Wine Culture Magazine

Prosser’s Tirridis produces traditional method sparkling wines. Barb Wild photo

March is Washington’s wine month. Taste Washington, the largest single-region food and wine festival in the United States, resumed in Seattle from March 6 to 13 after a three-year hiatus. Tickets sold out for the Grand Tasting, which featured more than 250 wineries and 30 top food purveyors. Clearly wine lovers were ready to get back to celebrating Washington, one of the most diverse and developing wine regions in the world. 

Key facts about Washington, the second largest wine region in the U.S.:

  • There are 20 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the state, 60,000 acres of vines, more than 1,050 wineries and 400 grape growers;
  • It’s located between 46°and 48° latitude;
  • Ninety-five per cent of the growing region lies to the east of the Cascade Mountain Range, which acts as a rainshadow; most vineyards rely on irrigation from the Columbia River; 
  • Eighty wine grape varieties are grown here, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot and Syrah;
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle is the state’s largest producer and is credited with putting Washington on the wine map;
  • Ninety per cent of the wineries make less than 5,000 cases a year;
  • Walla Walla is the most awarded wine region in the state.

Rotie Cellars’ 202 Northern Blend is a Rhône-style red blend. Barb Wild photo

Taste Washington 2023 featured classics like Delille Cellars’ 2021 Chaleur Blanc and cult wines like Col Solare 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon. While serious Bordeaux lovers remain focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the interest in Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre is surging. For example, Valdemar Syrah from Blue Mountain Vineyards in Walla Walla, known for big reds from Bordeaux varieties, was full of flavour, power and spice—world class in style and quality. Latta Wines, a small lot producer, and Rotie Cellars from Milton-Freewater are game changers making aromatically beautiful Rhône white and red blends that are pricey but exceptional. 

Upsidedown’s Nebbiolo Rosé is a winner. Barb Wild photo

Meanwhile, Italian varieties like Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo were also shining. Upsidedown Wine makes a 100 per cent Nebbiolo rosé and wow, it’s a winner. Traditional-method sparkling wine was celebrated by Prosser’s Tirriddis and Woodinville’s Elentone, both received high praise for freshness and bubble finesse. 

Gilbert Cellars poured natural, low-intervention pet-nat rosé. Barb Wild photo

Rosé all year? Walla Walla producer SMAK Wines and its whimsical labels saluting rosé for each season says absolutely. While the jury may be out on the success of natural wine, brands like Gilbert Cellars in Yakima poured natural, low-intervention pet-nat rosé from 100 per cent Grenache. Its clean and crisp aromas and flavours left me wanting more. For B.C. wine lovers, the growing demand for sparkling, rosé and natural wine rings all too true.

With B.C.’s wine month just ahead along with the Vancouver International Wine Festival, how does B.C.’s wine scene compare? 

  • B.C. is the second largest wine region in Canada and a fifth the size and volume of Washington State; 
  • It has 11,000 acres of  vineyard, 335 licensed wineries and nine appellations with 11 sub-appellations referred to as GIs or geographic indication;
  • It’s located between 49° and 50° latitude; 
  • There are 80 varieties planted with top varieties being Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling;
  • Eighty-six per cent of B.C.’s vineyards are in the Okanagan Valley with Mission Hill Winery leading in size and influence; it has recently converted all its vineyards to organic farming;
  • B.C. shares Washington’s boutique wine reputation with majority of wineries producing under 5,000 cases.

Walla Walla’s Pét Project focuses on low-intervention winemaking using the Ancestral Method, the oldest method for creating sparkling wines.Barb Wild photo

The “boutique wine” moniker suits both B.C. and Washington wine. While Syrah may be the new signature variety of Washington State, single-varietal Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling continue to be the award winners here in B.C. April is BC Wine month and the BC Lieutenant Governor Awards are on the horizon. Now you know what to look for, both in style and variety, on your next adventure to wine country, whether it’s in Washington or in B.C. 

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