Washington Wines: Just East of Greatness
by: Jennifer Jordan
When people think of the wines of the northwest, chances are
they ignore Washington and think mainly of Oregon. With its
penchant for Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir, Oregon
has seemingly left Washington
state Pinot Poor. Yet, Oregon
is not the only state in this upper region capable of making wine, Pinots or
otherwise. Washington, over the past decade
and a half, has developed into a major wine player and now has more than the
ability to serve as Oregon's
tag team partner. Move over timber, the northwest has a new baby.
Washington Wine is perhaps the tastiest alliteration in vocabulary today
(sorry, pickled peppers, you were a close second). Full of flavor,
concentration, and body, Washington Wines are giving everyone a reason to wash
down their steak with a bottle of Merlot. Yet, it wasn't always like this.
The first grapes in Washington
were planted in the late 1800's. Quite literally late bloomers, they didn't
fully develop into greatness until the early 1990's when people began to
realize three important things: Washington possessed the same latitude as
famous European wine regions, Washington had - on average - two more hours of
sunlight a day than California, and Washington contained areas shielded by the
Cascade Mountains. This shield left eastern Washington under a geographical umbrella,
providing vineyards with nearly ideal climate.
For these reasons, winemakers began to make wine in the eastern portion of the
state. In fact, the decision was made to plant eight out of nine viticultural
areas in eastern Washington
(and four out of five dentists agreed). The sole western wine region is Puget Sound. Laying west of the Cascade
Mountains, it spends its day producing grapes that excel in cold
climate - such as Madeline Sylvaner, Muller-Thurgua, and Siegerrebe - and its
nights singing Celine Dion's "All by Myself."
The eastern viticultural areas include Columbia
Mountain, Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke,
Rattlesnake Hills, and Columbia Gorge. These areas are famous most notably for
two grapes: Merlot and Cabernet. Labeled as among the best red wines in the
world, to some people no Merlots and Cabernets can compare to the ones made in
On the white side of things, eastern Washington
is best known for Chardonnays, Rieslings, and Sauvignon Blancs. However, Chenin
Blanc, Fruit Wines, Semillon, and Sparkling Wines are also gaining in
The conditions of eastern Washington
may seem like a winemakers dream, but it is not without its faults. While
viticulturists reap the benefits of a regular growing season and grapes that
attain perfect ripening, they must also deal with fits of weather. Mother
Nature occasionally wrecks havoc on this area with winter freezes, leaving wine
growers to label her a "drama queen" and also destroying portions of
vineyards. Sometimes, it takes several years to bring a vineyard back to full
Taking leads from its southern competition, Washington
is in the middle of creating a tourism industry that parallels Napa Valley.
has found itself tangled in a vine of obstacles. These include the remoteness
of many of the vineyards - as many of them are located in the proverbial
"middle of nowhere" - and lack of lodging (people may find themselves
all wined up with nowhere to go). The lack of transportation hubs is also a
factor. Nonetheless, the Washington Wine Tourism Task Force was created in
2000. And so, Operation: Wine and Dine, continues.
If a Napa Valley-like industry is eventually created, it would likely benefit
Washington on astounding levels, adding a new element to the economy, creating
knowledge of the wine industry, and giving Seattle - the Washington city where
tourists tend to flock - some much needed space….needle.
As of right now, Washington will just have to
be happy with where it stands, showing the world that Washington mountains aren't the only thing
capable of erupting. Already second in varietal wine production in the US, this
blossoming industry has over 31,000 acres dedicated to vineyards, and 120,000
grapes harvested each year. Washington also
ships its product to over 40 nations, giving us Americans the assurance that at
least one of our Washingtons
is on good terms with the rest of the world.