The beauty of the Wine Bloggers Conference this year is that (besides me not being there) is that my wine blogging brethren will get to see what I have seen – how awesome Walla Walla Valley and Washington State wines are! I am “ever”green with envy right now, but still, I like the fact that I am at least chillin’ at home with my wife and “mi ejército de panteras pequeñas”.
At least for now, I want to drop a bit of Washington state wine primer on those who aren’t completely familiar with the state.
For starters, most people think of Washington state as a rain forest, in that it’s raining all the time, it’s grey skies and dreary (Thank you Twilight books and movies for perpetuating that image). True enough that Seattle and much of the Washington state coastline (and anything to the west of the Cascade Mountain range) is indeed a rainforest-type of climate. Yet go due east of the Cascades, and the climate is that of a desert. With over 300 days of cloudless sunshine and an annual rainfall of around 7 inches, coupled with rich, volcanic soils, and you have yourself the ideal climate to grow just about any grape variety you could want.
While Chardonnay is the number one grape variety right now, one could argue that its best wines come from Riesling, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. However, there are some equally good Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Pinot Gris, Semillon and many others.
Washington State currently has 11 recognized AVAs (American Viticultural Area):
- Columbia Valley
- Yakima Valley
- Walla Walla Valley
- Rattlesnake Hills
- Red Mountain
- Lake Chelan
- Puget Sound
- Wahluke Slope
- Columbia Gorge
- Horse Heaven Hills
- Snipes Mountain
The second largest wine producer amongst the 50 states, it is fast becoming no surprise to critics that this region is home to some of the United States’ finest wines, yet is still somewhat surprising to consumers. Aside from Columbia Crest, Chateau Ste. Michelle (which are co-owned by Ste. Michelle and Estates) and Hogue Cellars – the 3 largest producers in the state – the majority of Washington State wineries have very small production bases.
And while the industry is relatively young in the state – Chateau Ste. Michelle was the first bonded winery in Washington, established in 1954 as American Wine Co. (which was a merger of the National Wine Co. and Pomerelle Wine Co.) – the number of wineries has grown from 19 in 1981 to over 650 wineries in 2010.
Last year, Wine Spectator chose its top wine of the year from Washington (Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005) and Wine Enthusiast gave an 100-point score to a Washington state wine (Charles Smith Royal City Syrah 2006). It marks only the beginning of what is sure to be extraordinary praise (which has also been seen in recent Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar issues as well).
Definitely check out more on Washington State wines by visiting the Washington Wine Commission, or check out Washington wine blogs from Paul Gregutt, The Walla Walla Wine Woman, Drink Nectar, The Wine Peeps and the Washington Wine Report, to name a few. You can also ask your local retailers what they have from Washington State and take home a bottle or two and find out more about the great stuff Washington wineries have to offer. Some of my favorites are from Bookwalter, Airfield Estates, Buty, Mercer Estates, Terra Blanca, L’Ecole No. 41, and Cadence, but there are a lot of great wines out there.
Tomorrow, I’ll reminisce about Walla Walla over some samples I received from L’Ecole.