If you drink wine from Washington state, you might know August is Washington Wine Month. Not to be confused with Taste Washington Wine Month in March, August has had the official seal as the month since 1998, signed in by former Washington state Governor Gary Locke.
In years past during this month, we’ve covered the designated appellations of the state, events to attend, sommeliers’ picks and producers to watch. This year, we go to the makers and growers of Washington wine and ask them what we should be looking for in the beverage’s future in this two-part series.
What’s next for Washington state wine?
“We absolutely love that we are tasting Washington wines that are being made with more restraint, less oak, incorporation of concrete fermentation and aging, lower alcohol and letting the varietal characteristic of the grapes and the expression of the terroir from the vineyard shine through. These wines are elegant and have more balance and I hope that trend continues.” — Lacey Lybecker, owner of Cairdeas Winery
“The biggest changes happening in the industry is a change in vineyard development. Many of the current vineyards, while producing very good wines, were established on the easier parcels of land to farm. The most exciting new developments are vineyards being developed on steeper slopes, higher elevations and different areas. These sites, despite being more expensive and difficult to farm should lead to more individual wines.” — James Mantone, winemaker/vineyard manager/co-owner of Syncline Winery
“For me it’s the varietals and what people are into and interested in. Historically we’ve been dominated by Rhône and Bordeaux varietals but I think we’re about to have a resurgence of Italian and Spanish varietals. We’ll have more diversity as consumers are more willing to pick up a bottle and try something new — just think of Malbec and other crazy trends. We’ll start to see more plantings of esoteric varietals but the only way that happens is that people buy those wines. Washington state wine has developed into a really impressive marketing machine in our home state… Even Tempranillo isn’t that obscure, I see the average consumer coming into the shop and recognizing that, or Barbera. I think the proliferation of new and interesting varietals being purchased and consumed will lead to other plantings and will lead to a great grape-growing culture in the future.” — Cole Sisson, owner of Doe Bay Wine Co. and The Orcas Project
“I don’t know what everybody else is doing, [but] I have some thoughts and ideas and beliefs as far as what we can do here to make the wines best for our particular situation. What we’re doing here [at EFESTĒ] is vineyard-specific, varietal-specific wines. If we’re blending varietals, we’re trying to do as much [through] co-fermentations, as far as working with vineyards to get varietals ripe on the same day so we can do that… The less we can do to move the wine around after it’s gone through vinification, the better. We do nothing if we don’t have to. I know a couple other people that are doing things like that but it’s definitely different if you want to call it whatever you want to call it. It’s just not what they’re going to teach you in the textbooks yet.” — Mark Fiore, winemaker at EFESTĒ
What would you like to see happen with the product and even culture of Washington wine?
“I think one of the cool things about the industry in Washington is the number of producers and growers that focus on the Washington market. I think we haven’t even reached our zenith of impact on the local market and I would like to see that continue to grow. I think the wines in Washington are still getting better. There’s always been some great wines, but the width and breadth of great wines is broadening.” — Kent Waliser, director of vineyard operations at Sagemoor Vineyards
“We’d love to see more of Washington wines in the global market with better product placement in retail space. We’d love to see more wine enthusiasts visit and explore agritourism. We’d love to have a guest in France visit a restaurant ask for a Quintessence Cabernet Sauvignon.” — Shae Frichette, co-owner of Frichette Winery
“Until recently, Washington wine has been a bunch of small producers and Chateau St. Michelle. Chateau St. Michelle has historically harvested 70 percent of the fruit in the state. That’s crazy sauce. But I think with the influx of outside money — Spain, Napa, Oregon — you’ll start to see wineries hire true niche experts in their fields, [like] marketing, legal, distribution, pricing experts, you name it. With such small organizations, my own very much included, the owner wears all of those hats and does so imperfectly. When you have wineries like my own get old enough and big enough and wealthy enough to start hiring more experts in certain fields, you’ll see those wineries able to add efficacy to their movements, with the net result being that you’ll see a lot more Washington wine at a high level in a lot of new places in savvy ways. So both the well-financed foreigners moving in as well as the small operations that have finally grown into themselves will both find themselves in the same place — with the ability to really teach the country what Washington wine is all about.” — Ashley Trout, winemaker/owner of Brook & Bull Cellars and Vital Wines
“Washington vineyards tend toward massive swaths of land, this has fostered an old school, more industrial macro-approach to farming. I’d love to see a more holistic approach to farming versus massive agriculture methodologies that are the norm. The pendulum is swinging, albeit very slowly. There may be no better place to embrace organic and even biodynamic farming than the Columbia Valley. Pest and disease pressures are extremely low in contrast to so many other regions that are championing these healthy and sustainable techniques with tremendous results. We have brilliantly high-tech, water-delivery systems in place to deliver water across our high-desert vineyards with minimal waste. The marriage of these systems could be a bridge between modern techniques and getting back to a preindustrial connection to the land. Best case scenario we see an increase in quality while looking toward the health of the future generations in the PNW. Worst case, we are healthier and still making kick-ass wine.” — Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, winemaker/partner of W.T. Vintners and Raconteur Wine Co.