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A Quick Guide to Washington Wine

Aug 10, 2022

Washington State is the second largest producer of wine in the United States. The region's 1,000 or so wineries push out in excess of 17 million cases of wine every year. So, what makes Washington so special?

Here's a look at this increasingly popular wine region and a few wines you can try to experience the magic of Washington State firsthand.

Climate

Washington State is known for wines that combine Old World and New World sensibilities, and those telltale characteristics are largely attributed to the local terrain and climate.

Most vineyards in Washington are situated in the eastern part of the state. That area experiences a large diurnal shift, meaning there are big temperature swings during the bulk of the grape-growing season. Think long, warm summer days with as much as 17 hours of sunlight followed by cool nights.

Add in rapidly cooling temperatures during harvest and a rain shadow effect due to surrounding mountain ranges and you get grapes that are lusciously ripe, deliciously fruity, and full of natural acidity.

Notable Washington State AVAs

Washington State is home to 10 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), but there are a few standouts:

  • Columbia Valley: The Columbia Valley AVA is situated in the south and central region of Washington State. It accounts for a whopping 99% of the wine produced in Washington State, including highly rated bottles of some 30 grape varieties and award-winning blends. Columbia Valley has 10 sub-appellations recognized for their differing soil composition and microclimates.
  • Walla Walla Valley: Walla Walla has the unique distinction of being entirely enveloped by the Columbia Valley AVA. There are over 120 wineries in Walla Walla. They all take advantage of the region's cool, wet weather to produce delicious versions of reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot, as well as some whites.
  • Horse Heaven Hills: The weather is a bit warmed in Horse Heaven Hills, and vintners often plant grapes on south-facing slopes where the vines can soak up the sun. Horse Heaven is home to Champoux Vineyard, which has produced some of the priciest and most sought-after bottles of Washington wine.

Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley are two of the three AVAs Washington shares with the neighbouring state of Oregon.

Primary Grape Varietals

Washington State's vineyards grow over 80 varieties of grapes, fairly evenly split between reds (58%) and whites (42%), but there are five varietals near the top of the production list:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Syrah

Plantings of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Semillon, and Viognier allow for both traditional and creative blending opportunities. You can find Washington-based takes on Rhone blends and Bordeaux-inspired bottlings that are wonderfully complex and balanced.

Interested in trying Washington wine for yourself? Here are a few wineries well worth exploring:

For more learning opportunities, check out the Willow Park event calendar.