The conversations invariably started
with a geography lesson. Thankfully,
I had a detailed map of Washington
state for reference, plus a larger U.S.
map to point out my home in the far northwest in the world of wine is a complex one with many
corner. Once we got over any confusion with layers, but ultimately it starts in the vineyard. In
our nation’s capital and connected on a few cul- the same way that a world-class chef relies on
tural references (Boeing, Microsoft and premium ingredients for his or her creations to
Sleepless in Seattle), I got down to the task at shine, the state’s winemakers benefit from the
hand: pouring samples of, and talking about, outstanding quality of the grapes grown there to
wines from Washington. make their celebrated wines.
The place was Bordeaux, France; the occa-
sion was Vinexpo, the world’s largest wine expo- Sun, soil and skilled hands
sition. Tens of thousands of people attend this Mother Nature contributes important grow-
event every two years, from wine brokers, retail- ing conditions, including soil composition, slope,
ers and importers to sommeliers, journalists and altitude, latitude and long summer daylight
distributors. Exhibitors from all corners of the hours. Temperature, wind, rain and other vari-
planet tout their wine, with more than three ables come into play. Washington is blessed by the
dozen winemaking countries represented. fact that so many of these natural elements prove
Connecting with wine professionals from conducive to the growth of premium wine grapes.
around the world gave me a distinct impression of Those conditions contribute greatly to the wine’s
where Washington fits on that world stage. As an sense of place and its characteristics that make,
interpreter for the Washington Wine Commis- say, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Yakima Valley
sion, I spoke with countless French folks about inherently different from one made in California,
Washington wines while they sipped. Wine- South Australiaor Bordeaux.
makers in particular were clearly taken aback by The climate pattern, in particular, is a key
the quality of what they tasted. Some shook their influence on the quality of Washington wines,
heads, mumbling various versions of “We’ve got according to Bob Betz, a master of wine and long-
to start paying better attention to what’s going on time champion of the state’s wine industry.
over there,” meaning the New World and surprise “We have warm enough temperatures in July
contenders like Washington. and August so that we ripen grapes as well as most
The story of what makes wines from classic winemaking regions, but what separates us
Washington such respected, noteworthy players is the cool-ripening month,” explains Betz, a