College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

A Brief History of Washington Wine – Walter Clore – Washington Wine History, Part 1

Today, Washington has a wine industry worth more than three billion dollars a year, making it the second largest in the U.S. But it wasn’t always that way. As Leon Adams wrote in his classic The Wines of America (1973), “the Washington state recovery is one of the greatest human stories in the wine industry.”

Walter Clore
Walter Clore

To call the present state of the Washington wine industry a “recovery,” however, is a bit misleading. In fact, before the research efforts of Walter Clore and Chas Nagel were implemented, Washington simply didn’t have a wine industry in any modern sense of the term. Instead, Washington had a small sweet dessert and fortified wine industry based on Concord grapes (Vitis labrusca).

In the 1960s, California dominated the domestic fine-wine market, due in large part to marketing efforts by wine giant E. & J. Gallo, of Modesto, California. Gallo’s marketing campaign, centered on the message that Gallo would “Sell no wine before its time,” reeducated the American drinking public. Americans, unlike Europeans, had long been drinkers of sweet and fortified wines made from Concord grapes. Gallo’s efforts changed not only American wine-drinking habits, but attitudes toward wine. Consuming varietal wines became a sign of sophistication and prestige.

Before 1969, the Washington wine industry was stymied by protective laws that acted as a disincentive to growers of varietal grapes (Vitis vinifera) and fine wine makers. Except for a few home wine-makers who dabbled in growing varietal grapes, Washington’s Concord grape industry dominated the scene. That industry was protected by laws that made California wines illegal and Washington wine drinkers uninformed about the potential of their state to produce excellent wines. Washington growers had no reason to plant anything but Concords, even though they thought fine varietals would grow well in the state’s soils and long growing season.

1969 is a key year in the history of Washington wine, as a pair of legislative hearings was held in Yakima and Seattle, to determine if the state’s protectionist wine laws should be overturned. Legislators heard important testimony from two WSU scientists: horticulturist Walter Clore and food scientist Chas Nagel.

Clore told the lawmakers that Washington could no longer compete with California in the production of the table grapes that go into juice concentrate and jelly. But, he told them, he had been researching the potential of “the vinifera type of grape. This is the European type of grape…. We have been working since 1937, at least I have, on grape varieties and grape problems in the Yakima Valley.”

In other words, Clore’s research indicated that Washington growers had every reason to think they could compete vigorously with California in the newly burgeoning fine-wine market. Clore’s pointed out that Washington is on the same latitude as the fine growing regions of Europe; that Washington gets has a longer growing season, with more hours of more intense sunlight, and that Washington’s grape growing regions aren’t plagued with the insects and diseases that California has.

The only negative Clore could see was a greater number of days with temperatures below zero. “However, we do not have all the of the insect and disease problems that California has, so we can grow grapes on their own roots; so if [the vines] do kill back (because of the cold), they come back within the following year and you lose (only) one year’s crop.”

Not only could Washington compete with California, Clore said Washington might even be a better grape-growing region than California. Or, rather, Washington could compete if only the legislature would repeal the protectionist laws that dampened competition.

Chas Nagel, the food scientist from WSU, testified next. Nagel had recruited a wine tasting panel in Pullman, where he and his team rated up to 50 wines and compared them. When he was asked how Washington wines compared with wines grown and made elsewhere, Nagel replied, “In my opinion, quite favorably with certain varieties of any produced in the world, according to our taste panel.”

Fortunately for wine lovers everywhere, and despite intense lobbying from the California industry, the Washington legislature changed the laws that had kept fine vinifera grapes from widespread production.

Within a few years, Washington producers had the first of many hits on their hands, a white Riesling. Lots of people have contributed to the success of Washington wine, but it all comes back to the man known fondly, and accurately, as “the father of Washington wine” and “Johnny Grapeseed”: Walter Clore.

Expect Perfect Pairings

For more on WSU’s program in viticulture and enology, inlcuding interviews with students and alumni working in the industry, please click here.

The history discussed in this article is told in much greater detail in Irvine and Clore’s excellent book, The Wine Project, upon which this article relies for information about the legislative hearings held in 1969.

More on Washington wine

Wine Pioneer Ray Folwell Retires after 38 Years

Chas Nagel, Wine Pioneer, Dies

Michael Veseth, author of the Grape Expectations blog, comes to pretty much the same conclusion as this piece, that Clore and his colleagues’ testimony spurred the Washington wine industry toward the production of premium wines.

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Voice of the Vine is a free-, bi-weekly e-newsletter covering viticulture and enology at Washington State University. Each issue brings you one or two short articles featuring profiles of researchers, students, and alumni in Washington’s world-class wine industry. Subscribe today!

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The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.

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Thomas Bass, left, livestock environment specialist at Montana State University and chair of the judging panel, and Mark Risse, right, congratulate George Neerackal on his poster win. (Courtesy photo)
Thomas Bass, left, livestock environment specialist at Montana State University and chair of the judging panel, and Mark Risse, right, congratulate George Neerackal on his poster win.

Cutting manure emissions earns student kudos

BSE student’s work to cut greenhouse impact of manure took honors in poster contest

By Seth Truscott

Pullman, Wash. — Dairy cows produce lots of manure. A WSU student’s research on cutting the environmental impact of all that waste won him second place in a poster competition at Seattle’s annual Waste to Worth conference.

George Neerackal, who graduates later this year with a doctorate in Biological Systems Engineering, took second in the Ron Sheffield Memorial Student poster contest, held March 31 to April 3.

His poster, “Mitigating ammonia emissions from dairy barns through manure-pH management,” was among three winners chosen by a national panel of judges. MORE

 

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Covercrop-byKantorStudy puts a price on help nature provides agriculture

By Sylvia Kantor

PULLMAN, Wash. – Scientists from Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States describe the research they conducted on organic and conventional farms to arrive at dollar values for natural processes that aid farming and that can substitute for costly fossil fuel-based inputs. The study appears in the journal PeerJ.

“By accounting for ecosystem services in agricultural systems and getting people to support the products from these systems around the world, we move stewardship of lands in a more sustainable direction, protecting future generations,” said Washington State University soil scientist John Reganold, one of the study’s authors. MORE

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Prickly-lettuce-plant_Flickr-user-Jim-Kennedy2Study points the way toward producing rubber from lettuce

By Sylvia Kantor

PULLMAN, Wash. – Prickly lettuce, a common weed that has long vexed farmers, has potential as a new cash crop providing raw material for rubber production, according to Washington State University scientists.

Writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they describe regions in the plant’s genetic code linked to rubber production. The findings open the way for breeding for desired traits and developing a new crop source for rubber in the Pacific Northwest. MORE

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By Rebecca Phillips

Bad news in the media got you down? News consumers have only themselves to blame, says new research showing that it’s actually buying habits that drive negative press.

The research looks at the negative news phenomenon through the prism of economic science. And while previous studies have focused on the supply side by examining media output, this analysis is among the first to investigate a negative news bias from the consumer or demand side. MORE

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By Sylvia Kantor

Pullman, Wash. – You generally don’t find livestock among the hills of the Palouse region of eastern Washington where grain is grown. But wheat farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison are changing that – and making a profit.

On 100 of their 1,300 family owned acres, they are experimenting with a rather unconventional scheme for the region – growing wheat, peas, perennial grasses like alfalfa and sheep in a tightly integrated system. MORE

 

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MudflatImpact: Burrowing Shrimp and Invasive Eelgrass

Shellfish production in Washington is a $60 million a year industry. Several major pests plague this industry, resulting in major crop loss. One of the most important pests is subterranean burrowing shrimp. These shrimp bioturbate (stir up) the sediment, causing the oysters to sink and die. For the past 60 years the industry has been using the insecticide Sevin to control this pest, but due to lawsuits its use was phased out in 2012. Without alternative control for shrimp, tens of millions of dollars in annual crop revenue will be lost and the industry will quickly lose its economic viability in southwestern Washington.

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The Environmental Protection Agency has identified agriculture as the leading contributor of pollutants to the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. These reports often do not separate animal agriculture from other agricultural enterprises, but they do note that pathogens, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances associated with manure are three of the top five pollutants. Some emerging issues related to manure management include: endocrine disruptors (hormones), pharmaceuticals (antimicrobials), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Adopting farm practices that minimize the environmental impact is important for food safety.

BiosolidsImpact: Biosolids and Compost

Biosolids are the solids produced during municipal wastewater treatment. Composts are made from a variety of organic materials, including both urban and agriculture sources such as yard trimmings, biosolids, storm debris, food waste or manure, and food processing residues. While these materials have traditionally been viewed as waste, they can play a valuable role as soil amendments in urban and agricultural settings. They provide nutrients and organic matter and they sequester carbon, thereby conserving resources, restoring soils, and combating climate change.

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The WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) Office of Alumni & Friends is a service unit dedicated to promoting philanthropic support for the college’s research, teaching, and extension programs.

CAHNRS seeks $190 million through the Campaign for WSU. This unprecedented fundraising goal is managed through the CAHNRS Office of Alumni and Friends. If you would like to learn more about the CAHNRS’s fundraising priorities, please explore our website or meet the team.

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Through the Campaign for Washington State University, CAHNRS and WSU Extension will play a major role in defining answers to complex issues through truly big ideas—feeding the world, powering the planet, and ensuring the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. See below to learn more about how we are addressing these issues in our strategic and on-going  initiatives and development of world-class students.

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