The renowned Columbia Valley appellation (the largest viticultural region in Washington State), recognized since 1984 by the federal government as a unique viticultural region, lies on the same latitude, 46?N, as the great winegrowing regions of France, Bordeaux and Burgundy.
In the Columbia Valley at this latitude, a unique combination of climate, soil and geography creates an ideal viticultural environment. The wines come from the same classic vinifera grapes as their geographical cousins in Europe. Since the early 1980s, Washington State has been the second largest vinifera-growing state in the United States.
The growing season in the Columbia Valley is noted for long, sun-filled days and cool nights. grapes develop intense varietal character and a perfect sugar-acid balance. The wines produced here are elegant, long-lived and full-flavored.
Among the conditions common to the entire Columbia Valley Appellation are: a minimum of 150 frost-free growing days, an elevation under 2,000 feet, annual rainfall under 15 inches, and two feet or more of silty, sandy topsoils.
The similarities of the appellation of microclimates, which offer ideal environments for a wide range of grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay thrive in the warmer vineyard sites, while varieties like Riesling and Semillon flourish in cooler, hilly areas.
The topsoil of the Columbia Valley is a fine loam, the result of years of volcanic eruption and erosion. Underneath lies fractured basalt and calcium carbonate. The roots of a grape vine easily penetrate the topsoil, then dig to a level less vulnerable to winter frosts. The fine soil also warms up more quickly in spring and summer.
In summer, the Columbia Valley warms during the day, but cools down at night. There’s almost two hours more daylight at this time of year than in most of California, because the Columbia Valley appellation is farther north; the earth tilts in a way that allows the northerly latitudes to capture more sunlight in summer. The high temperature, even in summer, remains moderate thanks to the influence of the appellation’s three principal rivers. The nights are cool, allowing the grapes to retain their natural acidity.
Rainfall in the appellation is very low, about 8 inches per year, because the entire Columbia Valley lies in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains. This dry climate spares the grapes any damaging spring or fall rains, and allows vineyard managers to control the amount of irrigation in the vineyards.
There is almost no cloud cover in the Columbia Valley. This means that the growing season is not only long, it’s bright and sunny. Light, rather than heat, creates the process of photosynthesis. And it’s photosynthesis, from the strong unclouded light of the Columbia Valley, that makes fruit like grapes ripen to maturity.
Just as a European appellation is a guarantee of its wines’ origin and quality, so too the Columbia Valley appellation guarantees the crisp, clean, timeless voice of its grapes.