While most of Washington’s 1,000 producers are home grown, or at least from the US, stroll through the vineyards and wineries and you’ll notice a melting pot of international accents.
Over the past 30 years, the state – the second-largest wine producer in the country – has increasingly been attracting global investment and talent.
Winemakers and viticulturalists, particularly from Europe, have been enticed by Washington’s unique terroirs and climate – not to mention the freedom of working in a burgeoning wine region with less restrictive appellation rules.
‘Washington is all about opportunities,’ explains Burgundian Marie-Eve Gilla, head winemaker for Rioja giant Valdemar Wine Estates, Washington’s first non-American owned winery.
‘When I arrived here in 1992, it was definitely a road less travelled, but it attracted me more than an already established area like California.’
‘In France, the wine industry has many rules that were created to preserve the tradition of an appellation’s specificities and characteristics but limits the creativity of the viticulturists and winemakers,’ says Rhône-born Gilles Nicault, director of winemaking at Long Shadows, and husband of Gilla.
‘Being able to work with many different wines styles here in Washington opens up a whole new level of inspiration and personal research. It pushes me to explore new limits.’
Also from the Rhône is Michel Gassier of Tenet Wines, a project with Chateau Ste-Michelle, a founding winery of Washington and its largest. He has been fascinated to see how Syrah expresses itself in the state’s diverse terroirs.
‘It has been great discovering the nuances of each,’ he says. ‘The unique signatures between the rolled black pebbles of the Rocks District of Walla Walla; the loamy, sandy river beds of the Yakima Valley; or the very sandy zones of Horse Heaven Hills.’
Also involved in joint projects with Chateau Ste-Michelle are Germany’s Riesling maestro Dr Ernst Loosen and Marchese Piero Antinori of the historic Italian family wine company.
‘In the future we might explore new grape varieties not yet planted in Washington,’ suggests Marchese Antinori, ‘ but with Col Solare being a boutique winery based in Red Mountain, we’ve decided to focus on varieties that have proven to give the best results here – primarily Cabernet Sauvignon.’
Ernie Loosen is equally focused on Riesling for Eroica, whose 2018 vintage marks the 20th anniversary of the joint project. ‘I wanted to find out what could be done in Washington using the hundreds of years of Riesling experience gained in Germany,’ he explains.
‘We’ve never tried to make a German Riesling – the climate and soils of Washington are completely different – but I’ve loved discovering and exploring the terroir here, and we’ve learned to get a finer expression of that into the wines.’
‘Washington is a perfect crossroads between the Old and New Worlds,’ asserts Swiss born Jean-François Pellet at Pepper Bridge.
‘We have the generosity of the New World combining with some great intricacy attributes from the Old World. I really believe the state has a great wine future ahead.’