A record harvest and continued investment set the stage, while Cabernet Sauvignon's dominance steals the show.

Washington restaurants pour wines from the state’s 14 AVAs, and that’s expected at places like RN74 in Seattle or The Marc Restaurant at the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla. Less expected are two resorts in Northern California where guests get turned on to Washington. Chip Ermish, wine director of the Landing Lake Resort in Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Resort in Mammoth Lakes, says his customers are well-versed in California wines, so he introduces them to Washington’s offerings—and they’re astounded by the quality. “Washington is wine’s next frontier,” Ermish says. “The state’s gems pair well with food, are lower in alcohol, are approachable upon release and are attractively priced.” The 2015 Gilbert Cellars Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($14 a 6-ounce pour) sells so well at the resorts’ four on-premise venues that he no longer offers it by the bottle. Two Bordeaux-style blends, the 2012 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve Columbia Valley ($70 a 750-ml.) and the 2009 L’Ecole No. 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla ($150) are also strong sellers.

Washington produced 17.5 million nine-liter cases of wine last year, a jump of 5 million cases since 2014, according to the trade organization Washington State Wine Commission. Since then, winery revenues have doubled to more than $2 billion. Of the state’s 900 wineries, about 60 produce more than 10,000 cases a year, with most of the remaining wineries making fewer than 5,000 cases. Washington is the country’s second-biggest wine producing state after California, and its first AVA was declared just 35 years ago. It has roughly 55,000 acres under vine, and most predict that will rise to 200,000 acres without stress on the state’s natural resources.

Following three impressive vintages, the 2015 crop was smaller due to record-breaking heat, though the 2016 crop was the largest ever at 270,000 tons, due to new plantings and heavy clusters. Cabernet Sauvignon—now the state’s top varietal—comprised 26 percent of the 2016 harvest, a 50-percent gain over 2015. Following in volume were Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and Syrah. Red grapes comprised 58 percent of the harvest.  Read More »