Blue skies and warm temperatures from Labor Day to Halloween make for great winemaking.
WHEN THE NOVEL is written about Washington wine, the hero of the story will be the Columbia Valley and how its magical autumn — the eight-week period from Labor Day to Halloween — is the secret to some of the most remarkable wines anywhere.
If I were to write this book, I am pretty certain it would be a love story.
I have lived in the heart of Washington wine country since finishing college nearly three decades ago, and I can attest to the fact that there is nothing quite like fall in the Columbia Valley. It is the key to high-quality agriculture east of the Cascades and, most important, the wine.
Three to try
Here are three delicious Washington wines that exemplify the Columbia Valley’s magical fall:
Beaumont Cellars 2015 reserve cabernet sauvignon, Red Mountain, $34: Using grapes from warm Red Mountain in Quincy, Wash., winemaker Pete Beaumont has crafted a beautiful and pure cab that opens with notes of cranberry and a hint of sage. It’s a full-bodied red with aromas of plum, black currant jam and a touch of black licorice on the substantial finish.
William Church Winery 2013 Tres Bien cabernet franc, Columbia Valley, $36: Classic Washington cab franc from a Woodinville winery with gentle notes of lavender, dried herbs and black currants, followed by robust flavors of ripe plum and black cherry, all backed by gentle tannins.
Gordon Estate 2013 petit verdot, Columbia Valley, $30: This longtime vineyard overlooking the Snake River near Pasco used estate grapes for this rare Bordeaux variety. It reveals aromas of sensual dark chocolate, plum and minerality, followed by flavors of rich, bold, dark ripe fruit, backed by a rich midpalate and great acidity.
The secret actually is the Cascade Mountain range, which does a good job of stopping Puget Sound’s famous precipitation before it can reach the Columbia Valley.
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Perpetually blue skies and abundant water are the perfect recipe for a great agricultural region. Thanks to drip irrigation, grape growers are able to apply water by the teaspoon just when the vines need it. This gives them deity-like control over vigor and growth, controlling cluster size, which ultimately controls wine quality.
Beneath the vines is the sandy soil that covers much of Eastern Washington and is practically devoid of nutrients. Paradoxically, this is a benefit — when a vine struggles to grow, it focuses its effort on its grapes, resulting in more concentrated fruit and richer, deeper wine.
The real magic takes place in September and October, when days drenched in sunshine bring steady temperatures in the 70s, followed by nights that cool by as much as 40 degrees. This difference between day and night is called the diurnal shift, and it cools the fruit enough to capture the bright flavors but retain the all-important acidity that brings freshness and purity to the resulting wines.
Want to see magic in the making? Autumn is the perfect time to cross Snoqualmie Pass and visit wine country.