Washington State Wine: More than Just Walla Walla

By Kori ~ September 30th, 2009.

The Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, has received three 100-point ratings in the last four years from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate for the 2002, 2003, and 2005 vintages.When most people outside of the state think of Washington wine, they only think of Walla Walla. That’s a great tribute to the marketing prowess of the Walla Walla community and its Wine Alliance but hardly an accurate statement about Washington State wines. In fact, the Walla Walla wine industry was built on the back of Columbia Valley fruit.

Even today, when you buy a bottle of wine from a Walla Walla winery, I’ve found that it is just as likely to carry a Columbia Valley designation as a Walla Walla Valley designation. In fact, when Gary Figgins bonded Leonetti Cellars in 1977, the first modern-era winery in Walla Walla, there were almost no Walla Walla vineyards. The fruit was sourced from elsewhere in the Columbia Valley. When the Walla Walla AVA was approved in 1984, there were just four wineries and 60 acres of vineyards, most of it in the Seven Hills Vineyard.

It was the early 1990’s before the Walla Walla Valley’s second decent sized vineyard, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, was planted, and in early 1995 there were still only seven bonded wineries in Walla Walla. Today, there are almost 100 wineries and 1,600 acres of vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. That is certainly significant but small in comparison to the total of over 650 wineries and over 32,000 acres of vineyards for the entire state of Washington.

Benson Vineyards in the Lake Chelan AVAPlease don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to downplay the significance of Walla Walla to the Washington wine industry nor the quality of its wines. But I believe it’s important to also visit wineries in and taste wines from the other Washington State AVA’s, Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills, Lake Chelan, Puget Sound, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Wahluke Slope, Yakima Valley, and the all-encompassing Columbia Valley to really and truly understand and appreciate Washington wine.

Today, the second largest concentration of Washington wineries after Walla Walla may be in Woodinville, just 17 miles north and east of Seattle. Home of the state’s oldest, largest, and most well-known wineries, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Winery, the Woodinville area now boasts over 40 other wineries but no vineyards. Almost all Woodinville wineries grow their grapes in the warm, arid climate of Eastern Washington including the Walla Walla Valley.

If you are a regular reader of Wine Peeps, you know that we visit wineries and taste wines from all over the state in our quest to be your link to great QPR wines from Washington. Walla Walla, Spokane, Chelan, Tri-Cities, Prosser, Red Mountain, Yakima, and Woodinville have all been on our travel itinerary in 2009, not to mention our attendance at a number of Washington wine tasting events. The easiest way to find our take on Washington wines is to peruse our Washington State Wine category and read any of the 130 posts we’ve done on Washington wines.

Filed under: American Wine, Washington State Wine

Reader's Comments

  1. Sean Sullivan | September 30th, 2009 at 9:03 am

    I would love it if people outside Washington were even thinking Walla Walla when they think of Washington wine. When many people think about Washington wine, they think we are talking about Washington, DC. Seriously. Many are only peripherally aware of Washington wines at present. Even many out-of-staters who know the names Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest – two of the state’s most widely distributed wines – aren’t aware that these wines are coming from Washington state. I think Walla Walla has increased prominence among many wine industry professionals and has been given a big boost in consumer awareness by Wine Library TV’s frequent mention of the area. That said, it is still hardly a blip on many people’s radar screen. However, the other areas you mention, many of which are making excellent wine, aren’t on the radar screen at all. Walla Walla has recently risen to prominence inside the state, even though many wineries still source grapes from outside the valley as you mention. Other areas are going to have do what the Walla Walla and Woodinville wineries have done – band together to increase awareness inside and outside the state. Interesting, a recent PR Newswire piece listed Yakima Valley rather that WWV in terms of Washington wine destinations along with the survey favorite (wait for it) Napa Valley (http://www2.prnewswire.com/mnr/tripadvisor/37975/).

  2. mrzitro | September 30th, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Sean is on point. Gary V of Wine Library TV is the reason I’m exploring Walla Walla wines & Washington St wines in general.

  3. maureen nolan | September 30th, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Great post! Just a bit of clarity. Woodinville has one commercial vineyard and that is Hollywood Hill Vineyards. They have a small yet nice crop of Puget Sound AVA wine grapes growing on the hill…including Pinot Noir.

  4. Catie | September 30th, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Huh? There’s more to Washington State Wine than Walla Walla? Yes Kori, you are correct. There are some wonderful wines from all over Washington State. In fact, even when it comes to our bargain-friendly wines, such as wines from Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Crest, you couldn’t ask for such a great value when you consider the quality of the wines.

    However, as the second largest wine producing state in the nation, it means we have to try harder. As Washington wine lovers we take these beautiful wines for granted, but not everybody realizes the impact we are making in the wine industry. As you remember, it was even tough to get the Wine Bloggers Conference into Washington State. And certainly, Woodinville was a reasonable contender, but if you are “showing off” your wine industry to the majority of people who live, work and write about the spectacular wine industry and beautiful areas of Napa and Sonoma, you better be on the top of your game – and obviously, Walla Walla has the largest wow-factor that no other region in Washington State. And believe it or not, in my personal wine collection, I drink more than just the wines from Walla Walla. And with that said –

    It isn’t to diminish the rest of Washington. One of the biggest highlights of my wine writing was the opportunity to stand at the bottom tier of the Wallula Vineyard overlooking the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Being at top of the Klipsun Vineyard and actually seeing for myself what makes the mountain red at Red Mountain was a highlight. It was fascinating to discover the unique terroirs of our Washington AVAs and later taste the wines. Overall, Washington State has some of the most breathtaking views from vineyards I have ever seen. I feel that Washington State can boast the overall quality of their wines, something IMHO that California cannot do.

    First of all and most important, we need to get people to Washington State to taste our wines and Walla Walla is a good place to start. It is self-contained, has the most wineries in the area and once in Walla Walla, it is less than a 15 minute drive to any of the wineries and vineyards. Many of the tasting rooms and restaurants are walking distance from the nearest accomodations.

    Yeah, call me protective and a bit cautious about your headline, but once we get the wine lover to Walla Walla, there isn’t a doubt in my mind they will want to explore the rest of the Washington State wine industry.

    Thanks Kori. Off of my soapbox now.

  5. Wine Peeps: A Wine Blog » Washington State Wine: More than Just … | The Bottle and Cork - Napa and Sonoma Wine blog | October 1st, 2009 at 8:38 am

    […] the original post: Wine Peeps: A Wine Blog » Washington State Wine: More than Just … […]

  6. Kori | November 11th, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    I apologize for not replying to your comments sooner. I moved the week this post posted and was without internet at our new house for awhile. Somehow the comments for this post fell through the cracks. That said, thank you so much for commenting. I love the passionate opinions from people who are passionate about Washington wine.

    You make some good points. Too many people don’t know about Washington wines at all. However, my motivation for writing this post was the lack of knowledge about Washington wines from knowledgeable wine people. I have gotten tired of hearing fellow wine bloggers refer to the West Coast wine scene as California, Oregon, and Walla Walla. Again, I love Walla Walla as much as the next person, but I want people to know that there is a lot of great wine to be had all across the state of Washington.

    I’m so thankful that Gary V has turned you on to Washington wines.

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. You are such a great champion of Walla Walla wines. I am very excited that WBC 2010 is being held in Walla Walla. It is a great place to showcase what Washington has to offer. And I certainly hope that as you suggest, once people visit Walla Walla, they’ll want to explore the rest of the state as well. The biggest drawback from Walla Walla is the driving distance from Seattle, the state’s largest city and largest tourist destination. That’s one reason I’m so glad to see more and more wineries, even Walla Walla wineries, open up tasting rooms in Woodinville. While I know it’s not the same as actually visiting Walla Walla, realistically that’s as far as some tourists are going to go.

    Again, thank you all for your comments. Cheers!