To most, thoughts of American wine conjure the wines of Napa and Sonoma Valleys. But that’s not an illogical notion as California is the #1 wine producing state with more than 3,700 wineries making about 90% of the country’s wine. Thus, it is not illogical that many forget that the second largest producing state, albeit a far second, is Washington State.
This Northwest state’s ability to produce quality wine comes as a surprise to many for when we think Washington State, we think Seattle: incessant rain, coffee houses, grunge, plaid shirts, Kurt Cobain, etc. But the reality is that the state’s geography lends itself to successful grape growing by serving the old dictum that “vines don’t like wet feet” via the Cascade Mountains’ rain shadow. This is a climate phenomenon, seen in many of the great grape growing regions of the world, by which rain is kept at the windward side of a mountain range by the precipitation it induces away from the leeward side. The result is that the vast swath of land east of the Cascades sees about 8 inches of rain/year as opposed to the average 25 inches/year that fall in Napa. Since vines need approximately 20-30 inches of rain/year to thrive, this rainfall shortage is mitigated by irrigation from the many rivers that transverse the region.
Washington State has 13 American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s) of which the most gargantuan one is the Columbia Valley at 11,000,000 acres! The AVA’s of Washington, with their vast array of microclimates, lend themselves to the production of many whites and reds. Many of these tend to be “value finds” as their prices, by California standards, typically are very reasonable relative to their quality. This is to a great extent a function of the vastly cheaper cost of land as well as good old supply-and-demand economics. I mean, when was the last time you craved a Washington wine?
Washington is very well known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Many of these are readily available wines that typically sell in the $15-20 range while (if you are into points) scoring in the 90’s. If you are a fan of concentrated and robust reds, you ought to check out this aisle in the store.
If whites are part of your drinking world, let it be known that Washington produces some of the best Rieslings in the country! “Kung Fu Girl” by Charles Smith, for under $10, is emblematic of what I am talking about.
Washington State is worthy of your wine curiosity. Wineries such as the ubiquitous Chateau Ste. Michelle (one of the largest producers in the US) and Columbia Crest, one of its other brands, are a good place to start to explore these inexpensive, easy drinking, every night wines.
Heck, next time you come over for dinner, if you bring me a fine Washington wine, you’ll be alright by me.
Lorenzo, the wine guy
Friends, food, and wine...I'm happy there.