As early as 1930-1940s, Washington State produced large quantities of Sherry ad Port style wines. Compared to present, the State concentrates almost entirely on vinifera grape growing, producing naturally crisp, fruity style white wines, which are favored by the cool climate and enhanced by cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks, especially Riesling, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay are also produced. In red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can develop full, ripe fruit flavors, backed up by a substantial backbone of acid and tannin levels, which winemakers successfully balance with oak flavors from aging. The reds have been showing attractive, vibrant flavors when young, and a potential to develop, sometimes over two decades. Except the Bordeaux varieties, there has been significant interest in the last 10 years in red Rhone varieties, especially Syrah, and in some Italian grape types.
The State has taken important steps to demonstrate its commitment to quality. Starting from 2000, the Washington Wine Quality Alliance was created to allow members using a special alliance logo on the bottles and in their advertising in return for following three very simple but very important guidelines.
1: if and AVA, county, or State name is used on the label, 100% of the grapes must come from that named place.
2: all wines carrying a Washington place name must use 100% Vinifera grapes and contain no Additives to flavor the wine or change the color or aroma.
3: the term “Reserve” may be used only for wines made from 100% Washington grapes, maximum 10% of the winery’s production, or 3000 cases, whichever is the greater amount.
There are 11 AVAs in Washington State, ranging from region 1 to 3 according to Winkler scale. Columbia Valley is the largest AVA. Others include Yakima Valley (Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills and Snipes Mountain are inside, red dominates), Horse Heaven Hills (both red and white), Wahluke Slope (red dominates), Lake Chelan (white especially Riesling and Chardonnay), Walla Walla Valley (shared with Oregon, both white and red), Columbia Gorge (white), Puget Sound (Maritime climate, west of Cascade Mountain, around Seattle).
Chateau St. Michelle in Puget Sound, near Seattle
L’Ecole winery in Walla Walla Valley
Spacious landscape of Long Shadow Winery, established by former CEO of Chateau St. Michelle, focusing on high-end wine production.