Washington State


Washington State that is. Located in the North-West of America above Oregon and California, Washington is a fascinating state. It falls second only to California in terms of wine production quantity. There are many interesting experimental varieties on offer with many vineyards growing a range of Italian, French and Spanish grapes. Seattle, the largest city in Washington State, has a fantastic range of tasting rooms and urban wineries. This means a short city trip can still include a great introduction to the wines on offer.


The majority of vineyards are located further inland from Seattle, across the Cascade mountain range. However, most of the wineries are closer to the coast meaning the grapes have to travel up to 200 miles to reach their final destination.

There are many AVA’s (American Viticultural Area) in the State of Washington. The best-known regions are the Columbia Valley AVA, Walla Walla AVA and Yakima Valley AVA.

Each AVA grows a range of grape varieties with some specialising in certain styles.


There is a great mix of red and white wines being produced. Some producers also make sparkling and sweet wine. The most planted grapes are international varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Riesling.



Below is a list of the AVA’s in Washington State. (in Alphabetical order)


Ancient lakes.

This cooler area lies in the centre of the main vineyard space. It specialises in white varieties particularly Riesling and Chardonnay. The western edge borders the Columbia River. The area has a big range of altitudes from 170 meters at the Columbia River to over 570 meters in the hills.

The name of the AVA is linked to the high number of lakes in the region. The most exciting and interesting wines are produced from Riesling. They typically display aromatic green and stone fruit flavours such as lime and apple.


Columbia Gorge.

This AVA is focused on white wine production. The small area borders Oregon and is one of the furthest west. The gorge has been created by the Columbia River over thousands of years. The small area has a vast array of microclimates meaning a huge number of different grape varieties are planted.


 Columbia Valley.

By far the largest area in Washington. This AVA encompasses many of the smaller AVAs or creates the boundaries between them. The southern edge borders Oregon.

The large area means there are many different soil types and microclimates so the quality and grape type greatly varies. It is named after the important Columbia River which has sculptured the area and provides the water source for agriculture. Both red and white wines are produced here.


Double Canyon vineyards located in Horse Heaven Hills

Double Canyon vineyards located in Horse Heaven Hills

Horse Heaven Hills.

This is another relatively large AVA, but still small in comparison to the Columbia Valley AVA. It is particularly renowned for its Bordeaux style blends produced from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Many of vineyards also plant the lesser Bordeaux varieties including Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Horse Heaven Hills is dominated by red grapes however some notable Riesling is also produced. The area has a good elevation range from 90 to 550 meters.


Lake Chelan.

This is a relatively unknown AVA towards the northern limit of the vineyard area. There are almost equal quantities of red and white grapes grown. It is cooler than most of the other areas due to its location and altitudes. The soil is particularly sought after being created from glacial lakes it has high levels of mica and quartz.


Lewis-Clark Valley.

The majority of this AVA (over 70%) is actually located in the neighbouring state to the east in Idaho. It is a small vineyard area but the reputation is increasing.


Wilridge Winery from the NacheS Heights AVA.

Wilridge Winery from the NacheS Heights AVA.

Naches Heights.

Altitudes ranging from 360 to 640 meters define this area. It is one of the most western AVAs that is still bordered by the vast Columbia Valley AVA. It is a cooler region creating elegant wines and rarely struggles with sunburnt grapes which are becoming an increasing problem in other AVA’s. The majority of the vineyards are certified organic or biodynamic.


Puget Sound.

Set apart from the rest of Washington’s vineyard area Puget Sound is focused around Seattle, Woodinville and the islands. There is a very strong coastal influence here with very wet weather and cold, frozen winters. Cool climate grapes, many with German origin are grown here.


Rattlesnake Hills.

This area lies in both the Columbia Valley and towards the North of the Yakima Valley AVA. It is focused on red wine production particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Malbec. White wine is also produced from Riesling and Chardonnay. The ‘hill’ location defines it from the Yakima Valley AVA. Altitude reaches almost 950 meters above sea level in the highest locations. The area is named (yes you guessed it!) after the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake which can be found in the vineyards.



Red Mountain.

This tiny AVA is located in the centre of the vineyard areas and specialises in red wine. It is known as a premium area to grow grapes because of the high diurnal range (hot days, cool nights) which help the grapes to ripen and retain acid. The main red grape varieties grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec for Bordeaux style blends alongside Syrah and the Italian variety Sangiovese.


Snipes Mountain.

Like the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Snipes Mountain also lies in both the Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley AVA. A wide range of grape varieties are grown.


Wilridge Winery grown in the Yakima Valley

Wilridge Winery grown in the Yakima Valley

Yakima Valley.

This was the first AVA in Washington State to be created back in 1983. It is now encompassed by the Columbia Valley with both Snipes Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills in the designated area. Chardonnay is the most sought after grape in the AVA but other grapes are increasingly being planted.


Wahluke Slope.

Bordering the Columbia River, Wahluke Slope is a very warm region with low rainfall.


Walla Walla Valley.

One of the best known AVA’s in Washington. It has a long history of grape growing dating back to the middle of the 19th century. The first plantings were established by Italian immigrants. The French variety Cabernet Sauvignon is at home here, however, there are still traditional Italian grapes including Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Aglianico grown.




Urban Wineries.  

One of the best parts about wine tasting in Washington State is the influence of Urban wineries. Urban wineries are located in towns or cities (or the surrounding area). The grapes are grown in the vineyards mentioned above and then transported to be made into wine. Some grapes can travel up to 200 miles to reach the winery. Two particularly notable areas to find urban wineries in Washington are in Seattle and Woodinville.

Urban Winery: Elsom Cellars in SODO Seattle

Urban Winery: Elsom Cellars in SODO Seattle