Washington Wine the Positive Exception

Sovos ShipCompliant | February 29, 2024

andrew adams wine vine analytics headshotBy Andrew Adams, Editor, Wine Analytics Report

With another year of winery direct-to-consumer shipments tallied and analyzed, the state of Washington was the only major region tracked by Sovos ShipCompliant and WineBusiness Analytics to enjoy growth over the previous year.

Compared to 2022, shipment value by Washington’s wineries grew 11% to $187 million while volume was up by nearly 6% to 390,010 cases. Average bottle prices of all Washington shipments rose by more than 5% to $39.90, which is the most affordable of all the major West Coast regions tracked in the annual report aside from the “rest of California” at $27.27.

It was some good news for the state’s wine industry that has been going through a transition as the largest Washington winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, has reduced the number of grapes it is buying as part of a revised business strategy in response to the changed U.S. wine market.

While that strategic change has been challenging for many of Washington’s largest grape growers, it ultimately may benefit the state’s smaller wineries by freeing up quality grapes. The growth of DtC shipments in the past year may also indicate that the state’s smaller wineries are already stepping out from beneath the Ste. Michelle banner in forging a new Washington wine brand defined by smaller production, premium wines sold at higher prices that have long defined the DtC channel. According to the WineBusiness Analytics winery database, Washington is home to 872 wineries and 85% of those, or 739, produce fewer than 5,000 cases a year.

Just like every other major wine-producing region in the U.S., Washington is a top destination for DtC shipments as well. In 2023, shipments within the state surpassed out-of-state shipments by both value and volume. Total shipments by Washington wineries within the state came to $105 million, which is $24 million more than shipments out of the state. By volume, in-state shipments totaled 247,691 versus 142,311 that were shipped out of state.

Neighboring Oregon ships considerably more wine out of the state than within it, with out-of-state volume coming to more 289,858 cases, which is nearly 118,000 more than in-state shipments. By value, Oregon’s out-of-state shipments of more than $179 million were $89 million more than in-state shipments. Oregon has enjoyed a stellar decade of growth in the DtC channel, but continuing at that pace may prove a challenge as total shipments in 2023 declined 9% by volume and 2.6% by value compared to the previous year.

With out-of-state shipments already nearly double what’s shipped in state and an average bottle price approaching $50, Oregon may have hit a plateau. Washington, however, appears to have room to grow. In the past year, Oregon shipments accounted for 6.5% of all shipment volume, while Washington claimed 5.5%.

The most popular wines in the DtC market, Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends, account for 59% of Washington shipment value and 47% of shipment volume. The average price for Cabernet Sauvignon shipments from Washington in the 12 months through January 2024 was $59.82 compared to $85.96 for the entire channel in 2023, and the average for red blends from Washington was $40.67 compared to $60.82 for all shipments. More than half of all wineries in Washington produce a Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% produce a red blend, according to the WineBusiness Analytics winery database.

While total shipment volume in the channel has declined from the post-pandemic highpoint of 2021, the DtC market remains significantly larger than it was in 2019 and still accounts for more than 8% of total off-premise sales. With little growth expected for the U.S. wine market through the coming year, wineries need to be more strategic than ever in finding opportunities for growth.

For Washington wineries that already enjoyed exceptional growth in the DtC market over the past year, building on what worked last year appears to be a sound strategy for this year.

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Andrew Adams is the editor of the Wine Analytics Report, which is published by Wines Vines Analytics. Adams grew up in the city of Sonoma, Calif., before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. In addition to working at daily newspapers for more than a decade, Adams worked in the cellar and lab at the former Starmont winery in Napa Valley and has been a regular contributor to Wine Business Monthly magazine since 2019.