Washington Wine Country

Washington is so diverse, it's hard to believe you can fit it all in one state!  You have rain forests, beaches and cliffs in the west, mountain ranges in the middle, and desert-like conditions in the east.  Over 60% of the population lives in or near Seattle, with the rest around larger cities like Spokane, Tacoma, and agrarian epicenters.  Washington is a leading state for agriculture in the US and third in liters of wine produced per year, only behind California and New York.

Washington contains ten American Viticultural Areas (AVA), which are regions where the grapes grown are influenced by certain climates and geographic features.  Nine of the ten are east of the Cascade Mountains and produce 99% of the state's wine grapes.  The largest is the Columbia Valley AVA, which covers about one third of the state and is shared with Oregon.  Seven different AVAs are contained within Columbia Valley: Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Lake Chelan AVA, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA, Wahluke Slope AVA, Walla Walla Valley AVA, and Yakima Valley AVA, with a few more awaiting acceptance.  The Columbia Valley was accepted as an AVA first, and each of these areas were discovered to contain unique features separating them from one another.

Columbia Gorge AVA is just west of the Columbia Valley and also runs into Oregon.  It is the most diverse of all and is known as a "world of wine in 40 miles".  On the other side of the Cascades, surrounding Seattle, is the Puget Sound AVA.  Only 1% of all wine grapes are planted here, but the state's largest wineries call this home, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, Andrew Will, Betz Family, Cadence, and Quilceda Creek.

Look for upcoming posts with the spotlight on each of these regions!

Washington Wine History

Washington Wine Month continues with a bit of Washington wine history.  So everyone knows that Washington has become one of the greatest wine producing states in the US, but how and when did it start?  Well, it began all the way back in 1825, when traders from the Hudson's Bay Company brought in the first vines to Fort Vancouver. 

Eventually, Italian and German immigrants brought in their own wines and produced wine in the 1860s and 70s.  Italians from Puglia brought in the Ottavianello varietal, which is related to Cinsault (a French Rhone blending grape).  This little known grape is no longer grown in Washington (though Cinsault is), but a recent indigenous grape revival has put it back into production in Puglia.  In the Ostuni DOC, wines are made up of no less than 85% of the Ottavianello varietal!

Wine production continued until Washington became one of the first states to begin Prohibition in 1916 and all Vitis Vinifera vines were lost.  After Prohibition, Concord grapes were planted, mainly by the Nawico and Pommerelle wineries, and used to create fortified sweet wine.  Finally, in the 1950s, Washington State University began to replant Vitis Vinifera vines (Grenache being the first) and test which varietals grew best in local climates and soils.  Some professors eventually banded together in 1962 to create what is now Columbia Winery, while Nawico and Pommerelle combined to form Chateau Ste. Michelle, and both began to produce premium wines. 

In the 1970s, Washington found a new home for Cabernet Sauvignon.  This grape brought them national acclaim, with Leonetti Cellar being the best example in 1978.  More notariety would come with Chateau Ste. Michelle being named Best American Winery in 1988 and five Washington wines making Wine Spectator's Top 100 for the very first time in 1989.  Today Washington has 650 licensed wineries and countinues to grow every year.  The state has a colorful wine past and a bright future!