I can safely say that I don’t drink enough wine from Washington State. I don’t know why I don’t drink more, but I should, largely because everytime I open a bottle, I am pleasantly reminded of just how good these Pacific Northwest wines really are. Last year I conducted a class on North American wines and after the class, I wished we had tasted more of the wines from WA. Even after 19 wines…

I recently tasted a great Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Valley that is just stunning – The 2007 Three Rivers Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – Wow! Like, move over California kind of wow… The wine is not cheap, with an average bottle price of $22.99, but the wine does represent a good value. With plenty of tannin and a nice core of intense, dark fruit, this wine has great aging potential and yet possesses enough elegance and grace to be drunk now with a nice thick cut New York strip.

After my tasting note below, I’ve included a little piece about the wines from Washington State, so be sure to read on…

My tasting note:

Jammy nose with plum, black cherry, menthol and saddle hints. Full-bodied with moderate acidity and firm, dry tannin – well balanced. Tight palate with an intense core of black fruit flavors – sour cherry, tobacco, anise and vanilla notes. Moderate length with a nicely layered and evolving finish. Drinking well now and should continue to improve with another 5 to 7 years in the bottle. Charming and elegant. A solid value!

History – Washington State Wines

Washington’s first wine grapes were planted at Fort Vancouver by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1825. By 1910, wine grapes were growing in many areas of the state, following the path of early French, German and Italian settlers. Hybrid varieties arrived in nurseries in the Puget Sound region as early as 1854, and by 1860 wine grapes were planted in theWalla Walla Valley.

Large-scale irrigation, fueled by runoff from the melting snowcaps of the Cascade Mountains, began in eastern Washingtonin 1903, unlocking the dormant potential of the rich volcanic soils and sunny, arid climate. Noble varietals were planted in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys and wine grape acreage expanded rapidly in the early part of the 20th century. The arrival of Prohibition in 1920 put a damper on wine grape production, but ironically may have helped spawn early interest in home winemaking. At the end of Prohibition the first bonded winery in the Northwest was founded on Puget Sound’s Stretch Island. By 1938 there were 42 wineries located throughout Washington State.

The first commercial-scale plantings in Washington State began in the 1960s. The efforts of the earliest producers, predecessors to today’s Columbia Winery and Chateau Ste. Michelle, attracted the attention of wine historian Leon Adams. Adams in turn introduced pioneering enologist Andre Tchelistcheff to Chateau Ste. Michelle. It was Tchelistcheff who helped guide Chateau Ste. Michelle’s early efforts and mentored modern winemaking in this state. The resulting rapid expansion of the industry in the mid 70s is now rivaled by today’s breakneck pace, where a new winery opens nearly every 15 days. This rapid growth ranks Washington State second nationally for premium wine production and more than 31,000 acres (12,545 hectares) are planted to vinifera grapes.

Significant developments in Washington State include the formation of the Washington Wine Commission, a unified marketing and trade association, in 1987. In 1999, the Commission established the Washington Wine Quality Alliance (WWQA) to spearhead development of industry standards in winemaking and labeling. Washington is the first state in the U.S. to define standards for “reserve” wines.

Important Statistics – Washington State Wine

National rank: 2nd largest premium wine producer in the United States

Number of wineries: 500+

Number of wine grape growers: 350

Appellations: Washington has nine major American Viticultural Areas (AVA)

Yakima Valley – 1983 Red Mountain – 2001
Walla WallaValley – 1984 Columbia Gorge – 2004
Columbia Valley – 1984 Horse Heaven Hills – 2005
Puget Sound-1995 Wahluke Slope – 2006
  Rattlesnake Hills – 2006

Varietals produced: 20+ varietals

Important Red Varieties: Important White Varieties:
Merlot Chardonnay
Cabernet Sauvignon Riesling
Syrah Sauvignon Blanc
Cabernet Franc Semillon
Sangiovese Viognier

 Ratio of red to white: 57% red / 43% white

Wine Production: 18.0 million gallons or 68.3 million liters

Wine Grape Acreage: 30,000+ acres or 12,140+ hectares

Record Harvest: 2005 with 116,760 tons

Estimated retail value (2004 production): $684.9 million

Full-time equivalent wine-related jobs: 14,000