The wine producers work together, all for one and one for all. They are competitors, but they’re also neighbors and romoters of the state’s wine industry.
Recently I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the Washington State Wine Commission’s annual “Taste of Washington.” It is a three-day festival of walk-around tastings, seminars and gala dinners. I looked forward to the honor of addressing the state’s winemakers, growers and executives; I had not visited America’s second-largest producer of wine for a few years and was glad for the opportunity to catch up. What I found was a community—and I do not use that term lightly—that is producing world-class wines. This community is comprised of individuals who are passionate about what they’re doing and determined to work together to raise the visibility of Washington State wine around the world.
Like most of America’s greatest wine regions, Washington’s winegrowing industry was galvanized by Italian, German and French immigrants in the 1870s. And indeed, the first Washington wines that caught my attention were the ripe and racy Rieslings that were so important to the state’s early production.
But I believe most American wine lovers first became aware of Washington wine through its Merlots. The state was producing some of the country’s finest Merlots just as the CBS 60 Minutes program on the French Paradox was giving Americans the green light to enjoy red wine. New wine drinkers who wanted to try red wines but could not get past the intense tannins of California Cabernet Sauvignon quickly embraced Washington State Merlot and in the process became wine converts. This is perhaps Washington’s greatest single contribution to the development of America as a wine drinking nation. Washington State’s delicious, approachable and affordable Merlots set the stage for the growth and acceptance of wine, not only in the Pacific Northwest but throughout the country.
In 1938, there were 42 wineries in Washington State. By 2001, there were roughly 200. A mere six years later, as of April’s “Taste Washington 2007” there are 500. Washington’s is a $2.4 billion industry, exporting its wines to more than 40 countries. There is a reason for this growth.
During the course of the weekend I tasted powerful Merlots, profoundly elegant Cabernets, remarkably spicy and intense Syrahs and immensely satisfying Bordeaux blends. Yes, Washington has its “cult” wineries such as Col Solare, Quilceda Creek and Leonetti Cellar, but most of its wines are available at reasonable prices for their quality level.
So Washington has quality and diversity, and one more element that bears mentioning, because it was so obvious at Taste Washington: community. The wine producers of Washington State work together, all for one and one for all. Yes, they are competitors, but more than any wine region I’ve ever visited, they are also neighbors and promoters of the state’s wine industry. It is not unheard-of for one winery to help another out in a pinch, whether it’s equipment, labor or fruit.
Our man in Washington, so to speak, is Contributing Editor Paul Gregutt. He is a wine columnist for several Pacific Northwest newspapers and author of an upcoming book on the state’s wines. In this issue, you’ll find his profiles of four of the state’s most consistent, quality vineyards. Since these vineyard names are emblazoned on many of the labels of the state’s fine wines, it is an excellent way for you to find great bottles from this stellar region.
Steve Heimoff profiles some of Sonoma’s newest superstar winemakers as well as veterans who are embarking on new ventures. All are struggling with the economics and logistics of this extremely competitive industry. In any case, there are some fine wine recommendations to be found in Steve’s article, and you will one day be able to brag that you were among the first discoverers of these quality wines.
Michael Schachner has visited Mendoza in Argentina many times, and you can consider his recommendations of restaurants, hotels and wineries to be good as gold. It is a stunningly beautiful part of the world, exotic and yet affordable.
Our Pairings story is a bit of a departure; Cheryl and Bill Jamison, acknowledged experts in outdoor kitchens, present some of the newest and coolest gadgets to grill, smoke, fry and otherwise entertain your guests. You’ll also find some cool recipes for grilling meat and seafood, with many worthy wine recommendations as well.
So uncork a bottle of great Washington Merlot or Cabernet to accompany that sizzling steak, and enjoy the rest of your summer.
Have a comment on this month’s Enthusiast’s Corner? Email Adam Strum