Washington State remains a bit of mystery to most people, pumping out attractive wines but without the cache or the backstory that many other regions have managed to take advantage of. Coming as they do from vineyards located almost exclusively in the eastern half of the state, relatively far from the population centers of Seattle and Spokane, it’s no surprise they few folks make the effort to get out there and visit but if you do there’s a lot to glean from a boots on the ground visit.
When most of us think of Washington state we think of the cool, damp clime that envelopes the coastal region that famously includes Seattle. What many don’t realize is that the coast is but a thin sliver separated from the rest of the states by the Cascade mountains. The reason that the coast is so damp is due to the effect this mountain range has on the Humboldt current that carries moisture down from the northern Pacific. This air is forced up the slopes of the hills where it cools and forms the rains and mist that the region is famous for.
Conversely the air that manages to surmount the mountains ends up being dry, and much of inland Washington is in fact a high plains desert. To put things in perspective average rainfall throughout the Columbia Valley tends to be on the order of less than 10 inches per year, half of what Napa valley typically expects. The dry air also translates into plenty of cloudless days and at this high latitude that can mean almost 16 hours of sunlight a day. All that sunlight brings with it warmth, and temperatures above 90 are not unusual in the region, albeit for a smaller window than one might expect further to the south.
In truth the season here is bit compressed when compared with its southern neighbors. The vines wake up later in the growing season, but catch up as summer wears on due to the heat and sunlight. As the season’s change once again, autumn asserts its grip on Washington more forcefully and earlier than points south with the onset of cool nights that are responsible for the rather bright acids that Washington state’s wines are capable of. With no rain threat on the horizon, vintners are able to allow their fruit to hang until it’s just where they want it to be. The cool nights are complemented by sunny and fairly warm days so sugars accumulate slowly in these wines, balanced by the aforementioned acid.