Gov. Chris Gregoire gave Washington wines a plug Monday while signing the capital construction budget, which includes money for a wine research center in Richland. She recalls a trade mission to Europe when she responded to a question about California wines: “They make jug wine. We make fine wine.”
I’m not sure I’d go quite that far. Having visited many California wineries in Napa and Sonoma, I think there’s quite a lot of good wine being made there. California has far more wineries than Washington (about 3,500 to 740), and accounts for about 90 percent of U.S. wine production. But, as Gregoire implied, Washington wineries focus on quality, not quantity.
I recently returned from a very quick trip to Washington wine country, from Yakima, through Prosser and on to Walla Walla. Here are a few highlights:
• Treveri Cellars in Yakima makes lovely sparkling wine that has been served at a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the White House. Very affordable – I bought a case, which is unusual for me.
• Walla Walla is flush with wineries, and we were only able to get to a handful. Among our favorites were Dunham Cellars (three very friendly dogs formed a welcoming committee, and we got to chat with winemaker Erik Dunham) and Saviah Cellars, where winemaker Richard Funk gave us a barrel tasting of his very nice new syrah.
I think that kind of interaction is what I really like about Washington’s wineries. That rarely has happened when touring the Napa and Sonoma.
I’ve been going east to wine country since the early 1980s, when you could visit just about every winery in a long weekend. Today you’d need a month, at least.
One big change: Many, if not most, wineries now charge a $5 per person tasting fee, which is refundable if you buy a bottle. If you’re with someone, just buy one tasting and share. If you plan on buying and the weather is heating up, consider taking a cooler to put your wine in.