Washington Wine Country
From afar, many believe the Evergreen State is blanketed
entirely with majestic forests and days of endless rain and clouds. If
you're west of the jagged Cascade Mountains, most of the area is forested
with lush vegetation and a moderate, maritime climate. However, the spine
of the Cascades causes a remarkable weather change, acting as a barrier that
stops all but a few inches of rain east of the mountains. This produces a
terrain covered mostly in sage and bunchgrass. In places, miles of wheat
fields gently wave in the wind, hop-yards thrive, and large fruit orchards
of apples, pears and cherries abound. Other than primarily the northeast
corner of the State, much of Eastern Washington is an expansive upland
The exception to this setting is the majestic Columbia River,
flowing larger and larger as it meanders south from Canada through central Washington.
At the Oregon border it takes a dramatic curve to the west, cutting through the Cascades, forming
the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge then finally reaching the Pacific
Ocean north of Portland, Oregon. Were it not for the Columbia and its
myriad irrigation canal tributaries, the wheat, hops, fruit trees, wine and
table grapes and all of the many crops farmed in the State simply couldn't
In contemporary times, the Cascades, the Columbia River and the northern
latitude affect our State's unique
climate, and ultimately, the burgeoning wine industry. But the story
becomes more fascinating when you consider several cataclysmic geologic events.
No other grape growing region resembles Washington State. The land has been
hewn from the 'Pacific Ring of Fire' and specifically the meeting of two
tectonic plates, the Pacific Oceanic Plate and the North American
Continental Plate. (Note: the ring of fire encompases the wine regions of
California, Chile/Argentina, and New Zealand, too.) The eruption of Mt. Saint Helens was a poignant example
of the volatility of these colliding forces. From our home and winery we have an
outstanding view of Mt. Rainier, only 32 miles due east, certainly one of
the world's most majestic volcanoes. The primary mineral that dominates
Washington's vineyards is igneous Basalt, a by-product of the volcanic activity.
About 17 to 20 million
years ago a volcano of immense proportion, the Grand Ronde (which today is
most of southeastern Washington),
spread immense lava flows creating what is now the Columbia Valley. Much
of central Washington is actually the remaining gentle slope of this vast
ancient crater. Within the last 10 million years the northward movement of
the west coast (the Oceanic Plate
influence) has caused the lava to buckle and form large folds, creating the Yakima Valley, one of the State's most important wine regions.
The Valley's north and south rims are actually basalt folds, defining the
Valley and separating it from the rest of the great Columbia basin.
Then, about 13 to 17 thousand years ago a massive glacier
called the Cordilleran Ice Sheet pushed south from Canada, damming the Clark
Fork River and backing up the waters into the high mountain valleys of
western Montana. It formed Lake Missoula, a two thousand-foot-deep monster
of some 500 cubic miles of water. Inevitably, the glacial dam broke,
releasing possibly the world's greatest flood. It raced across what is now
Eastern Washington, scouring away the soil and exposing the ancient basalt
lava while forming deep ripples many feet high. The floodwaters dammed up
behind a barrier close to today's Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco) in south-central Washington,
creating a temporary lake thousands of feet deep. The still water gradually
released sediment in the Columbia Basin, depositing silty loam and pebbly
quartzite carried by the great waters from as far away as the Artic Circle.
This phenomenon reoccurred scores of times, possibly as many as one hundred.
The Missoula floods are what make Washington so unique.
The wines of Washington are the product of these several cataclysmic events,
coupled with today's dynamic tectonic interplay.