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Washington: Energy Makes the Wine

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted October 24, 2017

Long-time residents of Washington state joke that the western part, between the Cascades and the Pacific Ocean has two seasons – a rainy one that keeps forests of evergreens ever green, and a dry one that begins promptly on July 5, the day after soggy Independence Day festivities.

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More seriously, Washington’s seasons, its climate, elevations and other factors combine to make great grapes – ultimately making the state the country’s second-largest premium wine producer in the country. Natural gas and oil help make it so – playing essential supporting roles in wine-making just as they do in so many other aspects of modern life, all across the 50 states.

Energy is involved in winemaking from the ground up. Long before grapes are snipped from vines, the plants have been nourished with the help of fertilizers, often nitrogen-based, manufactured using natural gas. They help grape vines grow and improve leaf quality to better convert sunlight to plant nutrients. Fertilizers also help ensure deep-growing roots to produce sugars that are sweet and succulent, as well as disease-resistant.

From Picking Grapes to Sipping a Glass of Wine

As late summer turns to fall (and the next rainy season starts brewing up!), the state reaches its prime harvest season. Farmers gather some 71,000 tons of cabernet sauvignon grapes[MG1]  in August, September and October. Yields this high rank Washington only behind California in wine production. Late summer and early fall also is the best time to be one of 800,000 tourists who visit Washington wineries annually, spending $193.1 million and supporting 1,800 jobs as of 2014.

The type of wine being produced depends on when the grapes are ready. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are harvested first, as they are early ripening grapes. Dessert wines are produced last to ensure a denser dehydration of the grape. As the grape dehydrates, its sugar content becomes more concentrated, creating a wine that is higher in residual sugar and higher in potential alcohol.

For improved efficiency and cost effectiveness, vineyards typically harvest their grapes using modern mechanical harvesters. The Spectrum Grape Harvester, which runs on diesel, is a popular choice for wineries in Washington, as well as those in California and Michigan.

Washington State power of the grape wine shareable

Beyond the use of natural gas and petroleum in fertilizing and harvesting, energy is also a key component in bottling wine. Glass manufacturing is mainly fueled by natural gas to heat the furnaces that melt the raw materials. Think of it this way: No matter what kind of wine you enjoy, and whether it was made with grapes from one of Washington state’s 900 vineyards, energy is that bottle’s friend.

The energy-wine nexus isn’t limited to a winery or fine restaurant. Natural gas and oil are linked to a number of home accessories that enhance the aromas and tastes of wine. The Vinturi Wine Aerator, a device made from acrylic, which is a thermoplastic derived from natural gas, provides a better bouquet, enhanced flavors and a smoother finish. And bottle stoppers – such as a Rabbit bottle stopper, made with synthetic rubber from petroleum and stainless steel – creates an air-right seal to prolong the life of a bottle of wine.

Washington state glassy eyed beauty wine shareable

Wine in the U.S.

Americans love wine. There were 323 million cases of U.S.-produced wine shipped in 2015. Given that 95 percent of U.S. wine is made on the West Coast, there’s a lot of petroleum and natural gas-based fuel getting those shipments where they need to go. In 2015, more than 500,000 outlets sold wine nationally, and the wine industry brought in revenues of $38 billion.

In Washington alone, 2016 saw approximately 16 million cases of wine produced, or 270,000 tons harvested (58 percent red and 42 percent white). With 16 hours of sunlight during the summer, Washington is an ideal location for the 50,000 plus acres of wine grapes, rapidly increasing with new growers opening vineyards every year. Winemaking in Washington also brings a significant boost to the state’s economy. In 2013, state wineries sold $659.9 million of wine outside of Washington, with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville making up $533.9 million of that.

So, grab yourself a glass of Washington cabernet sauvignon, and as you enjoy this full-bodied red wine with dark fruit flavors and savory taste, all of those delectable qualities are made possible with the help of natural gas and oil.

Apprécier le vin!

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Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.