Chasing Napa or Napa Envy


Written by:

Joe Becerra

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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.”

View from Terra Blanca - Horse Heaven Hills AVA in Yakima Valley in foreground
View from Col Solare

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!

Caymus Cab vs Hedges Cab
Caymus Cab vs Hedges Cab

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

  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.

19 thoughts on “Chasing Napa or Napa Envy”

  1. Not too surprising that a top notch $57, 235 case production, hand made WA wine would beat out a mass produced, $50, 38,000 case production Napa product. Might as well done it against Silver Oak. Obviously, this does nothing to say that Red Mountain is superior to Napa Valley but in this context that looks that that was the intended message.

    That factoid about the latitude, while true, means nothing. If that was all it took for great Cab I’d be setting up vineyards in North Dakota.

    There are some great Cabs coming out of WA but as you said they aren’t exactly bargains.

    • Ted,
      My take, this was a well planned activity. Also a great deal of schmoozing which can influence the judgment. It was a fun and interesting approach.

  2. “Our latitude is between that of Bordeaux and Burgundy”

    I love that line….last I checked so is Nova Scotia…and we know how great thier wines are.

  3. I am looking forward to one day join all of you wine bloggers in such an interesting event. Washington is relatively not that far from my hometown, Montreal, so I had the luck of trying out some of their great wines. I haven’t had the opportunity of trying both the The 2007 Hedges Obelisco Cabernet Sauvignon + 2007 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ll see if I can buy both here in Montreal. It would be interesting to try both on my own and compare to your conclusions. Keep up with the gerat write ups. We love wine here in Montreal and are following you with high interest.

  4. Joe and Janelle,

    It was a great pleasure meeting you both at DuBrul and sharing time with you throughout the WBC weekend. We are especially glad you got to see what your little brother to the North is trying to do. Yes, you are correct that they may never catch up with the best Napa has to offer on some levels, but like you said it gives something to aspire to. There was one Red Mountain wine I hope you got to try that I am going to blog about in the next day or so, Hightower’s Out of Line. It’s a value priced $25 Bordeuax Blend from RM that I enjoyed over many of the bigger wines we tried that day.

    Let us know which Rielsings you liked but cannot find and we’ll funnel them your way. I know of one extremely small producer in the Yakima Valley who, if there’s any left over from the wedding, would love for you to try their Riesling.

    Cheers from the Yak!

    Chris and Barb

    • Hi Chris,

      We enjoyed chatting with both of you and will come back to Yakima Valley for more wine fun.
      Joe and Janelle

  5. The Obelisco Estate Cab mentioned is not a Hedges wine. I believe the tasting just took place at Hedges. It’s received award after award and recently won Best Cab over $20 in Wahington State.

  6. They have bottled a few new wines this year and all are great. Joe, you are right about the quality. It can’t be ignored. I have become accustomed to the high quality of these wines in Washington, especially in this region.

  7. Have had the Obelisco 2007 and 2008. Very unfair to compare to the Caymas. Thia ia LIMITED RELEASE WINE. Yes.. it is fantastic, but at 235 cases you can’t compare it to a large production wine.
    I would kill for one more bottle.

    • I’ll take one also. Thanks for this info and very interesting. The Caymus was delicious but the Obelisco awesome.

  8. Wow! I am familiar to some degree with both WA and Napa Valley and think they are both wonderful regions. No doubt WA will never be a Napa Valley, but they as many other regions in the world can produce fantastic wines. I heard about this comparison and understood it was a comparison of style and not a competition. It became a competition very quickly on this blog with the sarcastic comments and I found that disappointing. Why so defensive? I for one will always support both and many others. Caymus is great and Obelisco a great surpise and seems to be a great example of what this fairly new region can produce.

    • I’m not defending one or the other. Competition is good. It brings out the best. Bottom line, both make terrific wines. I found it rather amusing how many times Napa was mentioned in a competitive manner.

  9. Oh and please find me a winery or region that doesn’t “schmooz”? It is all part of the experience and selling a wine.

  10. The point about latitude is this: you need the right climatic conditions (temperature/climate) as well, but without latitude (which equals daylight profile) you get baked goods (heat rather than photosynthesis). So latitude first & foremost.

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