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Columbia Valley
The Columbia Valley AVA, encompasses nearly all of Washington State’s wine growing regions east of the Cascade Mountain Range. Ninety-nine percent of the state’s wine production originates on this vast plateau. Three rivers, the Columbia, Snake, and Yakima run through and provide water for the much-needed irrigation programs. Grapes are only one of many bumper crops. From apples to apricots, this is a fruit-lovers paradise. And the scenery is spectacular.

The vineyards of eastern Washington are worlds apart from the established coastal appellations of California and Oregon. Separated from the ocean by two mountain ranges, including the towering Cascades, rainfall is sparse. Averaging six to ten inches a year, the landscape is semi-desert, with the mighty Columbia River providing the lifeblood, as with much agriculture in the west, water for irrigation. Precisely regulated drip irrigation for most, meaning water at regular intervals, in the right quantities, and at the right times. The arid climate also makes for long, hot, and sunny summer days with correspondingly cool night temperatures. This allows even and reliably ripened grapes in most years with a remarkably high level of acidity given the ripeness achieved.

Additionally, most of Washington’s vineyards are planted on their own rootstocks, not native rootstocks which are almost universally used in the hopes of thwarting Phyloxera. This element further distinguishes the area from those to the south, and has long been rumored a great benefit for those lucky enough to possess such vineyards. The potential benefits also outweigh the risks, in that Washington’s vineyards are not as densely packed as those in California, and the Phyloxera louse has difficulty navigating through Washington’s largely sandy soils.

The early 90s proved to be a turning point for high-end wines from this part of the world, but wineries such as Ste. Michelle, Columbia, and Hogue had been turning out high quality wines that had flown off retailers’ shelves for some time. It is probable that this initial commitment to quality and value, which generated a large and profitable industry, came full circle and allowed the proliferating boutique wineries such as Leonetti, Waterbrook, and L’Ecole No. 41 to move right into a market which had already been cut out for the state’s wines. They now reside on the shelves alongside their large scaled neighbors who are increasingly setting their sights on making world class wines. (Wine/Appellations)