The phrase “West Coast wine” typically conjures up images of Napa Valley, and other vineyards up and down California.
But winemakers from Washington State want to change that. Despite being America’s second largest wine-producing region, the state doesn’t yet hold significant position in the northeast wine market.
A tasting and seminar event in New York on Feb. 24 featured more than 70 wineries from Washington. Among the event’s goals was to raise awareness of wine from this Pacific Northwest state.
What separates Washington’s viticulture regions from out-of-state competitors?
Many vintners pointed to their state’s climate as ideal for growing grapes. There are fewer pests, clean water, preferable elevation, and greatly varying temperatures between long warm days (average daily sunlight is 16 hours) and cool nights.
“You can think more about creating those secondary notes of flavor rather than worrying about what can go wrong with the health of the vineyard,” says Anna Schafer, winemaker and founder of àMaurice Cellars in Walla Walla. “We’re very lucky in our state.”
The Washington wine market enjoys another advantage: lower price points.
“It has to do with the cost of doing business here. The cost of land is cheap, and the contracts for fruit are less expensive,” says Trey Busch, winemaker and partner at Sleight of Hand Cellars of Walla Walla. “We’re selling wines for $15 to $60. The best wines from Bordeaux, Italy, Napa — you can’t get that sort of bang for your buck.”
A welcome surprise at the tasting was the presence of Finnriver Cider, of Chimacum, WA. The company’s tasting samples of premium cider included dry-hopped, black courant lavender and sparkling apple. The dry-hopped cider, in particular, was a dry, fizzy, tart, lightly bitter treat that tasted of ripe green apples.
“We feel like we have more similarities to wine than beer,” says Finnriver representative Ben Rezendes. “The cider market is booming in Washington.”
Finnriver was also promoting its onsite tourism/tasting program (according to Rezendes, the Finnriver tasting area is pastoral, complete with wandering chickens). This was an objective shared by many of the Washington wineries.
“If you like what you taste, come and see it for yourself,” says Busch.
As important as tourism may be, the vinters present showcased Washington wine not just as a vacation destination but as a viable, nationwide retail category.
“The ultimate goal for the industry is for customers to think of Washington as Washington, and know that this is what our wines tastes like,” says Busch.
Feature photo courtesy of The Washington State Wine Commission.