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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Illustration of a woman holding wine near a music band. Text over the image reads: The Auction of Washington Wines Wine and Music Festival, WSU Tri-Cities Campus, June 10, Saturday 6 pm. Learn More. Support Wine.

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Inspiring Teamwork - Arron Carter pic

Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter

It started with a car, a ’69 Corvette Stingray to be exact.

When Arron Carter, the director of the Washington State University Winter Wheat Breeding Program, was in high school his agricultural teacher had a ’69 Corvette Stingray. Every year this teacher would let his favorite senior take the car to senior prom. Carter had never taken an agriculture class before, but he knew he wanted to drive that car.

“Well, if I’m going to be the favorite senior,” Carter said to himself, “I’d better start taking some ag classes.”…

Read More: Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter

 










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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.

Research Update

Washington State University’s screening continues to find no evidence of glyphosate herbicide resistance in Pacific Northwest wheat varieties

In each of the last three years (2014, 2015 and 2016), the field screening process has involved over 80 varieties, 2,000 advanced breeding lines and more than 35,000 individual plots from WSU cereal breeding and variety evaluation programs. Collectively, varieties included in these trials represent over 95 percent of the wheat acreage planted in Washington.

Featured Research

Want fries with that? Stealth potato virus threatens industry

Newly emerged viruses threaten the U.S. potato industry, including potatoes grown in Washington. Several newly evolved strains of the disease known as potato virus Y, or PVY, can render potatoes unmarketable and reduce crop yield. What’s worse is the new viruses are particularly difficult to detect with the naked eye.

Horned larks undeterred by efforts to protect canola seedlings

Horned larks are turning up in droves near Lind, Wash. and decimating newly planted winter and spring canola fields despite multiple efforts to deter them.

In search of the perfect steak

Imagine taking your first bite of a $40 rib-eye steak—only to chew on beef that’s as tough as shoe leather. Talk about disappointment! “A tough steak is not a pleasant experience,” says Frank Hendrix, a WSU Extension Educator and animal scientist.

Workshops to discuss changing water forecast for Columbia Basin

How changing water availability in the Columbia River Basin could affect people, farms and fish is the focus of a series of free public workshops in June. Scheduled for June 21, 22 and 23 in Richland, Wenatchee and Spokane, the workshops give a first look at the 2016 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast.

After landslide, communities rewarded for resilience

Two years after the deadly landslide that devastated the Oso, Wash., area, the towns of Darrington and Arlington were announced April 27 as finalists in the America’s Best Communities (ABC) competition.

$11M funds food safety tech transfer to markets

WSU aims to meet growing demand for safe, high quality, additive-free packaged foods thanks to two recent investments in innovative food processing technology based on microwave energy.




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