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Ten things to know about Washington (wine)

This weekend 300 wine bloggers descend on the state of Washington, heading to Walla Walla (W2) for the 3rd annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference.  Twelve years ago I moved to the state of Washington.  To insure survival I quickly learned how to pronounce names such as Puyallup, Chehalis, Sequim, and Tekoa.  Five years ago I began learning about wine and Washington wine, in particular.  As a transplant I want to share a few things that might help visiting wine bloggers understand the state, the people and the wine.  Factual? You decide.

1. Lewis and Clark traveled through Washington on their three year journey to discover a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean.  A geographical area in eastern Washington is named Canoe Ridge in reference to their journey.   A vineyard and a winery also carry the same name, Canoe Ridge.  When someone starts talking about Canoe Ridge is it the place, the vineyard or a winery?  Does not matter.  Just nod and pour yourself a glass of wine.

2. Currently, there are 11 designated AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).  No. 10 and no. 11 were declared in 2009: Snipes Mountain and Lake Chelan.  Two more are in the pipeline-Ancient Lakes and Naches Heights.  Apparently, size does not matter as some are huge and others are postage stamp-sized.  When the next new appellation is announced and it is time to make a toast, choose the size of your wine glass accordingly.

3. The first grapes planted for cultivation were at Fort Vancouver circa 1825, on the west side of the Cascade Mountains (see #8)   The story is familiar.  Seeds brought over by Europeans and planted for local use, perhaps religious ceremonies.  So on and so forth . . . . May I pour you another glass?

4. Ancient volcanoes appearing and disappearing, glaciers descending and receding over and over from the north, and Missoula Floods (plural, not singular) from the east are the foundation of Washington’s terroir.  In an earlier post I shared my shorthand explanation of the state’s geological history.  I strongly recommend you drink wine while reading my bastardized version.  Attend Kevin Pogue’s presentation on Saturday morning, Terroirs of the Walla Walla Valley, to hear about the floods from an actual bonafide geologist.

5. Officially, the state grows 30+ varieties of grapes, almost equally split between white and red.  Unofficially, over 80 varieties call Washington home.  I heartily recommend finding one of the ‘unofficial’ wines.   Have you ever tried Regent?  Steve Snyder of Hollywood Hill Vineyards grows it, vints it, but does not sell it.  You must become his friend which I highly recommend anyway.  Then he will pour you a glass.

6. After prohibition in 1933, the very first bonded winery in the entire US of A was in Washington.  After the passage of the 18th Amendment repealing prohibition, each state became responsible for bonding wineries.  Before the states got their act together the federal government was the bonding agency.  Charles Somers, owner of St. Charles Winery in Grapeview, applied to the U.S. Treasury Dept. and became U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1.  A few decades later in the late 60′s one of the sons, Howard Somers, went to work for Chateau Ste. Michelle (now the largest winery in the state) to help move their production from sweet to dry table wines—today’s wines.  Cheers to the Somers family!

7. Washington and California wine industries have been connected for decades, sometimes friendly, sometimes not. (see #9)  It was Andre Tchelistcheff, winemaker extraordinaire for Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) and dean of winemakers, who while visiting a nephew in Washington in the 1960′s, tasted a Gewurztraminer made by a group of University of Washington professors.  He was blown away.  This group of professors and friends became Columbia Winery (now the second largest winery in the state).  Later Tchelistcheff consulted at Chateau Ste. Michelle.  Meanwhile, the nephew,  Alex Golitzen,  founded Quilceda Creek winery, one of the most notable wineries in the state garnering praise from Robert Parker year after year.  Another familiar California icon, the Gallo family, had ties to Washington.  The Gallos had contracts with many Washington grape growers.  Back in the day, totally unknown to consumers, Washington juice ended up in California wine.  Raise a glass to interstate influence!

8. Grapes grow on both sides of the Cascade Mountains.  This fact is a surprise even to people who live here in the state.  The Puget Sound AVA on the west side of the Cascades has a climate perfect for cool white grapes such as Madeleine Angevine, Siegerebbe and Muller-Thurgau.  Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are also planted and being experimented with by a few brave souls.  Hopefully, they will share the results and pour us a glass.  In the meantime, pair Siegerebbe with your next batch of Dungeness crab.  Heaven!

9. The state currently boasts over 650 wineries with more starting up every month.  In the history of Washington wineries there is a very interesting growth curve.  Right after prohibition in 1933 wineries opened rather slowly and focused on sweeter wines.  In 1969 a state law, known as the California Wine Bill, was passed removing the state’s trade restrictions and opened up the Washington wine market to California wines.  (The California wine lobby greatly influenced the passage of the new state law.)  Wine from California flooded into the state.  The new law and changing tastes resulted in the disappearance of nearly all Washington wineries.  When the dust settled there were only a few left to compete with California and they understood that the future was dry table wine.  Washington’s modern wine industry was born.   It is from that point that the state has grown to 650+.   Now decades later Washington can toast those California lobbyists . . . . . . . maybe.  Raise a glass to rising from the ashes!

10.  Washington grows more hops than any other state in the US of A accounting for 80% of all domestic hop production and 25% worldwide.  Yes, I am talking beer.  In Yakima Valley hop fields are interspersed with vineyards.  Wine and beer are friends in our state (at least on the consumer level).  Raise a glass – beer or wine!  Let’s all be friends. (Psst it is a secret, but rumor has it that we are actually daring to bring beer to a wine bloggers conference!)

8 Responses to “Ten things to know about Washington (wine)”

  1. winebeerWA says:

    Ten things to know about Washington (wine) before #WBC10 http://wine-beer-washington.com/wine/ten… (via @vivianmycroft ) #wawine

  2. DivaTink says:

    Love this post! What a great job with some basic info everyone should have!
    Cheers!
    Cheryl

    • Bean says:

      Thanks Cheryl, Vivian did a really nice job on this post. For the trivia buffs and for those who are just discovering Washington wines

  3. Steve says:

    Does Pinot Noir grow in other parts of the state, other than Puget Sound AVA?

  4. Brian says:

    In item 3 you wrote,
    “Seeds brought over by Europeans and planted for local use, perhaps religious ceremonies.”

    This is not a widely used method of propagating grape vines. It is difficult, risky, and slow to come to fruition. The normal method of propagation is by hardwood cutting – an ancient method still used almost universally to propagate new plants. There are other methods used to multiply the number of plants when there are few source plants available, but hardwood cutting is the norm.

    Looking forward to more Washington State Pinot Noir news.

    • Vivian says:

      Cuttings are definitely easier and widely used. The source I relied on was Ron Irvine’s book, “The Wine Project”. Irvine reports that it was seeds probably brought by George Simpson, governor of the American operations of the Hudson Bay Company. Simpson was on a visit to Fort George. (The romantic version of the story is that during a dinner party in London a couple of young women slipped the seeds into the pockets of a couple of young men shipping out to the New World. Back to the less romantic George Simpson.) Fort Vancouver was given the seeds due to its agricultural advantage over Fort George. Because the source was seeds no one knows the varietal but suspect it was Vitis Vinifera because the seeds came from Europe. This was about 1825. Soon to follow were plantings in other parts of Washington. By 1859 wine grapes were growing in the Walla Walla area thanks to European immigrants.

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