Mill Creek, from above

More and more vineyards are mixing in with wheat crops such as in this view of the Mill Creek area from last month.

Syrah acreage has overtaken merlot as Walla Walla’s second-largest grape production, according to results of a vineyard study.

The change is part of an evolution in the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area that also includes growth of about 120 acres — or 4 percent — since 2016.

The study comes two years after the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance completed a similar examination of varietals and acreage. This time, the wine and vineyard membership organization completed the study with help from Whitman College Fellow intern Yarden Blausaupp.

Here’s what was uncovered in the data: The Walla Walla AVA has a total of 2,932 acres of grapes, compared to 2,813 in 2016.

“The continued growth of vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley is a testament to the unique and diversified soils and growing conditions present here,” said Jason Magnaghi, viticulturist with Leonetti Cellar and Figgins Family Wine Estates, in a prepared statement. “Growers and vintners work together to plant varieties where the wines will best express the qualities of the growing site; it’s an exciting time in our industry as we learn and grow together.”

Cabernet sauvignon leads the top five varietals grown here, with 36.4 percent of the acreage. Syrah is now second at 18.3 percent, overtaking third-place merlot at 16.1 percent. Rounding out the top are cabernet franc at 6.6 percent and malbec at 4.3 percent.

The Walla Walla AVA has the fifth-largest acreage of vines in the state. It is what’s referred to as a “cross border” AVA, with 56.7 percent of the vines grown in Washington and 43.3 percent in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, the sub-AVA of the Walla Walla Valley.

Continued steady growth is anticipated, said Ashley Riggs, the alliance’s chief operating officer.

“The Walla Walla Valley is an epicenter of activity, with a steady stream of investors purchasing and planting wine grapes as well as established wineries breaking ground on new projects throughout the Valley,” Riggs said in the announcement. “We are poised to grow beyond 3,000 acres in the very near future.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.