CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most experts agree that the Napa Valley is the greatest winemaking region in this country and one of the best viticulture locations on the planet. While it is hard to dispute that point of view, one other area -- year in and year out -- is challenging Napa, particularly when it comes to producing wines from cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
I present for your consideration Washington state, which has become over the past couple of decades one of the world's premier wine-producing regions. If you are wondering how I came to this startling conclusion, suffice it to say, years of personal research (drinking the stuff) made a believer of me.
In an area of the country perhaps better known for producing cherries, asparagus, apples, apricots and rain, thousands of acres of grapes have been planted. Some of the resulting wines are nothing short of stunning.
Of course, when an Easterner thinks of Washington, Seattle immediately comes to mind. However, that beautiful city, in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains to its east and the Olympic range to its west, is not where the majority of grapes are grown.
While there are some wineries in the Seattle/Puget Sound area actually growing vines, the overwhelming tonnage of vinifera is being produced across the Cascade Mountains in eastern Washington.
Talk about a change! When you travel through the Snoqualmie Pass, just 45 miles from Seattle, you go from a rainforest to a high mountain desert where the majority of vineyards are planted and extend eastward to the border with Idaho.
And in the past 30 years, the wine business in Washington has grown exponentially.
Consider this: In 1981, there were only 19 wineries in the state. Today there are more than 700 scattered over 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), and the industry continues to grow vigorously.