Part of building a thriving wine industry is availability. Though many local wine enthusiasts eventually make their way to Washington’s wine growing regions, local retailers play a huge role in making Washington wines accessible to a majority of consumers in the Puget Sound region. From specialty wine shops like Compass Wines and McCarthy & Schiering, local grocery chains such as Metropolitan Market and New Seasons, national grocers like Safeway, and big box retailers like Costco, Washington wine scores well with buyers and consumers.
“I started in the wine biz in 1978, and went into hard focus on Washington in 1985,” says Doug Charles of Compass Wines. That was back when there were only a handful of wineries in the entire state. Compass dedicates more than 50 percent of its floor space to Washington wines with somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 bottles on hand any given day. One advantage of a specialty wine shop is the ability to handsell lesser known brands because customers often form trusted relationships with sales staff.
At Metropolitan Market, Wine, Beer, and Spirits Specialist Mark Takagi says customers are always looking for local specialties and that Washington wines are some of the best values in the industry. In order to speak to customers with first-hand experience, his staff gets together monthly to taste new wines and says “the quality is amazing.”
“People love supporting local,” says longtime Seattle wine buyer Lenny Rede. “Most of my customers take a lot of pride in our local wine industry. The downside is that they can be disappointed when we don’t carry their favorite winery.” With over 1,000 wineries in the state, that can be tricky to achieve.
The sheer volume of wineries hoping to sell their product at retail outlets can be a real challenge for buyers. They all struggle to keep up with so many individual opportunities. “With opportunities exceeding the shelf space that we have in stores, I’d love to see optimization of how wineries choose to distribute,” says Takagi who suggests some sort of agent or broker to consolidate tasting appointments.
Dan McCarthy (McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants) sees distribution as a major opportunity for Washington wineries, especially encouraging them to find out-of-state distribution to raise the state’s profile in other markets.
Local retailers all agree that consumers love Washington’s bold, value-priced red wines, but are open to all of the variety that Washington has to offer--especially once they form a relationship with the retailer or wine steward. Charles is most excited by the crisp white and sparkling wines coming out of the Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge AVA’s. Takagi notes a trend towards lesser known varietals like Grenache and Gruner Veltliner, but says rosé is hot year round. McCarthy says he is impressed by the growing skill level of Washington winemakers--many of whom come into the shops on a regular basis.
Rede praises the quality and caliber of Washington wines. And, “for the most part, they are within reach of most serious wine drinkers’ budgets.”
“The wines coming from our region continue to be great, and our customers are proving that to be true through how they buy,” says Takagi.
Top Shops in the Seattle Area
Washington wine can be found everywhere, but for great selection and knowledgeable service, we recommend our most loyal “partners in wine.” Check out these amazing retailers and start exploring Washington’s finest: