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It's Washington, not WaRshington!

It is Washington State Wine Month!

When I look out my window and drive across the Hood River Bridge to meet friends at a tasting room or brewery, I look around and think 'How did I get here?' How did I get so lucky to live in this gorgeous pocket of the U.S. Oh yes, it was the wine that brought me here! And the industry that has kept me here. When I lived in Portland I thought for sure I'd end up living and working in Willamette Valley. I am so glad some things don't work out as intended. I discovered a whole world of Washington State wines, Merlots that I love, and a place to call home. My dearest friend, Titch, was convinced I belonged out here in The Columbia River Gorge, she could not have been more right. I moved out here from Vancouver, WA when I was hired to manage a tasting room for a Washington winery that specialized in varietals I fell in love with when living in Italy. Italian grapes growing in Washington? No way. WAY! And Columbia Valley AVA is even more diverse than that.

When I first moved to the NW in 2008, Columbia Valley wines were nothing to write home about. Willamette was where it was at! The most complex and stunningly beautiful Pinot Noirs were poured in my glass almost every night. Making the trek out to Hood River became more about the kayaking than the wine for me. But each and every time, wines were gradually changing for the better. More vineyards were being planted, vines were aging, and the winemakers were maturing. I found myself crossing the river into Washington from Hood River and heading further east every time, until one day I found myself putting my bike in the back of a friend's truck who was filtering wine in Red Mountain AVA. As he worked filtering wine all day, I rode my bike to almost every winery in the area. Tasting High Tower, Fidelitas, Hedges, Col Solare, Cooper, and much more. I discovered my bike's saddle bag could fit exactly 12 bottles of wine, six on each side. Hey, I figured I was working off the alcohol between wineries. At the end of the day, my dehydrated body and wine stained lips slept heavy as I dreamt of what more could be in store for me in Washington State. Not long after, it was like chasing the dragon, my compass was set due east. I got a Zipcar for 2 days and I finally made it to Walla Walla. The drive gave me butterflies the whole way. The Columbia River was exposed to the most fascinating topography. Chissled cliffs of basalt, Mt. Hood in my rear view mirror, large rolling hills with wind turbines that went on for miles, until hitting a green haven with the Blue Mountains beyond my targeted destination. It was time to taste. After my first sommelier exam I was getting better at power tasting, it became somewhat of a sport to me...swish, spit, assess, repeat. Swish, spit, assess. Seventeen wineries/tasting rooms in two days. It was incredible. I was hooked, I knew I somehow had to get myself out of Portland/Vancouver. After accepting a position for a vineyard and winery and commuting for six months, I finally found myself in a place I now call home, right here in The Columbia River Gorge, an area at the time that was still growing. Willamette Valley had begun to become over saturated with only Pinots and Chardonnays, the competition tense and the traffic to get out there from Portland? Yikes. The commute from Vancouver to Hood River was a cinch comparably. I took driving towards the sun as an opportunity.

As my rant of how I ended up here concludes, the question remains...why is Columbia Valley of Washington State so special?

Carved out by the Missoula floods 17 thousand years ago, these floods brought in countless alluvial soils from Loess, loam, basalt and silt. These soils sit on top of basalt foundations that were created millions of years ago by volcanic activity when the tectonic plates were bumping shoulders and creating the Cascade Mountain range. And any oeneologist and viticulturist will tell you the start to a great vineyard is the soil and location. And speaking of location, the 46th and 47th parallel go through the most famous wine regions in the world including our very own Columbia Valley, cool huh? The Columbia River, Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges play an enormous role as to why this is optimal for viticulture. The two mountain ranges keep all the moisture to the west side of the state, allowing most of the state to be dry, even desert like. This is called rain shadow effect. The more east you go, the drier it gets. Rule of thumb is every mile you go east you lose 1-2 inches of rainfall. Here in the Columbia River Gorge we get roughly about 30 in. of rainfall, head east on Hwy 14, the topography changes along with the rainfall, dropping to 15 in. near Maryhill State park (soon to be a new sub AVA) all the way to Walla Walla where the rain fall is an estimated 6 in. That is desert. A reminder to wear your lip balm and drink lots of water when wine tasting. The Columbia River that runs along south then right up the center of this giant AVA of Columbia Valley plays a very important role in the vineyards, not only do the sunny days reflect off the river giving us longer and hotter days, it is a crucial source of irrigation.

This is one of the most diverse viticulture regions in the world, Columbia Valley isn't known for just one grape, or even three grapes, it is a kitchen sink of over 70 grape varieties with numbers growing. When I moved here there were just shy of 500 wineries in Washington State now there are over 1,500, mostly boutique wineries producing anywhere from 1,500-3,000 cases a year. It has become a booming industry and according to Forbes back in 2021 the Washington State wine industry was 7.4 billion dollar industry. Thank you Dr. Walter Clore for seeing the potential here. Founder of Chateau St. Michelle, Dr. Walter Clore is our Robert Mondavi.

The innovation of Washington wine makers has brought attention to us worldwide! I am so lucky I have been able to be a part of it. Starting at the ground floor, building a brand, working harvest, punching down, picking the fruit, hosting guests in a tasting room, selling the wine and more importantly getting to know the people with the grit to make it happen.

This week and next, wines from Washington State will be available by the glass and bottle here at Porron Cellars. I can't wait to share more Washington wine stories in person with all of you!

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