November 30, 2023
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There are now more than 850 wineries in the state of Washington, making it the second most popular state in the nation for wine production, trailing only California. While Washington State’s wine industry traces its origins back to the 1860’s and 1870’s, when Italian immigrants first brought their winemaking tradition to the state, it was not until nearly 100 years later that the state fully emerged as a national wine industry leader.
During the 1970’s, Washington State rose to prominence for its Riesling and Chardonnay wines. And then during the 1980’s and 1990’s, the state became famous for its Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah wines. Today, over 70 different grape varieties are grown within the state, and there are now 14 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
Established in 1984, the Columbia Valley AVA is by far the largest AVA in the state. It extends east of the Cascade Mountains, which are easily the most important topographical and geographical feature in the state, splitting Washington into a cool, maritime area and a warm, dry area. The Columbia Valley stretches across nearly one-third of the state and even crosses over into neighbouring Oregon. As might be imagined, Columbia Valley accounts for most of the grapes grown in Washington State and is the first wine region that people think of when they think of Washington’s wine industry.
What most people don’t realize, though, is that there are 8 other AVAs nested inside the Columbia Valley AVA:
And the Yakima Valley AVA, in turn, includes three other nested AVAs:
All told, the Columbia Valley AVA contains 11 other AVAs. Thus, of the 14 AVAs within Washington State, the Columbia Valley AVA and the 11 AVAs nested inside it (including the three AVAs nested inside Yakima Valley AVA) account for 12 of them.
Of the AVAs nested inside Columbia Valley, the most important ones include Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope. The newest AVA is Ancient Lakes, while the most famous one is arguably Walla Walla Valley, which was established in 1984. Walla Walla Valley contains some of the oldest wineries in the state and has been growing grapes since the 1850’s. The region itself is named for a Native American tribe encountered by Lewis & Clark during their adventures to the Pacific Northwest in 1805.
This Washington wine region extends from the Canadian border all the way to just south of Olympia. What is particularly noteworthy about Puget Sound is that it is the only wine region in the state that is west of the Cascade Mountains. Since it has a cooler, wetter, more maritime climate than east of the mountains, it specializes in cool weather grape varieties, including Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay.
This AVA is located along the Washington-Oregon border and, in fact, extends across the Columbia River into Oregon. This AVA is known for its rich combination of different microclimates within the same region, including a cool maritime climate and a warm, desert-like climate. As a result, a wide assortment of different grape varieties flourishes here.