Washington State is second only to California in U.S wine production, and at 55,000 acres, has more vineyard acres than Napa. Diversity and quality have been the hallmarks of this explosive wine industry--one winery is being built every month! With 14 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the state, the spirit of exploration lives on in this frontier of wine. Let’s learn why Washington wine needs to be in your glass now!
No Signature is its Signature
Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted red varietal, and Riesling the white wine most associated with the state, there are more than 70 varietals planted in Washington. Grapes were first planted in 1825, but it wasn’t until decades after Prohibition in the 1960’s that any growth in commercial wine occurred. Predecessors of Chateau Ste. Michelle--now the largest wine producer in the state and the world’s largest producer of Riesling--and Columbia Winery--owned by the E.J. Gallo family—spurned the rapid expansion of the industry.
With all this exploration and growth, it’s no surprise there isn’t a singular style or signature grape dominating the wine landscape. Growers and winemakers find many grape varieties can thrive in its various micro-climates and that wines express distinct characteristics across the different AVA’s. For example, varietals indigenous to the Old World such as crisp Albarino (originally from the Iberian peninsula), bold Sangiovese (native to Tuscany), and savory Syrah (hailing from France) can be all be discovered from Washington wineries (Barnard Griffin Winery, Leonetti Cellars, and Sleight of Hand Cellars respectively).
Even expressions of the state’s leading varietals can be markedly distinct. For example, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling (Morganelli’s, about $23) from Columbia Valley, the state’s largest AVA, is ripe and lush, while Columbia Winery’s Ancient Lakes Riesling (Morganelli’s about $26), the state’s newest and coolest AVA, is more citrus and crisp.
Nosebleed High Standards
Over 40% of the vines have been planted in the last 10 years as the industry has expanded with at breakneck pace. But winemakers--both local and those flocking from around the world—have banned together to insist upon quality. The state remains 2nd only to California in its production of premium wines. Overall, Washington receives a higher percentage of top scores from major wine media than other regions—no small feat given the youth of the industry.
It’s consistent weather with a long, warm growing season, dependable diurnal temperature fluctuations, and dryness of climate also set the wines up for high-quality success. Finally, Washington’s vineyards never succumbed to the phylloxera epidemic, which decimated most vineyards in the world. Primarily grown on their own root stocks, harvests result in strong vintages year after year.
Legacy wineries like Walla Walla’s L’Ecole N.41, established in 1983 along with the creation of the AVA, and newer upstarts such as Otis Kenyon Winery alike have committed to self-imposed standards of quality. Discover L’Ecole’s elegant, structured, yet robust 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Morganelli’s, about $37) for a true expression of this adherence to premium standards. For a bolder, more black-fruit flavor profile, try Otis Kenyon’s 2015 version (online, $40).
As the Washington wine industry continues to find itself in the coming years, let’s take advantage of the value of these wines while we still can! Join me on 9 November at 6:30 for Washington Wines for (Every) Woman class at the King’s Grant Clubhouse. We’ll explore a selection of red and white whites from across the state, paired with light fare, while gaining awareness of the Everywoman project. Register for the class at https://www.thevinicola.com/events/washington-wines-for-every-woman or contact me at email@example.com.