We are back from spending five days in the Washington wine country with 300 Wine Bloggers. We visited many wineries and heard many voices from various Washington wine associations and groups. Interestingly, the most commonly-mentioned wine area outside of Washington was the Napa Valley. When you are on top, watch out, someone’s out to top you. I don’t think Washington can ever reach Napa in terms of a tourist destination, but in wine quality this is another matter. These folks feel strongly that the AVA’s of Washington are unique and remarkable and are producing wines as good as, and perhaps better than, the Napa Valley.
Here are some direct quotes:
“The amount of sunlight here is on average 58 minutes longer per day than in the Napa Valley.”
“We don’t have phylloxera or the sharpshooter like Napa because our winters are so cold.”
“Our latitude is between that of Bordeaux and Burgundy; Napa is lower than Burgundy.”
“Our Syrah is big and chewy and there’s nothing like it, not even in Napa.”
“We heard that a Napa Valley winery wants to buy our Red Mountain grapes.”
The best wines we tasted came from the Red Mountain AVA, a very small AVA of about 4000 acres of vineyards. At our post-conference session we went out to this area where we were entertained with vineyard walks, winery tours, tastings, and a unbelievable sunset dinner served with the wines of the Red Mountain AVA. At Hedges Winery they did a unique wine tasting that amounted to a mini competition. At five stations they had one of their wines in a side-by-side tasting with a respected non-Washington wine. The 2007 Hedges Obelisco Cabernet Sauvignon went head-to-head with an 07 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Guess which won the face-off among the wine bloggers!
The Red Mountain area is a sub appellation of the Yakima Valley AVA. The closest town is Richland, with just a handful of hotels and upscale restaurants. This limits the amount of wine tourists that will come to this area to visit. Consequently, many of the top wineries of the AVA have set up tasting rooms in Woodinville, WA, just outside of Seattle. They have joined other wineries to form a community of 80 wineries, each with a tasting room and some with winemaking facilities. This a touristy spot for wine lovers who come to Seattle for a getaway.
Over in the Walla Walla Valley AVA, the area has a lot more potential than Red Mountain for attracting tourists and growing new wineries. The town of Walla Walla is perfect as a destination wine town. They have tasting rooms, restaurants, winebars, and a cozy business area perhaps much like St. Helena. Close by are many wineries to visit. To grow the number of wineries, the State has set up an Incubator Program to encourage new wineries. Just outside the city of Walla Walla, a World War II airport hanger has been refurbished to host a few of these wineries. The State rents space to these wineries at rock-bottom prices for a four-year period. From this start, the better wineries will move on to establish themselves in a different location in Walla Walla.
Between Janelle and myself we probably tasted 150 wines over the course of our five-day excursion. We were highly impressed with the Rieslings, Syrahs, and the Bordeaux blends. We will definitely seek out some of those Rieslings at our favorite wine shops at home. At under $20 these Rieslings are a treat. The Syrahs and Bordeaux blends we liked can best be described as elegant, well balanced, and velvety on the tongue. The downside for us, these particular wines are in the $50 range and above so are out of our price range. Most of these wines came from the Red Mountain AVA, where for the most part only the wealthy are able to play