Last week I gave a talk to a group of importers that were touring eastern Washington with the Washington Wine Commission. My topic was Riesling acreage and clonal selection in Washington State. I wanted to put some of the interesting facts I found out on this blog for reference.
Riesling acreage is about 145,000 acres worldwide. Most of the acreage is located in the old world (Germany and Alsace). In the new world, Australia has the largest acreage followed by Washington State. To put it in relationship with other regions, Washington has about 4,500 acres of Riesling which is about twice the acreage of California and about half the acreage of Alsace.
Washington’s Riesling is either quite old (older than 25 years – representing 40% of total acreage) or quite young (less than 7 years – representing 40% of total acreage). This age distribution has probably to do with the early successes of Riesling in Washington followed by a low growth period (for Riesling in general) in the 90s and an accelerated growth since the beginning of the new millenium.
The acreage older than 25 year old is planted a bit everywhere throughout the State with about 25% in the Yakima Valley. Although there are no record of where the clonal material came from, one can guess about two probable sources. The first one is the stock that was brought in by Upland winery (closed in 1972) in the late 30’s on the eve of the repeal of prohibition. This selection was planted in Sunnyside and came from Germany (Upland’s winemaker was German). The second probable source is California. Before the 70’s, only clone 1 seemed to have been available in quantity. Clone 1 is also of German origin and came through Oregon State University. Those two sources are probably the origin of most of Washington’s Riesling.
The younger plantings are less scattered than the earlier ones and concentrated in the Yakima Valley (about 50% of all Riesling is grown in “the valley”) and in the Horse Heaven Hills (25% of all Riesling is grown there). The clonal selection available post 1970 was more varied since the Foundation Plant Service (FPS) in California had introduced several German clones in the 50’s. The probable materials that were brought in for newer planting (the American FPS clone number is the short number, I am including the “translation” for reference) includes clone 9 and 24 (Geisenheim 110), Clone 12 (Neustadt 90), Clone 17 (Geisenheim 198), Clone 23 (Geisenheim 239). Other clones might have come up to Washington such as the “Martini clone” (FPS 10), the Conegliano 100 (FPS 19), the Clos Pepe clone (FPS 20), the Mendoza clone (FPS 22), ENTAV 49 (FPS 49). Of course, most new plantings might just have been propagated from the wood of older vineyards. No one know for sure, but I would guess that 80% of new plantings still come from the original selections.
At Pacific Rim, we are probably a mini sample of Washington’s Riesling. 30% of our vineyards are indeed older than 25 years. 40% of our Riesling comes from the Horse Heaven Hills (Wallula Vineyard) with the balance coming from the lower Yakima Valley (in a narrow strecth at the highest elevation available between Sunnyside and Prosser). Our newer planting are all clone 110, 239, 198 and 90 from Germany (representing about 65% of all our Riesling), who knows what the older vines are.