When you hear the phrase “wine country” you probably think of California. After all, with its Napa and Sonoma valleys, California ranks first in the United States in wine production. But did you know that Washington State ranks second? Washington is often overlooked as a major wine player for a couple of reasons. First, Washington is not perceived to excel an any particular varietal or blend as many other regions do. Second, Washington State is occasionally confused with Washington D.C. Well-meaning enthusiasts wonder which side of the Potomac Washington grapes are grown on. And finally, there is a misconception that Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Crest are California wine producers. In fact, they are Washington’s two largest producers.
We here at Domaine Madeleine have had the benefit of trying many Washington wines, visiting a number of local wineries, and even developing a relationship with experts in the industry. We think it’s about time we help the state blow its own horn about the quality, variety, and downright drinkability of Washington wines. There seems no better time to do this than just as the state is nearing its “Taste Washington Wine Month” Celebration this March.
The climate in the only wine-growing region in western Washington is greatly affected by the marine influences of nearby Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. These contribute to mild temperatures, wet winters and dry summers, which make it ideal for several cool climate grape varieties. The region also experiences more sunshine than Bordeaux and receives less precipitation than Burgundy. This means Washington produces nearly every style of wine including rosé, sparkling, fruit, fortified, still and late harvest dessert wines.
Numerous wine experts have described the wines of Washington State as having fresh acidity, deep coloring, with bright, intense fruit flavors. The red wines of Washington, especially the Cabernets and Merlots, are said to exhibit lush texture with very concentrated berry flavors. They remind one of the wild fruit found in the Pacific Northwest such as blackberries, boysenberries, cherries and raspberries. The state is often described as combining New World fruit with Old World style. Washington also has the potential to combine the structure and polish of French wines with the ripeness and fruit of California wines.
In 2006, The Wine Advocate gave two perfect scores of 100 points for Cabernet Sauvignon wines made using grapes from several of Washington’s wine-growing regions. Only 15 other American wines have ever been scored so highly by The Wine Advocate, all from California. So maybe not being known for just one type of wine isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Now, there’s not a lot we can do to educate people about the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C. We can only instill in students the fact that learning geography is important. Perhaps we should also always tack either “State” or “D.C.” onto the end of the word.
We can also be diligent in reminding wine enthusiasts that Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Crest are, in fact, in Washington State. And we here on the Olympic Peninsula can continue to share our local winery experiences with guests, as we did in our blog post “The Best Way To Experience A Wine And Chocolate Crawl”. We can also tell everyone that there are ten wineries just on the North Olympic Peninsula alone.
So look out California. With a little help from our guests and readers, “wine country” may come to mean “Washington State”, while “Napa” may just mean “auto parts”.