WASHINGTON state’s wine industry is still relatively new, though it’s hard to fathom, considering its wines are renowned the world over and have been served at the White House.
While commercial-scale wine production can be traced back 50 years, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the state’s wine-grape-growing regions came into their own and started to be recognized for their unique qualities.
Many of the pioneers still walk among us. Thursday, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance is hosting a 30th anniversary celebration of the valley’s federal designation as an American Viticultural Area. An AVA is distinguished by geographic boundaries of an area where the climate, soil and elevation are distinct. For a wine to carry the appellation on its label, 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must be from that area.
In 1984, the Walla Walla Valley, which dips over the Oregon border, and the Columbia Valley, which stretches north along its namesake river, received the federal nod. They followed the Yakima Valley designation, the first of Washington’s eventual 13 appellations, the previous year.
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By then, the fledgling wine industry was on the way, steered by innovators willing to take a chance on the wine grape crop. The introduction of wine grapes next to wheat fields was not always welcome as pesticides to kill wide-leafed weeds could mar grape leaves. But those differences were worked out.
All along, Washington State University has been a crucial partner in conducting research and educating wine growers and makers.
This 30th anniversary is as good as any reason to raise a glass to Walla Walla Valley’s winemakers and others around the state.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).