Washington Wineries

The State takes it’s place in viticulture

September 21, 2021

View of Mount Adams from the Red Willow Vineyard. The vineyard has, historically, produced grapes for Columbia Winery but now grows for a variety of other wineries.

With over 940 wineries and 14 distinct American Viticultural Areas, Washington State is one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the world. The majority of grapes are grown in the rich valley’s East of the Cascade Mountains in a climate which is just about perfect for the crop.

Although Washington’s earliest settlers planted grapes at Fort Vancouver in 1825, it is unknown if they used them for wine production. By the 1860’s and 70’s both Italian and German immigrants were planting grapes and producing wine.

With the advent of prohibition – Washington State was an early adopter in 1917 – every commercial winery went out of business.

It wasn’t until the late 1960’s when the fine wines which have made the state a leading producer finally emerged.

The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

This map shows the various AVA’s

 “The roots of the modern Washington wine industry can be traced to the middle of the 20th century when a group of professors from the University of Washington turned their home winemaking operation into a commercial endeavor and founded Associated Vintners (later renamed Columbia Winery) and focused on producing premium wines. The Nawico and Pommerelle wineries were merged into a new winery that would eventually become Chateau Ste Michelle. Both Chateau Ste Michelle and Associated Vintners became the driving force in premium wine production for the early modern Washington wine industry.”

During the 1970’s new vineyards proliferated from Yakima to Walla Walla, Goldendale to Grand Coulee. Today there are over 80 different grape varieties grown in the state.

Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Washington produces a full spectrum of wines ranging from mass-produced to premium boutique wines. It also produces nearly every style of wine including rosé, sparkling, fruit, fortified, still and late harvest dessert wines. Some years can even produce favorable conditions for ice wine production. In 2006, The Wine Advocate gave two perfect scores of 100 points for Cabernet Sauvignon wines made by Quilceda Creek Vintners using grapes from several Washington AVAs. Only 15 other American wines have ever been scored so highly by The Wine Advocate, all from California. Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is the largest producer in the state, owning more than a third of all vineyard land in Washington.”

Chateau Ste Michelle Rieslings have been a staple in the household for decades

For the complete experience, one should do a tour of some of the Eastern Washington vineyards. The hubby and I did such an event waaaaay back in the early 1980’s when there were only a handful of wineries to visit. Along with my parents – with my teetotaler mother behind the wheel – we started the day by driving down to Patterson from Yakima and going to Chateau Ste. Michelle.

In those days the people running the tasting rooms had not yet been overwhelmed with wine enthusiasts and were eager to share a variety of wines – all for free.

At that first stop the guy behind the bar must have decided I was cute because it seemed that my tasting glass was filled fuller than either my Dad’s or hubby’s glasses. Not wanting to be rude or waste perfectly good wine, I drank all the wine he gave me, which was at least three different varieties.

What a fun day that turned out to be. I was buzzed before we left Ste. Michelle to work our way back north. I know there were other stops, but I couldn’t tell you where.

There was another memorable trip with a group of friends who – during the past 30 years – formed a monthly luncheon group. One year we decided it would be fun to do a girls’ only weekend wine tour. We rented several hotel rooms, arranged for a limousine, and away we went.

All over the lower Yakima valley the limo carried us to a variety of wineries. Some were fancy and others were converted barns. We sampled reds and whites, sweet and ice wines. Everything was going great until  the driver of the limousine we had rented informed us that she was lost!

For those who have ever traveled around the dirt roads of Eastern Washington, you will know that most of the roads follow the contour of the land OR they go in straight lines and then go at 90 degree angles tracing the edges of farms. It’s easy to get turned around.

The Benches Vineyard near Pasco on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

We were someplace east of Benton City and the one person who had grown up in the region was pressed into service as the navigator. Yes, that would be yours truly. A half hour later, I directed the driver well enough that we emerged from our wilderness wanderings, finally back on track.

The driver felt so bad about getting lost that she agreed to pick us up at our hotel later and transport us to dinner. It was a bonus!

Last year, I had an idea to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary with an Eastern Washington wine tour… sadly, the hubby and I had to postpone due to the Covid shut downs.

I have a hunch that when we do get to do the tour, there will be more wineries to visit than we could go to in a weekend, a week, a month, or even a year. Cheers!

A few links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_wine

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chateau_Ste._Michelle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_Winery

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Willow_Vineyard#:~:text=Red%20Willow%20Vineyard%20is%20a%20grape%20-growing%20estate,Yakima%20Valley%20AVA%2C%20within%20the%20Yakama%20Indian%20Reservation.

https://longshadows.com/vineyards/the-benches-at-wallula

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