15th June 2022

After California, Washington is the most significant wine-producing state in America, and its wine quality is up there with the best in the world. Producers in Washington make wine in myriad styles, one for every palate, budget and occasion, and given the state’s northern latitude, elegance and refinement are guaranteed.

This is our short but thorough guide to Washington wine. Exploring the region with your taste buds can be a life-changing experience, and the wine is better than ever. This is all you need to know about Washington wine and its many secrets. 

The History of Washington Wine 

The first grapevines were planted in western Washington in 1825, nearly 150 years after the first vines arrived in California. The northern, wetter and colder region truly became the ultimate frontier for grape growers and winemakers alike. 

Western Washington had plenty of rain and was easy to cultivate. The arid Columbia Valley on the other side of the Cascade Range saw its first vineyards a few years later, in the early 1900s, thanks to the natural irrigation fueled by the runoff from the melting snow. 

Washington’s wine industry got off to a good start, but it abruptly went underground during prohibition from 1920 to 1933. Dr. Walter Clore, the “father of Washington wine,” began experimenting with grape varieties in 1940, setting the base for the modern wine industry. By 1970 there were ten wineries in the area, and by 1983 the estate gained its first American Viticultural Area or AVA: Yakima Valley. 

Fast-forward to the 21st century, there were 100 wineries making wine in Washington by 2001 — there are over 1,000 today. That’s what we call growth! Washington has become a source of reliable wine, both for everyday enjoyment and memorable occasions. Red, white, sparkling or rosé, Washington’s producers have you covered. 

Washington State Today

Over 1050 wineries call Washington State home, and four more join the ranks every month! Over 400 grape growers produce around 178,500 tons of grapes every year. There are 60,000 acres of vines, and although this is an extensive vineyard, ninety percent of the wineries in Washington are small, family-owned operations. Small wineries are always appreciated by wine enthusiasts who love to know the stories behind their favourite wines.

The planted acreage has grown at an astonishing rate as well, from 11,000 acres in 1993 to over 60,000 today. It’s no surprise you can find Washington wine in over 100 countries around the world, and it’s more varied than you think!

The Grapes

From the 178,500 tons of grapes harvested every year on both sides of the Cascade Range, just over 100,000 are red; that’s 60%. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted variety in Washington State, with 29% of the planted area, followed by Chardonnay (16%),Riesling (14%),Merlot (13%) and Syrah (10%) for a total of 82% of the state’s production.

However, Washington’s vineyards are home to over 80 varieties, including Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Sangiovese, Grenache, Gewürztraminer and Viognier. The extraordinary diversity keeps the state’s wine scene exciting, as you never know what the next 90+ wine will be or where it will come from.

The Terroir

Terroir is a French winemaking term, and it can be described as “sense of place.” Wine is more than the grape used to make it; it tastes like the place where it is made. Washington is home to 19 unique growing regions, each with its own microclimate and soil type. 

From the rainy Puget Sound AVA on the Pacific coast to the dry Columbia Valley and its many sub-regions, from the pebbly Walla Walla AVA to the sun-drenched Yakima Valley. This is a playground for grape growers and winemakers, and you can tell they’re having fun; you can taste it in the wine. 

The Cascades cause a “rain shadow effect,” making Eastern Washington an authentic desert with between 6-8 inches of rain every year. Compared to rainy Seattle and its 40 inches of rain, it’s easy to see why the wine grapes here are extraordinarily concentrated and full of flavor. Add an astounding diurnal temperature variation, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success. 

Sustainable by Nature 

Washington’s vineyards are dry and only possible thanks to the melting snow running down the Cascades and the awe-inspiring Columbia River. These unique climatic conditions mean grape growers can tend their vines sustainably, often organically, since the risk of fungal disease is low. 

The state’s cold winters, proper for such latitudes, keep pests at bay, allowing farmers to plant grapevines on their natural rootstock. With little need for pesticides, the grapevines thrive naturally, resulting in more authentic wines that align with current environmental, health and wellness trends. This is every grape grower’s dream!

The Wine Regions

There’s a lot to say about every AVA in Washington state, too much to cover in our introductory guide to the region. Still, the following wine regions are worth exploring, even if not in-depth. 

Puget Sound AVA. The vast wine region west of the Cascade Crest. With a unique maritime climate and plenty of rainfall, this is home to hybrid varietals and cold-climate Müller Thurgau, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. 

Columbia Valley AVA. The largest wine region in Washington, home to most other AVAs with over 60,000 acres of vines. This is home to the finest Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot Riesling and Syrah. 

Notable AVAs. Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills and many others are worthy of their own guide. They’re all nestled in the Columbia Valley and are leading Washington’s wine industry in quality. 

Washington Wine Has It All

Washington is not only a fast-growing wine region doing everything right. It complements the country’s wine repertoire with unique styles and flavour profiles found nowhere else. Washington wine is truly a special rendition of American wine, one that has a place on the international stage. 

Add Washington wine to your wine rotation. Have a few bottles around for weekend entertaining and add the state’s finest labels to your wine collection for future enjoyment. The best part? We’ve only seen the beginning. The sky’s the limit for winegrowers in Washington, and they know it.

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14 Hands Chardonnay 2019
Chateau Ste. Michelle Tenet The Pundit Syrah 2017
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