Agriculture

Web site has hookup for winemakers

OK, so the request isn't that flashy, and it's not a personal ad. But small wineries and home winemakers are increasingly turning to the Internet in search of grapes -- that's right, it's a grape dating site -- and Washington grape growers are finding a steady stream of business heading into the harvest season.

"When people call us looking for grapes, they're delighted when they find out we have the site," said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. "We try desperately not to get in the middle of buying and selling relationships, but that is one way we can post that need without getting entangled or ensnared in any business deals. It's really a service to the industry."

Washington state is the second-leading producer of premium wine, behind California, with an industry valued at $3 billion. More than 31,000 acres of wine grapes have been planted, ranking them No. 11 among the state's crops in 2006.

Growers expect to exceed last year's record crop of 127,150 tons crushed, but a cool, late spring has pushed harvest anywhere from five days to two weeks behind schedule, depending on location.

Warm days and cool nights have resulted in temperature shifts as great as 40 degrees in some areas -- ideal conditions for fruit with well-balanced sugar and acid levels.

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