Tag Archives: Washington

Pacific Northwest – what I’ve learnt

Wineries don’t need to be on the vineyards they source fruit from. They don’t even need to be in the same region. Wineries in the Willamette Valley (Oregon) source fruit from Walla Walla (Washington). Wineries West of the Cascade Mountains in Washington source fruit almost exclusively from the East of the state. Red Mountain, a quarter of the size of the Walla Walla AVA, actually produces more fruit, but very little of the wine is made there. If a winemaker wants to make a particular style of wine, they will find the fruit they need. Many wineries deal with the tyranny of distance in different ways. Numerous wineries in the Western part of Washington were established close to Seattle, such as in Woodinville. The town of Walla Walla has been set-up as a wine tourism oasis. The Willamette on the other hand is naturally blessed with being less than an hour from Portland, but the Southern Oregon regions are not so lucky. The fruit for the wine may travel far, but visitors to wineries shouldn’t have to, and wine tourism hubs are as common as shopping districts in town.

Very cool labels in Walla Walla, Washington

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Location, Location, Location (Woodinville, Washington)

The first winery in Washington was founded in the 1950s. Ironically it was founded in the Eastern part of Washington, which is generally too cold and wet for viticulture. It was however, less than an hour from Seattle, their primary (and only) market. Washington is the second largest producer in the United States behind California, and nearly 99% of all grapes are grown West of the Cascade Mountains in the dry, warm and irrigated parts of the state. In terms of visiting wineries the best place is Woodinville, less than an hour from Seattle. Just don’t expect any vineyards.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chateau Ste. Michelle

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Where the vineyards are (Yakima Valley, Washington)

The Tri-Cities area is one of the least interesting places I have been to on my trip so far. It is a very functional area, as the gateway to the South East, and there are many new communities that have blossomed in housing estates. But it is generally a city without much heart and soul. I was fairly glad to be heading off along the Yakima River towards Seattle, as it would take me through areas where a third of the fruit is grown in Washington. After trying many wines from the Yakima AVA I was keen to see how the environment influenced the wines. The most South Eastern sub-region of the Yakima Valley is Red Mountain, where many of the best reds come from. Whilst it is at least a quarter of the size of the Walla Walla Valley, it amazingly grows more fruit. It is very dry, and probably gets very hot in summer. In a way it reminded me of the Barossa Valley, so naturally Rhone varieties like Shiraz do very well here. This is certainly not white wine country, otherwise it would be called Red & White Mountain.

Red Mountain AVA

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Writing the rule book (Walla Walla Valley, Washington – Day Two)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the wine industry in Walla Walla is nothing if not progressive. A region that has really only been around for 15 years, they aren’t so much in a revolution as an evolution, not a renaissance but a birth. As Charles Smith said to me the previous day, there are no rules here. They are all just trying to figure out what does well here, and they are so far ahead of the curve it isn’t funny. Much like the winemakers in southern NSW these guys are getting access to amazing fruit in new viticultural areas and expressing wines that are both impetuous and yet refined. Is it any wonder that wine critics in Washington and the rest of the US are so excited about this place?

The Walla Walla Valley

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I’m so excited and I think I like it (Walla Walla, Washington – Day One)

Way down in the cocoon of Melbourne there isn’t a lot of North American wine available. It’s mostly either Californian, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, or Inniskillin. So in this environment I had no idea that the Walla Walla Valley is the most exciting place for wine in the entire United States. In doing research just before I came across I found a video of online wine phenomenon Gary Vaynerchuk stating that Walla Walla is the best region for wine, angering many in the Napa Valley. Having visited for the first time yesterday I am tempted to agree with him. The Walla Walla Valley had grapevines introduced by Italian migrants back in the mid-1800s but like everywhere else, the first bonded winery wasn’t founded until after prohibition in 1950. The Pesciallo family who founded Blue Mountain Vineyards were certainly way ahead of their time, as they didn’t survive and vines weren’t then planted until the 1970s. Walla Walla went unnoticed for almost thirty years until the mid ’90s when there were less than 10 wineries, and a number of wines started to get rave reviews. This started a serious boom in the region, to the point that there are now about 160 wineries sourcing fruit from the entire Columbia Valley & Walla Walla AVA. This is a region seriously on the move, so pay attention.

L’Ecole No 41 Tasting Room

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Dramatic landscapes (Columbia Gorge, Oregon/Washington)

I’m starting to get used to the disappointment that I can’t spend more time in all the places I am going, and Portland was one of the hardest to leave so far. It’s much nicer staying in the hostels because you are around people more and there’s stuff to do in the evening. It’s nice having some space and quiet in the motels, but it’s pretty boring and lonely. It does give me a chance to catch up on things and look ahead for arrangements, but I do waste a bit too much time flipping through the thousands of channels on the television.

Columbia Valley, Oregon to the left, Washington to the right

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