyard, with 378 acres of certified organic wine grapes and another 149 acres in transition. Andersen transforms the vineyard’s White Riesling, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes into Snoqualmie’s line of “Naked” certified organic wines: www.snoqualmie.com.
In addition to WSDA organic certification, Ste. Michelle participates in the Vinewise sustainable viticulture program: www.vinewise.org, and they are certified Salmon Safe: www.salmonsafe.org/getcertified/vineyards. Andersen was also one of the founders of Winerywise, the Washington Guide to Sustainable Winemaking Practices: www.winerywise.org.
Jason Schlagel, Viticulturist for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates vineyards, gave a presentation on the challenges of organic grape production at the 2012 Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers Conference. He talked about his experience utilizing cover crops, compost and organic fertilizers to promote microbial activity and build soil health. Sulfur sprays and some organic fungicides are used to control powdery mildew, and the take an integrated approach to managing insects.
WSU entomologist David James recently initiated a new research project called “Beauty with Benefits” to encourage grape growers to plant native flowers to restore native pollinator populations and enhance biological pest control in their vineyards: www.wavineyardbeautywithbenefits.com.