Introduction

By Lisa Rowlands

The northernmost of the West Coast wine trio, Washington state is characterised by a geography and climate which owes much of its uniqueness to its location. Rugged coastlines, deep valleys, green hills, glacial rivers and the magnificent snow-tipped Cascade Range - which include the active volcano, Mount Rainier, creates a landscape of great depth and diversity. Add to the mix the cultural capital, Olympia, and the seaport city of Seattle - home to the iconic Space Needle, the world renowned Pike Place market and the celebrated Museum of Flight - and you have a region rich in colour and abundant in attraction. The state’s wine industry forms part of this appeal, with vineyard tours and tastings a huge draw for both tourists and locals.

The first vines were planted in Washington as far back as 1825, however it wasn’t until the middle of the twentieth century that the state’s winemakers adopted a more commercial focus. Today, the vast majority of Washington’s production takes place in the warm, arid eastern part of the region, where vines are protected from precipitation by the Cascade Mountain barrier. Puget Sound, which accounts for only a minuscule fraction of the total yield, is the only AVA in the wetter western part of the state, although much of the fruit from the eastern zone is vinified at wineries in or around Seattle.

Conditions for viticulture are made favourable by the temperature moderating effects and irrigation of the area’s many river systems, taming the intense heat of summer and reducing frost risk in the cooler seasons. At this latitude, daily sunshine hours are plentiful during the growing season, and coupled with a distinct variation between day and night-time temperatures, this results in grapes which can achieve optimal ripeness whilst preserving their acidity. The cold winters here have also made Washington’s vineyards less susceptible to Phylloxera than regions which are warmer year-round.

AVAs of Washington

Colombia Valley AVA

Colombia Valley AVA is Washington’s largest wine region.

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Red Mountain AVA

Red Mountain AVA is the smallest and warmest growing area in Washington. Known for red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

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