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West Coast Drought Serves As Boon For Wine Industry In Washington State

YAKIMA (CBS SF) - When most people think of wine, the first area that comes to mind in the U.S. is Napa Valley, home to some of the most well-known and highly regarded wineries in the world.

But a region that is quickly making a name for itself is Washington state, the number two wine producing region in the country. Just like California, the state is seeing a drought, with Governor Jay Inslee declaring a statewide drought emergency in May. But the drought has actually had a positive effect on the region's wine industry.

"The governor's Emergency Water Executive Committee has determined 48 of 62 watersheds in Washington have water supplies of 75 percent of normal or below. However, these conditions have a very minimal effect on the wine industry," said Michaela Baltasar, Communications Director of the Washington State Wine Commission. "Wine grapes originated in the Mediterranean and other Asian parts of the world, which are dry with poor soils, so they are frugal when it comes to water and nutrients."

The results - a record harvest in 2014, the state's third year of growth. Washington's wine grape harvest totaled 227,000 tons in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tonnage was 210,000 in 2013 and 188,000 in 2012.

"The industry has grown rapidly and continues to expand," Baltasar said. "In 1981, we had only 19 wineries, and today we have more than 850." In fact, Baltasar said several California wine companies have started investing in Washington properties, including Duckhorn, Cakebread and Gallo. It's still unclear if that trend will continue as California's 2014 wine grape harvest was the third largest ever.

According to a recent New York Times article, the state's historical crops, from potatoes to wheat, have remained flat or been in decline while the wine industry prospers. Dick Boushey, who owns a farm near Yakima, tells the paper he cleared 24 acres of apple trees last winter, with new cabernet sauvignon vines taking their place.

The Washington Department of Agriculture is projecting a $1.2 billion crop loss this year as a result of the drought.

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