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Wine in Washington

The rise of Washington State as a wine powerhouse.

In the 1960s, Washington State emerged as an unexpected yet promising winemaking region. Despite its proximity to the latitudes of renowned French wine regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, Washington's vineyards face unique challenges, including cold and sometimes rainy falls and winters.

The climate advantage

What sets Washington apart is its far northern latitude, which allows vineyards to benefit from up to two more hours of sunlight per day during the growing season compared to Northern California. Additionally, the eastern part of the state, beyond the Cascade Mountains, receives less than 10 inches of annual rainfall. This low precipitation and humidity are advantageous for minimizing vine diseases and mildew.

Regional variations

Washington's wine regions are diverse, ranging from the mild climate of Puget Sound to the scorching heat of the Tri-Cities. However, 99% of the state's wine production occurs east of the Cascades in seven of its eight official appellations, including Yakima, Walla Walla, and the Columbia Gorge.

A history rooted in immigration and innovation

The first vineyards in Washington were planted in 1825 by French, German, and Italian immigrants. Although the region remained dormant for over a century, commercial production surged in the mid-1980s. Today, Washington is the second-largest wine producer in the U.S., with an annual harvest of 116,760 tons across over 30,000 acres.

Innovative techniques

Growers have adapted to the near-desert conditions of eastern Washington by employing techniques like eye-dropper irrigation. This method provides just enough water to keep the vines healthy without diluting the grapes' flavors. The Snake, Columbia, and Yakima rivers serve as natural aqueducts, supplying ample water.

Overcoming challenges

Washington's vineyards are sometimes threatened by harsh winters that send vines into dormancy. To counter this, growers plant vines on their own roots rather than rootstock, enabling them to produce a crop the following year.

The soil and varietals

Thanks to the Pasco Basin's geological features, the region benefits from large deposits of silt and sandy loam, essential for proper wine grape growing. Washington produces a wide range of varietals, including reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, and whites like Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc.

The economic impact

The Washington wine industry has grown into a $2.4 billion sector, employing over 11,000 people in more than 360 wineries. This is a significant leap from just 19 wineries in 1981, and the industry shows no signs of slowing down.down.