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Vinting by numbers: Annual report released

I don’t know how many people get excited about the annual release of the Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census Report. No doubt the term “census” keys the nerd alarm, but for those who follow the local wine scene it really does land with a muffled sort of éclat when it hits the street.

The Census Report is the Oregon wine industry’s ground truth in terms of what was actually produced in a given year. In our current election environment, a low premium may be placed on ground truth, but for "cork dorks" (to borrow a phrase from Serra Vineyards’ Master of Wine candidate Liz Wan) it’s still a subject of great interest.

Gathering data is a notoriously tedious chore. In the case of the Vineyard and Winery Census, it requires wine grape growers and winery staff statewide to meticulously record figures on a variety of industry metrics such as planted vineyard acreage, fruit tonnage per acre, and tonnage of each grape variety crushed. In the spring following each harvest, census forms are filed with the Southern Oregon University Research Center (SOURCE), the only full-service, university affiliated research center in Southern Oregon. SOURCE began analyzing census data on the Oregon wine industry and producing a combined vineyard and winery report for the Oregon Wine Board (OWB) in 2011, a service previously performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Aug. 18: This paragraph has been updated to reflect that reports are filed with SOURCE, not OWB.)

The 2015 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census Report released a few days ago will prove a joy to those who like to use their rulers and highlighters, and may require a magnifying glass for readers with middle-aged vision.

Here are some of the 2015 statewide highlights headlining the report with comments on how our local Rogue Valley stats compare. (Note: The Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) includes the Applegate Valley AVA in its entirety.):

• Pinot noir continues to lead all varieties accounting for 62 percent of planted acreage and 67 percent of vineyard production.

The grape variety with greatest harvested tonnage in the Rogue Valley is also pinot noir at 2,267 tons, which accounts for about a quarter of our total production. A distant second is pinot gris (1,198), followed by syrah (741), merlot (582), tempranillo (575) and chardonnay (567).

• The number of vineyard operations increased by 2 percent to 1,052, leading to a 2 percent increase in planted acres from 2014.

The number of Rogue Valley vineyards grew from 156 in 2014 to 164 in 2015, an increase of about 5 percent.

• Overall, vineyard yields were up, with the most significant increases in the South Willamette Valley and Umpqua Valley.

Rogue Valley production in 2015 was up by nearly 7 percent. 

• Total tons of grapes crushed increased 5 percent to 73,518 from 2014, with the North Willamette Valley accounting for 75 percent of total crush.

The Rogue Valley accounted for about 7 percent of the statewide crush. In 2015 there were 84 wineries in the Rogue Valley AVA compared to 80 in 2014. In spite of this, the 5,378 total tons crushed by Rogue Valley wineries in 2015 was down from 6,767 in 2014.

• Case sales increased 9 percent to 3.1 million in 2015, with the largest channel increase in direct-to-consumer sales (14 percent).

A large part of direct-to-consumer sales is generated in winery tasting rooms. Eric Weisinger, owner/winemaker of Ashland’s Weisinger Family Winery, comments, “We saw a steady increase in both foot traffic and the volume of tasting room sales from 2014 to 2015. So far, 2016 is looking to exceed 2015. The recent press that Southern Oregon wines have been getting, coupled with being designated as one of the top-10 wine country destinations is bringing more people into our area who want to experience what we have to offer. I believe we are experiencing a wave that is a long way off from cresting.”

For more information, and reports going all the way back to 1981, check out the Oregon Wine Board website at http://industry.oregonwine.org/resources/winery-and-vineyard-reports/.

Ashland freelance writer MJ Daspit is co-author of "Rogue Valley Wine."