a look back at the washington wine industry 30 years ago

Sunday, August 25, 2013

In my library of wine books is (not surprisingly) a pretty comprehensive collection of books specifically about Northwest wines. A fellow named Ted Meredith was one of the first to take up the subject, and leafing through the second edition of his “Northwest Wine” book, published in 1983, I found some notes that help to put the industry’s astonishing maturation in perspective.

Meredith had published his first edition in 1980, and only a half dozen Washington wineries were listed. Just three years later, the number had climbed to 27. “Until recent years,” Meredith wrote, “the Washington wine industry was a paradox, having a relatively large number of grapes, but very few wineries. Most of the wineries were located west of the Cascades, far from the source of the grapes."

“By the early 1980s,” he goes on the write, “the Washington wine industry finally had become truly diversified. The largest wineries grew still larger. Many small wineries began operations. New and distinct growing regions entered the scene, and wineries were opening all across the state.”

In the brand-by-brand listing of wineries that follows, it’s interesting to note how many no longer exist.
Daquila, E.B. Foote, Haviland, F.W. Langguth, Mont Elise, Neuharth, Salishan, Paul Thomas, Tucker Cellars, Vernier, Manfred Vierthaler, and Worden’s Washington Winery – a dozen out of a total of 27 – are gone.

Tucked into the back, almost as an afterthought, are several unknowns under the heading “Other Washington Wineries.” Here you’ll find brief entries for Leonetti Cellar, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon, among others.

Just three decades have passed since this book appeared, and in the evolution of a new wine region, that’s truly the blink of an eye. Yet how much has been accomplished. The simple statistics – almost 800 wineries, almost 50,000 acres of vineyard, in Washington alone – don’t begin to tell the real story. The real story is best told by the wines themselves, and the quality that can be found in bottle after bottle after bottle.

We take it for granted now that Washington wines will excel. At a weekend tasting that featured nicely-aged, high profile (e.g. expensive!) wines from both California and Washington, it surprised no one (including a number of visitors from Oregon who had no ax to grind) that the Washington wines were the standouts. I can’t help but wonder which of the relatively unknown newcomers just entering the fray today will be the Leonettis, Quilcedas and Woodward Canyons 30 years from now.

1 comment:

Chris Wallace said...

Paul,

It would be great to see a blog about that tasting of high profile CA and WA wines and your thoughts on each.

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