The Mountain Times

°F Sun, April 20, 2014

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Wine: Washington state microclimates

Washington State is the second largest producer of wine in the United States and has developed a reputation for top-quality red wines. The state is divided by the high Cascades range into a cool and rainy west and a desert like east with hot and dry summers and very cold winters.

With only 80 acres under vines, Puget Sound around Seattle is where most wineries got started, however, most have now moved to the east.

Unlike Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley in California, Washington's Columbia Valley appellation is quite large and offers tremendous differences in microclimate. All of the vineyards receive very little rain during the growing season, giving the vineyard owners perfect control over the vines vigor through irrigation. This strict vineyard control combined with the northerly latitude, which gives the vines an average of two additional hours of sunlight per day during the growing season, offers the winemaking team an incredible palette from which to select grapes for the final blend.

Washington state has five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Puget Sound, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, and Columbia Valley, with significantly differing climates and terroirs. Most of the common wine grape varieties are planted; reds include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, and whites include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Yakima Valley was the first AVA, established in 1983. Silt-loam soils predominate; the growing season is about six months with moderate rainfalls. It contains about one third of the state's vineyards; about 40 wineries. The most widely planted grapes are Chardonnay, followed by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but there are also substantial plantings of Riesling and Syrah.

Walla Walla Valley was established a year later. Relatively small, it has a longer growing season but also more rainfall. Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading varietal with Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah also being planted.

Columbia Valley is the state's largest viticultural region. It contains Red Mountain and both the Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys within its borders. Vineyards are planted predominately on south-facing slopes. The 7000 hectares under vine are divided among a few large-scale wineries. Merlot is most widely planted, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling.

The Milbrandt family had been farming in the area since the mid-1950s with 12 estate vineyards totaling nearly 2,000 acres.

We'll be tasting Milbrandt wines at the Liquid Art Coffeehouse in Killington, Jan. 31, (be sure to make your reservation early!)