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Wine Industry Chilled by Bitter Freeze

November 5, 1996

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) _ Wine-grape growers say they need a mild winter to enable their vineyards to recover from devastating damage suffered in last February’s extended subzero freeze.

``The wineries, I don’t think, will be able to make it in another year like this one,″ said Maurice Balcom, co-owner of Balcom & Moe, a winery in Pasco. ``Or some of the vineyards. Most of the vineyards are just squeaking by as it is.″

His winery, which has been producing grapes on a 110-acre vineyard since 1971, had to buy grapes this year for the first time in order to make wine, Balcom said.

Don’t look for any 1996 vintage wine from neighbor Preston Wine Cellars.

``We didn’t harvest a single grape this year,″ said co-owner Brent Preston, whose winery usually produces 1,000 tons of wine grapes on its 173-acre vineyard.

Vineyards across central Washington were devastated by bitterly cold temperatures last February that dipped as low as 30 degrees below zero for a week.

``It was as severe as we’ve ever seen. It was as bad as it could get. In our area, it took most of the vineyards out totally, down to the ground,″ Balcom said.

Balcom’s and Preston’s vineyards, and others hit nearly as hard, will likely receive only 40 percent to 50 percent of their normal harvests next year as the vines grow back.

``It’s good as long as we have a mild winter,″ Preston said.

Jack Watson, a Washington State University extension agent based in Prosser, said vineyards in higher elevations and those near Paterson were the only ones to escape the effects of the freeze.

``For the rest, there was destruction of buds in the least-injured vines and destruction of wood in some of the worst,″ Watson said.

The good news is the wine that is being made from this year’s crop is better than usual, said Steve Burns, executive director of the wine commission.

``It’s a dark cloud with a silver lining,″ Burns said. ``The crop is down but the quality is incredible.″

___

WASHINGTON (AP) _ When the British colony of Hong Kong reverts to Chinese control next summer, American beer is likely to be a big part of any celebration. U.S. beer dominates the Hong Kong market.

The Agriculture Department says beer exports to the island have been rising steadily since 1992, and in 1995 grew to $45 million. In the first seven months of 1996, U.S. suds exports were up almost 5 percent from last year.

USDA attributes the bull market in Yankee beer to ``rising incomes, policy changes and internationally minded young people.″ Most beer consumed in Hong Kong is imported, and half the import market now carries a ``made in America ″ label.

Beer is only one category of U.S. horticultural exports tracked by USDA. Those exports were worth $718 million in August, and during the first 11 months of the marketing year were valued at $8.57 billion, up 2 percent from a year earlier.

Seven of 15 categories of horticultural exports rose in value in August. Leading the way were fresh noncitrus fruits, wine, canned vegetables and dehydrated vegetables. Tree nuts and fresh citrus were down.

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