The history of Washington wine began when Italian immigrants introduced the grape Cinsault to the Walla Walla area. There are 12 AVA’s in Washington, with 11 concentrated in the eastern half of the state. Washington has an excellent climate for growing grapes, with cool temps, longer hours of sunshine and ample access to irrigation. Washington is now the 2nd largest producer of United States wines and exports to over 40 countries. Irrigation is not used or even allowed in other wine areas. However, this area would not survive without the access to irrigation.
Prohibition also almost wiped out the entire Washington wine industry in 1917. After prohibition, the wine that was made in Washington was fortified sweet wine from the Concord grape. This was made in large quantities as jug wine. In the mid 20th century, that began to change and set Washington on the course to be one of the top wine making areas of the world that it is today.
In the 1950’s, Dr. Walter Clore and Washington State University began experimenting with the traditional vitis vinifera grapes for wine. Shortly after that, a group of professors from The University of Washington formed the Associated Vintners to focus on fine wines. That later became Columbia Winery. Two of the wineries that produced sweet wines merged to form Chateau Ste. Michelle. These wineries were leading forces in the wine making industry, starting with Grenache to make rosés. From there, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots began to thrive and do well. The 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were all decades of expansion. There are currently over 740 wineries in Washington State.
Columbia Valley AVA covers 1/3 of the state (and crosses into Oregon) and has several sub-AVAs. This provides many micro-climates and lead to a variety of wine grapes being grown. There are over 80 grape varieties in this area. The most common ones are Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay and Merlot. There are also plantings of Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Malbec, Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon, Tempranillo, Viognier, Barbera, Chenin blanc, Gewürztraminer, Nebbiolo, Petite Sirah, Pinot noir, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel.