I have been an advocate for Washington State wine for many years and one question I hear constantly is: “Why is Washington State wine so costly?” I would love to give you a little glimpse into why the price tag may seem a little high. For my research, I had the privilege of visiting and talking with the winemakers of Pleasant Hill, Wm Grassie, Convergence Zone, Pearl & Stone, and Mt. Si. Winery. All gorgeous wineries from the beautiful Snoqualmie Valley. Don’t get me started about how we needn’t go anywhere else!
Throughout these interviews, a common point became abundantly clear: Wineries make very little profit, if any at all. It takes money to make money, and, according to Larry Lindvig (Pleasant Hill), most wineries are owned by people or groups with already said monies.
The investment that it takes to open winery is quite extensive. A potential wine maker has to purchase equipment which may include but is not limited to pumps, stemmers, crushers, hoses, racks, barrels ($500-$,1500 per barrel), tanks (fermentation, steel-$5,000 to $20,000), vats, bottles, and more.
The wine maker must carefully choose their preferred varietal and pay up to $5,000 per ton of grapes to make the juice. Chris Stone (Pearl & Stone) reminded me that it really depends on the quality of the grapes for the price of the varietal. When a varietal is chosen it is then put into vats to ferment and after the fermentation process the juice is put into barrels to age to up to approximately 24 months. When the producer is happy with the taste and age of the wine then the juice is bottled and held for bottle aging.
To produce one bottle of wine it takes up to three years before it is even visible to the public eye. The winery must pay for labeling, marketing, and labor to release that one bottle that has sat for three years.
Bill Grassie (Wm Grassie Estates) equated a finished bottle of wine to fine art. What would one pay for a beautiful piece of art to enjoy? To each of these dedicated Washington State winemakers, they are sharing their art with you. Art that took them three years to produce before they ever see a dime from the finished product.
There are upwards of 900 wineries in the state, most of them small to medium-sized operations that can’t realize the economies of scale that come from mass production. What you see and what you taste is the product of hand craftmanship, by people who have invested their passion as well as their own money to produce and share something lovely for all of us to enjoy.
Kimberlea Miller is co-owner of Wildflower Wine Shop in North Bend.