The Columbia Valley AVA: This is the “mothership” appellation of Washington wine country, with eight of the state’s eleven appellations tucked into the expansive borders of the Columbia Valley AVA. This massive growing region will likely contain more AVAs in the future as nuances of the various slopes and microclimates become more defined. It’s no surprise that the Columbia Valley also happens to be the most well-known and the largest of Washington’s growing areas at just under 11 million acres.
The Columbia Valley begins at the Oregon border and stretches in a loose triangular shape to the Idaho border, before moving north towards Lake Chelan. The celebrity grapes of the Columbia Valley are Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon for reds and Riesling and Chardonnay for the white wines.The Columbia Valley appellation’s northernmost boundary is near the Okanogan wilderness, bordering Canada’s British Columbia province; its southern border extends into Oregon and east along the Snake River to the Idaho border. The western border of the appellation follows the Cascade Range and along the eastern boundary of the Columbia Gorge AVA.
Separated from the rainy, marine climate to the west of the Cascade Mountains, the Columbia Valley lies within the huge rain shadow cast by this mountainous north/south land barrier, allowing only between six and eight inches of annual rainfall to reach the more arid lands to the east. Nearby river systems and canals bring any additional water needed to produce premium wine grapes.The immense Columbia Valley, home to the majority of Washington wineries and vineyards, comprises approximately one third of the state’s land mass. It was federally recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 1984.
The roots of the modern Washington wine industry can be traced to the middle of the 20th century when a group of professors from the University of Washington turned their home winemaking operation into a commercial endeavor and founded Associated Vintners (later renamed Columbia Winery) and focused on producing premium wines. The Nawico and Pommerelle wineries were merged into a new winery that would eventually become Chateau Set Michelle.
“Wine comes in at the mouth And love comes in at the eye; That’s all we shall know for truth Before we grow old and die.”