Washington has become a major player in the production of domestic premium wines. But when it comes to overall size, California is still king - and the difference between the two states isn't even close.
So how big is big? Imagine the roughly 45,000 planted acres of vineyards in Washington, times 10, and you've got California. That extra space, alone, is one reason California accounts for almost 90 percent of all wines produced in the U.S.
California is also home to 111 recognized wine growing regions, compared to 13 in Washington, and to over 100 wine grape varieties, compared to our 30-plus.
Chardonnay is far and away the leading white varietal in California, with sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and viognier among some of the other notable whites.
Cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, pinot noir and merlot are California's major red varietals, while cabernet franc, syrah and malbec are also reasonably popular among the state's wineries.
During a visit to the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival last month, I spent quite a bit of time sampling wines from California, which was designated the "theme region" for this year's event.
Since it's relatively easy to shell out $50 or more for a California cabernet from Napa Valley, my mission was to find alternative, reasonably priced wines that were representative of the diverse product line the state has to offer.
Some of my favorite wines at the festival included the Bridlewood Estate Winery 2010 Estate Syrah (about $15), a guilty pleasure with blueberry, plummy flavors and a trace of residual sugar on the finish; the Cannonball Wine Company 2009 Merlot (about $14), a Sonoma County wine with soft, dark fruits capped with a hit of vanilla bean; and the Chateau St. Jean 2009 Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon (about $24), a gorgeous, easy-drinking red with reserved black currant, berry and black cherry flavors.
Another Sonoma County winery, Kunde Family Estate, also impressed me with a full slate of nicely crafted, well-balanced wines from winemaker Zach Long's Estate Series, and everything I tried was priced at about $20 a bottle, or less. Next week I'll give you the particulars on Kunde, including several recommendations from the winery's current releases.
You'll find plenty of other good California wines to choose from at Bellingham wine shops and grocers. But if you're unable to track something down, remember that a visit to a winery's website for online ordering is an option that gets the wine delivered to your door.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.