Washington wine country is unlike any other wine region in the world. What makes Washington State different is that the vineyards are up to 200 miles away from where the wine is made. How is this possible? Well, since vineyards didn’t start popping up in Washington until the late 1960’s, transporting grapes a very long way was not only possible, it was also a good idea.
Find out more about this unique region and what makes it special with a map and details on the area.
Washington Wine Country Map
What is Washington Wine Country Like?
Most of Washington’s vineyards are located east of the Cascade Mountains. The climate on the eastern side is very different than you might imagine; it’s dry and sunny! Very large glacial rivers, including the Columbia River, flow through Washington making it possible to support a large farming industry. Before wine was planted in Walla Walla, WA the city was famous for sweet onions and apricots the size of your hand.
What is Washington Wine Famous For?
Look for Red Blends often called “Bordeaux Style”. Wines are usually Cabernet and Merlot blended with Syrah and Malbec–a rare combination outside the region.
Riesling is spectacular. The high altitude vineyards give Washington grapes high acidity. Dry Rieslings are popular in Washington.
Where To Taste Washington Wine
A suburban wine tourist area with industrial wineries, tasting rooms, hotels and restaurants. See JM Cellars
A vineyard zone with tasting rooms dotted along the highway. Experience what Horse Heaven Hills feels like.
A wine-friendly city and vineyard zone with tasting rooms, hotels and restaurants.
A Few Big Vineyards and A Lot of Small Wineries
Big Vineyards The vineyards in Washington are huge! In Washington you can drive nearly 3 miles to span just one side of a 2000 acre vineyard. Because of the sheer size of these vineyards, the people who manage these vineyards only focus on viticulture.
Small Wineries Winemakers make contracts with big vineyards to buy grapes. Some vineyards hold contracts with up to 30 or so different wineries. If you find a wine that you like, take note of the vineyard where it’s from. Oftentimes you’ll find several wineries producing wine from the same vineyard.
Why Washington Wine Works
The system of large vineyards and small wineries works for winemakers because they are located close to their largest buying market around Seattle. By selling directly to customers, wineries are able to make more money per bottle than if they sold to distributors. It also costs less to maintain a cellar in the Puget Sound’s temperate zone.
But is this good for consumers? Yes, if you’re in Washington, otherwise, no. This is because wineries have poor distribution outside of the state and it’s hard to find recommended wines. If a wine gets a high rating in a publication like Wine Enthusiast the prices increase because of demand. Still, it’s a great place to discover and visit.
Change is Coming! As Washington wine country grows, we’ll see more larger wineries building close to vineyards and exporting wine outside of the state (and country!). Recently, Gallo Wine purchased Columbia Winery because of the potential growth in the region. The cost of running a wine business in Washington is much lower than in California.
A great resource on Washington Wineries washingtonwine.org