Washington grape growers and winemakers have always been experimenters, seeing what will work in our relatively young industry, but in the past few years, so much has changed that we are in the midst of what might be called the Age of Experimentation. With the past decade’s growth in the number of wineries (now at 700-plus) and acres of vineyards (around 40,000), plus 2009’s record harvest of 156,000 tons of fruit, came an influx of young winemakers from other parts of the country and the world with stories to tell, along with established winemakers with visions to realize. But as far as Washington wine has come in the past 20 years, it is just beginning to be discovered. New varietal wines and blends are being explored with vigor, from the collaboration by Yakima Valley’s Boushey Vineyard with McCrea Winery to plant Picpoul and Grenache Blanc grapes, to the planting of Grüner Veltliner by Columbia Gorge’s Syncline Wine Cellars, to the cultivation of more and more Barbera and Sangiovese, Malbec and Mourvèdre. Wine growers such as Phil Cline and Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Winery’s Naches Heights Vineyard are planting dozens of varieties just to see what does well in our superb soil and climate.
At the same time, the country’s economic downturn has brought change: lower prices on Washington’s top-quality wines and more labels to choose from, which is a boon to consumers.
This year’s winners provide a snapshot of the shining stars in the industry’s firmament—the current wines our judges loved in blind tastings and the wines we think you will love, too. Who knows what wonders next year may hold?