Of all of the wine producing states, Washington is the one that many oenophiles find the most intriguing. Much like Oregon, Washington does not share the same well-known rustic, pre-Prohibition pedigree that California does. Washington also has a somewhat less refined reputation than Oregon. World renowned wine writer, Hugh Johnson’s quote about the early years of the Washington wine industry sums it up best,
Oregon has always been the home of the craftsman winemaker, vinifying grapes grown in small, personally managed, mainly estate vineyards, many of which are organic. Eastern Washington on the other hand originally operated on a quasi-industrial scale, with heavily irrigated grapes grown by farmers who might as well have been growing cereals or apples, picked mechanically and shipped back to Seattle.
One of the most endearing traits of the Washington wine industry is that they don’t care about the past, because they are far too focused on molding a future that will rival the greatest regions in the world. Washington, of all U.S. wine growing states, is the one that has come the furthest. Despite all of the recent accolades, it has so much further to go.
As a relatively new region to the fine wine scene, many astute wine drinkers have only become aware of Washington’s wines in the past couple of decades. Even then, there were few “classy producers” to showcase the potential of this state. The inroads that have been made in the past 10-12 years are a testament to their hard work and continued evolution. Through these developments, viticulturist and winemakers have developed a better overall understanding of what Washington wine is, and what it can be.
This awareness is epitomized by their understanding of the importance of merlot. Although not a flashy or sexy varietal, merlot is capable of so much more than it is typically allowed to project. In Washington, merlot is not the overshadowed grape. Instead, it’s the provider of structure – backbone. Because of this, Washington’s red wines are in many cases more similar to the wines of Bordeaux than they are California.
With the amount of excitement that this state produces, it is only natural that they seem to be having the most ambitious growing season of the regions visited along our tour of the coast. Check it out! United States Mid-Vintage Growing Report: Washington.