Category Archives: Washington

Now the number two producer in the United States, Washington State has also grown in quality.

So how does a state known for rain and coffee produce high quality wines? They plant their grapes on the east side of the Cascade mountains, away from that ever-present rain cloud that sits along the coast. Perhaps wine grapes do well since the sandy loam soils east of the Cascade range give way to an almost desert-like land, saved from drought only by the helpful rivers that run through the area – and the good irrigation systems.

Thinking that the state would do best with typical northern growing grapes like Riesling and Gewurtztraminer, turns out the apple state is well-suited for reds, namely Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and, more recently, Syrah. Of course, whites have not been forgotten – Washington State Rieslings range from bone-dry to sweet, are well-structured and high quality, and Chardonnay dominates most of the other white plantings, making a range of wines. But the reds of the region, Merlot in particular, have made Washington State a quality force to be reckoned with.

Washington Wine: A Journey Just Beginning

Washington State wine is a journey just beginning, but what milestones it has already passed! Barely a half-century since viticulture began in earnest, following Dr Walter Clore’s mapping of the Columbia Valley’s likely sites, the state has become the second-largest premium wine producer in the US and made its mark with grapes as diverse as Riesling, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon, impressing with the quality and variety of its value wines, and culminating in the great reds which rival the best in the world.  The generous contours of the Columbia Valley AVA, which at 8.8 million acres covers a third of the state, hint at the ambition of the endeavor, as well as the adventures in terroir still to come; the relatively small area planted to vines (around 55,000 acres, slightly less than Burgundy) tell us the exploration has only just begun.

As with all great wine regions, the work (so to speak) began long ago, with the uplift of the Cascade Range and the periodic catastrophic flooding from the great Ice-Age lakes, Missoula and Columbia, which swept out a massive basin between the Cascades and Sierra Nevada and filled the valley with loess, clay, loam, and fine dry silt over a deeply eroded basalt foundation. In the rain shadow of the Cascades, the region’s semi-desert weather sports 300 days of sunshine and balances the extremes so paradoxically friendly to good wine. The northernmost of US wine regions, it enjoys sixteen hours of sun a day at the Solstice, while in the dry desert air the diurnal temperature swings unimpeded through forty degrees, imparting complexity and preserving acidity.

Dry and pristine as it is, with little fungal threat to the vines and a sandy, loose soil distasteful to the phylloxera louse, abundant aquifers and the great rivers give Washington’s growers water in need. Low disease pressure makes organic and biodynamic farming attractive, while the own-rooted vines dig deep in the poor, well-drained soil for their sustenance. Rewarding such keen attention, grown in a mélange of soil types, slopes, aspects, air currents and elevations, its vines flourish under the hand of the people living on the land, making wine from the produce of their vines, and the family winery has defined winemaking in Washington since its inception.

From these unfettered, well-tended vines spring true wines of place: pure and classic, with the richness of fruit characteristic of US wines but structured like no other, encompassing equally fruit and tannin, earth and acidity, filling all corners of the palate. Broad vineyards give quality grapes in such quantity that Washington’s value wines are a byword, while the nooks of the Wahluke Slopes, Red Mountain, and the Columbia Gorge (among other places) provide ample room to the winemaker drawn to seek the highest vinous expression.

Won’t you come along with us? It can only get better.

 

Washington Wine

Brimming with a pioneer spirit, Washington state is not just host to some of our country’s biggest success stories like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco, it has actually become America’s second largest wine producer, after California! Doubling in the last 10 years from 450 in 2006 to over 900 today, it boasts an exploding number of wineries. On top of that, out of Washington’s 900 wineries, nearly 850 are small, and family owned.

Presently, the state has more than 50,000 acres of vines spread out across its diverse landscapes from evergreen forests in the west to sagebrush desert in the east where a particular mixture of soils contribute to making Washington wine truly unique.

Washington Wine Map. From Washington State Wine.

With the exception of two (Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge), all of the AVAs of Washington state are actually sub-AVAs of the larger Columbia Valley. This valley is the center of a soil base of basalt bedrock. On top of this base are the soils of the Missoula Floods, a series of 30 cataclysmic floods occurring after the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago. After the damn of the glacial lake covering parts of Montana and Canada broke, it sent huge rivers of water rushing from Western Montana, across the state and out to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It brought with it granite and well-drained, clay-poor soils. On top of the Missoula Floods layer are loess and wind deposits that have been scattered and blown over the landscape for years. These vary from four to 50 feet deep in places.

In the eastern part of the state, where almost all of its AVAs are located (14 total in the Washington), this windy and rolling landscape has a dry and arid climate; this combined with the soils make the area inhospitable to phylloxera, an aphid-like insect that feeds on grapevine roots. This extraordinary set of climate and soil conditions means that vine grafting is not needed and virtually all of the state’s vines grow on their own rootstocks, which some would argue makes a more authentic wine.

While the state produces wine from well over 40 varieties, it particularly excels in making fantastic wines from Cabernet Sauvingon, Merlot, and Syrah for reds and Riesling and Chardonnay for whites. Here are some of our favorites, which we find to all express the spirit of Washington wine!

The 2013 Figgins Estate Red is a truly remarkable blend. Consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot, it shows a pretty mix of aromas of cocoa powder, forest floor, and red cherry. A full and ripe palate brimming with black fruit, which leads to a long, fine-grained finish. This is a special one that will lie down in the cellar for a few years!

Figgins Family Wine Estates fall release party, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

One of the most famous and arguably the best Cabernet vineyards in the state, the Champoux Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, turns out some of the most supple and well-balanced reds. Januik Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon shows exotic aromas of dried flowers and florest floor. The palate explodes with black and red berries; the finish is full of sweet, velveteen tannins.

Wines of Substance Super Substance Stoneridge 2013 Merlot is a great example of what Washington is capable of. Pronounced aromas of blackberry pie, conserve, and cola give way to a big, juicy, and ripe fruit flavors, a hint of espresso, black licorice, and a good depth in the finish.

Les Collines vineyard in spring, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

Syrah absolutely flourishes in many of Washington’s AVAs. Gramercy Cellars 2013 The Deuce Syrah is a benchmark Washington Syrah and will remind avid Syrah lovers of Northern Rhone. The Syrah grapes come from three vineyards in Walla Walla: Les Collines, Forgotten Hills, and Old Stones. Aromas of violets, olives, and white pepper balance the savory flavors and stony, mineral texture.

Eroica 2015 Riesling offers an amazing balance of ripe citrus fruit, intriguing floral notes, and a mouth-watering acidity typical of Washington Riesling.

Abeja Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

The Abeja Chardonnay gives pleasant aromas of white flowers and pear. On the palate its unctuous texture is balanced by a refreshing acidity. Flavors of lemon chiffon and nectarine come to mind.

To search out more Washington wines to try, follow this link.

For everything you wanted to know about Washington wine, check out the Washington State Wine website.