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 Washington: The "Dual Zone" Wine Country 
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Post Washington: The "Dual Zone" Wine Country
Washington: The "Dual Zone" Wine Country
by: Ronald Senn

My son and his family used to live in Anacortes, Washington. We generally traveled to visit them by either by taking Interstate 5 north from California or Interstates 82 and 90 west from Idaho. Along both of these routes, we noticed many scattered Washington vineyards during our trips. I often wondered how the different wine producing zones in Washington managed to produce great grapes and wine because the climatic regimes on either side of the Cascade Mountain Range are so different.

Washington can be generally divided into two grape growing zones with approximately 34 to 36 thousand acres under cultivation. One zone is defined as the Interstate 5 corridor on the west side of the Cascade Range. This zone receives adequate rainfall to grow grapes (average of 48 inches per year). The other zone is defined as the plains on the east side of the Cascade Range. Storms in Washington generally arrive from the northwest Pacific Ocean coastal area and move to the east. As these storms push through the Cascade Range, abundant rainfall occurs on the west side of the mountains. Later, these same air masses push over the Cascades much drier than when they arrived. This produces a rain-shadow effect (average of 8 inches per year) because of the topographic lifting of the air mass over the coastal mountains. Because of the rain shadow effects of the Cascade Range, this area often must use various irrigation techniques to maximize grape production.

The growing season for grapes in Washington is generally from March to September each year. Harvesting starts in August and can run as late as November. Washington is the second largest wine-producing state with only California out doing them. Washington’s grape annual production is approximately 160 to 170 tons of grapes, which is only a fraction of California’s production of 3.6 to 3.8 million tons. Prohibition arrived in 1920, banning alcohol-based beverages, and, as in other states, set the wine producing industry back. The industry is building rapidly based on the availability of reasonably affordable land, but because most of the vineyards are small operations, the per bottle production costs are higher than most other areas in the country. Washington wines are generally more expensive than wines produced elsewhere. It remains to be seen if this will be restrictive and problematic as the industry grows. Meanwhile, one article I reviewed stated a new winery opens about every other week with the current total around 650 wineries.

The quality of Washington wines cannot be disputed. The wines from this region have won numerous awards and are currently marketed in every U.S. state and 40 other countries. Some of the leading red grapes found are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet France, Malbec, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Lemberger. Some of the leading white varietals are Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Semillon and Chenin Blanc. White wine production is 54 percent of the total, while red wine is 46 percent of the total. The total economic impact to Washington State from the wine industry is estimated to be in the neighborhood of 3 billion dollars a year.

Touring wineries and vineyards is an excellent way to pass the time. Cities in the Interstate 5 corridor that could serve as a tour base are Vancouver, Longview, Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, Everett, Mt. Vernon, Bellingham and Fern Dale. Wine production in the more arid eastern side of the Cascade Range is more scattered across the area. Cities that could serve as a tour base are Spokane, Brewster, Chelan, Wenatchee, Yakima, Moses Lake, Toppenish, Richland and Walla Walla. One thing I did notice, when visiting the few vineyards that I have, is that during your visits often you will get a great view of a snow-covered peak.

When visiting Washington, touring its wine country will be very rewarding. Some great wines are produced; the small wine growing operations are friendly to visit; and a landscape of beautiful views will reward you. Remember, buy the wine you like, store it properly, serve it at the proper temperature and enjoy it immensely.

Author: Ronald Senn, Vice-president, Ideal Wine Coolers, July 2010

About The Author
Ronald Senn is currently Vice-president of Ideal Wine Coolers. Ron served in the U.S. Navy from 1966-1970. Ron graduated from the University of Arizona with BS and MS Degrees. Ron is retired from the U.S. Forest Service after serving over 30 years.

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Thu Dec 02, 2010 4:09 pm
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