tial vines). The mid-20th century saw early test
plantings in eastern Washington, with the first com-mercial-scale vineyards established in the 1960s.
By the mid-1970s, the rest of the country began
to take note. In a 1974 blind tasting of Riesling
wines put together by the Los Angeles Times,
Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 1972 Riesling ranked number one. A rapid expansion began, with increased
vineyard acreage and a growing number of wineries joining the fold.
Red and white wines, and variety
Just what is in all those bottles of Washington
wine? More likely than not, it is a red wine. About 57
percent of the vineyards planted in the state are red
grape varieties (called “varietals” in the industry), with
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon the leaders. Of these,
Cabernet Sauvignon is considered b y many to be the
powerhouse grape of Washington state, with ample
ripeness, structure and balance. But Merlot holds its
own as a distinctive, classy grape that’s producing
some of the top-rated wines from the state.
Syrah is a relative newcomer, but the grape has
been taking the state by storm. A traditional grape
from France’s Rhône region, it is among
the most rapidly growing varieties in
Washington. Other reds grown in the
state, some of which are used for blending, include Cabernet Franc, Malbec,
Petit Verdot, Sangiovese and Lemberger.
Chardonnay leads the pack for white
Most of Washington’s vineyards grapes and even beats out the top reds with
are in the state’s hot eastern the most vineyard acres planted. Washington’s
half, where rivers transform the distinct climate lends a crisp, delicate nature to
the wine, which is made in a wide range of
desert into lush areas. styles around the world.
Next in line is Riesling, one of the earliest
hallmark grapes of Washington and regaining
popularity in recent years. Rounding out the key
white varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and
C O N N E C T I N G Costco member. Washington temperatures begin to Gewürztraminer, with Viognier, Aligote, Pinot Gris
cool by late August, which gently slows the ripening and Roussanne among other white grapes grown in
An excellent source of process and allows the grapes to stay on the vine a smaller quantities.
information on Washington couple of weeks longer than they might in other areas. Variety is what adds spice to Washington’s wine
wines is the Washington What Betz calls the “Michael Jordan effect,” this offerings. Because of the many microclimates and
Wine Commission hang time before harvest produces fruit intensity the creative team efforts of grape growers and
Web site, www.washington and structural integrity in the grapes, making the winemakers, the state is producing a broad variety
resulting wine “food friendly and harmonious.” of grapes for an even wider variety of wine styles.
wine.org. It features Washington is the second-largest premium You’ll find everything from a light and breezy
facts about the wine producer in the United States, behind Sauvignon Blanc to a complex, floral Riesling, from
state’s wine industry, California. One figure to help put things in context an outstanding dry summertime rosé to one of
from historic perspectives to is that the state has, as of this writing, some 350 those powerful, robust red wines for which
touring maps for visitors. wineries. That’s more than twice as many as in 2001; Washington gains so much acclaim.
in 1996 there were only 100 Washington wineries. Shayn Bjornholm, master sommelier, oversees
Washington wines are sold in all 50 states and in 40 the celebrated wine cellar at Seattle’s venerable
countries around the world. It’s a dynamic wine- Canlis restaurant, helping customers navigate the
making region, no doubt about it, in constant 1,000-plus selections on the list. When asked what
growth and evolution. stands out for him about Washington wines relative
But the industry has a solid footing in to others he pours, he says, “I’m impressed at how
Washington as well, and is not simply a newcomer to accomplished we are at such a young stage, an
the scene. Wine was first made there as long ago as industry about 30 years old, making wine that com-the late 1800s (thanks, at least in part, to French fur petes on a world stage with people who have been
traders who passed through earlier, planting the ini- making wine for a century or longer.”
WASHING TON WINE COMMISSION