Northwest Wine

What is this, a blog about wines from the Pacific Northwest?  They make wine there?

Yes, my friend, they do indeed and they are some of the best wines that the New World has to offer.  The Pacific Northwest wine region is large in terms of area but even still, it doesn't nearly approach the overall planted acreage of vinifera grapes that California claims.  As fans of Northwest wine, we're okay with because it's all about quality - quantity be damned.

As we define the Northwest, we're talking about three states and one Canadian Province.  (Yes, they do make wine in Canada and some of it is damn good).  The preponderance of our coverage will be directed at Washington and Oregon wine and we'll do what we can to include some of the wines being produced in Idaho as well.  For those of you new to the wines of the Northwest consider the following a very, very short tutorial.

Washington Wine:

The largest wine producing state in the Northwest, wine is a three billion dollar industry in Washington with over 700 wineries.  Washington has 40,000 acres of vinifera grapes.  While the most common plantings include Cabernet, Chardonnay, Riesling and Merlot, there are over 30 varietals planted in Washington vineyards, and Washington state Syrah has developed a national and international reputation for excellence.  Washington state contains 12 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) or growing regions within its borders, sharing some of them with Oregon.  Washington's premier regions such as Red Mountain and Walla Walla Valley produce some of the states finest wines.

Oregon Wine:

Oregon is the second largest wine producing state in the Northwest with over 300 wineries and at least parts of 16 AVAs and one recognized region that is yet to apply to be an AVA.  There are about 11,000 acres of vinifera grapes planted in Oregon.  Oregon has become well established as a world class Pinot Noir producing region thanks to the Willamette Valley.  Since its early establishment in the late 1960s, Oregon Pinot Noir has taken its place among the world's finest.  While most of the state's wine production and wineries are indeed located in the Willamette Valley, there are other prominent wine growing regions within Oregon.  Oregon also has territory within the acclaimed Walla Walla valley and one of the most popular wines in all of the Northwest, Cayuse, is grown within the boundaries of Oregon.  Oregon is also part of the dynamic and varied Columbia Gorge AVA that lies along the border between the two states. Oregon has seen innovation and groundbreaking techniques in its southern AVAs in the Umpqua, Applegate and Rogue Valleys.  While Willamette Valley has a focus on a smaller number of cool climate varietals, the climate in the Southern Oregon allows wineries and winemakers to work with traditional Rhone and Bordeaux varietals, and Tempranillo and Zinfandel are becoming very popular.

British Columbia Wine:

Of all the Northwest regions, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is probably the least known to us American folk.  The Okanagan Valley surrounds a chain of lakes and the Okanagan River which keeps this cold climate region just temperate enough to cultivate vinifera grapes.  The Okanagan wine region boasts 4,000 hectares of planted vineyards (that's 10,000 acres for those of us who are metrically challenged).  The Okanagan growing region has similarities to its Eastern Washington neighbors to the South in that it's fairly arid.  Its northern location makes it a bit more challenging when it comes to ripeness and an early frost.  While it is widely acknowledged that there are five sub-appellations, these are not officially designated by the VQA or Vintner's Quality Alliance (similar to Italy's DOC).  The Okanagan has garnered a reputation for its white wines, particularly Gewurtraminer and Riesling and is gaining ground when it comes to Pinot Noir.  There are over 60 varietals planted in the Okanagan from Cabernet Sauvignon through Sigfried Rebe.

The mystery surrounding Okanagan wine for those of us south of the border is certainly not a reflection of quality as they're making fine wines in The Great White North. There is that whole border/customs issue.  The inability for Canadian winemakers to ship their wines stateside has made the exploration of BC wine very difficult and given the tax rates on alcohol in Canada the wine can frankly be a bit more expensive than we're accustomed to paying in the states.

Idaho Wine:

The smallest of the Northwest wine regions, Idaho's Snake River Valley is located in Southwestern Idaho as well as two counties in Oregon.  The Snake River Valley is comprised of only 1,800 acres of planted vineyards and 15 wineries.  While it's at a similar latitude to the Southern Oregon AVAs it's at a much higher elevation and much further inland from the Pacific Ocean.  The Snake Valley was granted its AVA status in 2007 and is a young growing region.  The varietals grown in the Snake River Valley are similar to those grown in Southern Oregon and Eastern Washington; Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot as well as Riesling and Gewürztraminer