Governor Gregoire picked a fun fight yesterday with California when she stated “They make jug wine. We make fine wine." All this while signing the capital construction budget, which included $5 million for a new Wine Science Center.
Well of course Governor Gregoire talked about California and jugs… It is, after all, the land of Baywatch, of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, of… Wait, wrong jugs?
All joking aside, such banter is a bit like throwing mashed potatoes at your brother across the table when the folks aren’t looking, right? In reality, California is a bigger wine producer than Washington state. And yeah, they’ve been at it for longer than we have, too. But clearly, there’s room for everyone in the market.
Our southern cousin does have more grapes: California’s largest growing region—the Central Valley—is said to stretch for 300 miles and produce nearly 75 percent of wines, including those for Gallo, Franzia, and Bronco Wine Company. And, in 2011, California’s wine grape planting was estimated at 543,000 acres; Washington’s was about 40,000 acres.
So, yeah, let’s face it, Washington doesn’t have the grapes to pour into jugged wine. California does, it’s a fact. Which is why Washington has focused more on producing “premium” wines—those above the $8 price point—and wines of value.
Of course, it’s somewhat akin to the wealthiest Americans also holding the greatest percentage of the wealth. In 2011 California shipped 211.9 million 9-liter cases of wine to the U.S. market. By comparison, in 2010 Washington produced 11.2 million 9-liter cases of wine for the U.S. market. And yet, the state is the second largest producer of premium wines in the U.S.
Come on, California, you can’t deny that you do, indeed, make jug wine. But hey, a heck of a lot of Americans want jug wine. Shoot, I grew up with a jug of wine sitting on the back step in the garage. (Sorry, mom.) Luckily for me, those days are mostly long gone.
So, no, we don’t make jug wine. And we’re number two. And damn proud of it.
For the record, in February, Wine Business Monthly listed E&J Gallo Winery as the largest U.S. wine producer in 2011; Ste. Michelle Winery Estates ranked seventh. Columbia Crest, Washington’s largest brand, makes something like 2 million cases of wine each year. Would that even rank among the top producing brands in California? Here’s a picture, courtesy Google Earth, of each of Gallo and the Crest from above. (Check out those silos!)