Washington State Vineyards
The first commercial-scale plantings began in the 1960s. The rapid expansion of the industry in the mid ‘70s is now rivaled by today’s breakneck pace, where a new winery opens nearly every 30 days.
The State of Today's Industry
Washington ranks second nationally for premium wine production and over 50,000 acres* are planted to vinifera grapes. Over 40% of these vines have been planted in the last 10 years as the industry rapidly expands. Washington wines areW sold in all 50 states and exported worldwide. The Washington State Wine Commission reports that Washington is now home to 900 wineries, more than 350 grape growers and 50,000 acres of vineyards – approximately the size of Napa Valley.
Washington Wines and Wine Country
In recent years, Washington's wine industry has become the fastest-growing agricultural sector in the state. The number of Washington wineries has increased 400% in the last decade, attracting two million annual visitors to Washington wine country and creating a two million dollar wine-tourism industry.
Located on approximately the same latitude (46ºN) as some of the great French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Washington State wine country now includes 14 federally recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), commonly known as appellations. Three of them share territory with Oregon State; one is shared with Idaho.
Climates of individual Washington wine regions differ dramatically. Cross cut north to south by the Cascade Mountains, Washington State is more mild and lush to the west of this volcanically formed barrier than the lands to its east. In fact, the Puget Sound AVA/appellation is the only officially recognized wine region on the west side of the Cascades. Currently, only about 1% of the state's wine grapes are grown here, and just a hand full of Washington wineries produce wines from those locally grown grapes. In the cool-climate viticultural area of the Puget Sound, eastbound marine air masses drift over the ridges of the Coast Range and flow toward the Cascade range. Clouds must rise to continue their eastward heading, and air temperatures fall as elevation increases causing moisture to fall as rain or snow before the north-south barrier of the Cascade ridges is breached. Very little moisture reaches the east side of these towering mountains, thus causing a "rain shadow" effect that keeps more than half of Washington State's territory arid to semi-arid.
The resulting dry climate, combined with the long daylight hours of the growing season at this northern latitude, create prime wine-growing conditions in the lands of eastern Washington. Vineyard canopies can be controlled by irrigation management and grapes can fully ripen here, bringing complex fruit flavors, good acid levels and pleasing aromatics to Washington wines.
Eastern Washington favorable wine climate
Vineyards on the east side of the Cascades grow about 99% of Washington's wine grapes, and 13 of the state's 14 official AVAs/appellations are located here. The macro appellation of the Columbia Valley encompasses the smaller AVAs of Yakima Valley, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Snipes Mountain and Naches Heights. The Columbia Gorge AVA begins at the western edge of the Columbia Valley AVA and continues west and south to areas along the Columbia River in both Oregon and Washington.
Other emerging and recently authorized wine regions benefit from the huge rain shadow created by the Cascade Mountains -- the Lake Chelan AVA, the Ancient Lakes of the Columbia Valley AVA in north-central Washington, and the Columbia River region near Wenatchee. The latter is pursuing AVA status to define their region as distinct from the Columbia Valley AVA that contains it. Washington's 14th AVA - the Lewis-Clark Valley - is shared with Idaho.
All totaled, Washington wine regions produce more wine grapes than any other state in the U.S. except California.
And according to Wine Spectator, compared with most major wine regions – including California, Oregon, France and Italy – Washington has the highest percentage of wines rated 90 points or higher while offering the lowest average cost per bottle.
Washington's Winemaking History
It all began in 1825, when the Hudson’s Bay Company planted the state’s first grapes at Fort Vancouver. By 1910, wine grapes were growing in most areas of the state, following the path of early settlers. Initially, it was French, German and Italian immigrants who pioneered the earliest plantings.
Large-scale irrigation, fueled by runoff from the melting snowcaps of the Cascade Mountains, arrived in Eastern Washington in 1903 unlocking the dormant potential of the rich volcanic soils and sunny desert-like climate. Italian and German varietals were planted in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys and wine grape acreage expanded rapidly in the early part of the 20th century.
Most popular wines from Washington State are:
• Adams Bench Cabernet Sauvignon Red Willow Vineyard 2007,
• Milbrandt Vineyards Sentinel Northridge Red Wine Wahluke Slope 2007,
• Northstar Winery Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2006,
• Saviah Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007,
• Maurice Cellars Malbec Columbia Valley 2007
Learn more about Washington State wines and wineries...
Or read about how Washington State became a major player in the wine industry...