Washington Wine 101

February 1, 2024  |   by Cameron Ito

Washington’s wines are like hidden treasures—world-class quality at incredible values! Over the past 30 years, the Washington wine scene has exploded, thanks to Washington’s diverse growing terrains and passionate winemakers. Heads up, California—Washington state is now the second-largest wine producer in the U.S.! Join us in raising a glass to Washington wine greatness, guided by the Washington State Wine Commission and insights from our very own wine expert, Mark Takagi, who has over 40 years of experience in the state’s wine industry.

path on a vineyard

Understanding Location

Positioned at the same latitude as top European wine regions, Washington enjoys a climate conducive to growing a wide variety of grapes and producing high-quality wines. Growing areas are divided into American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, which are specific grape-growing regions with distinct environmental characteristics. Washington boasts a total of 20 AVAs, creating a diverse grape-growing landscape. Top grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon (about 30% of total production), Chardonnay, Riesling, and Merlot, with red varietals making up over 50% overall. AVAs are defined by climate, soil, and growing conditions rather than size. For many local wine enthusiasts, Columbia Valley is the first Washington AVA that comes to mind, as it’s the largest in the state with a variety of sub-appellations. Candy Mountain, at 815 acres, is Washington’s smallest AVA.

Watching the Growth

Washington’s grape cultivation began in the early 1800s, gaining momentum in the 1930s with the creation of the Producer’s Association. In 1987, Washington harvested 46,000 tons of grapes. Not a small amount by any means, but with 240,000 tons of grapes harvested in 2022, you can see the significant growth we’ve experienced in the wine industry. Today, Washington has over 1,000 wineries, 400 grape growers, and an annual economic impact of $8 billion. This progress isn’t just about numbers; it’s been driven by an incredible sense of community among winemakers, supporting each other. “The ability to create great wines in smaller lots, relative to other regions outside the state, make Washington an attractive place for winemakers,” says Mark Takagi. He emphasizes, “The growth in Washington wine has been astounding, and it’s important to note Washington has been careful to keep high growing standards without sacrificing quality through the process.”

grapes on a vineyard

bottles of wine on a shelf

Nurturing the Industry

In the early days of Washington’s wine scene, names like Bob Betz (Betz Family Winery), Marty Clubb (L’Ecole No.41), Rob Griffin (Barnard Griffin Winery), and Chateau Ste. Michelle really paved the way for what we have today. Chateau Ste. Michelle, especially, put Washington wines on the global map, giving a solid foundation for many of today’s winemakers and wineries, establishing Washington as a top-tier wine-making region. When you talk with winemakers like Mark McNeilly (Mark Ryan Winery), Jason Gorski (DeLille Cellars), and Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery), you can feel the camaraderie and support they share—no competition, just allies cheering each other on in the industry. Takagi appreciates the relationships, noting “the cool part about our business is that everybody is willing to help each other. If somebody lost their harvest, someone would step in and offer some of their own grapes.” Looking at what’s to come, Takagi continues, “We’re starting to see a changing-of-the-guard, with new winemakers and family members impressing their own ideas and contributions on the future of the wine industry.”

Thirsty for more? The Washington State Wine Commission has everything you’d want to know, including trends, production reports, a winery directory, and information about events. Ready for a taste? Washington wine has become more accessible than ever, with tasting rooms scattered in Eastern Washington, as well as closer to home in Seattle and Woodinville, which has become a wine-tasting destination where you can find more than 100 wineries offering their newest varietals. Looking for an at-home tasting? Metropolitan Market is one of the leading advocates for Washington state wines. Come by and check out a wide selection of Washington wines, and chat with our wine stewards to find the perfect bottle!