Food & Drink

Washington wine forecast: More wineries, more grapes

What does the future hold for Washington’s wine industry? Here’s what you might expect.

For starters, more recognized wine regions and even more wineries. I don’t anticipate we’ll keep up our 50-new-wineries-a-year pace (of course, I said that 10 years ago and I was wrong), but steady growth, especially from boutique wineries with annual production of 1,000 cases or less, will keep that number climbing.

Also expect more diversity among the types of wine grape varietals grown in Washington. When I attended my first Tri-Cities Wine Festival in 1985, the choices were miniscule; riesling, chenin blanc, and chardonnay for whites wines, and merlot and cabernet sauvignon for reds. That was about it.

Today, you’ll find newer white varietals and blends that include viognier, albariño, roussanne, and marsanne much more commonplace. Red choices have become even more varied, with once virtually non-existent varietals such as grenache, malbec, primitivo, sangiovese, mourvèdre, and carménère finding their niche among Washington wineries.

From the beginning, my charge has always been, “go taste wine.” Simply put, you can read all you want about wines, familiarize yourself with all sorts of snobby terminology, and know your local wine shop from top to bottom.

But until you experience a winery firsthand — by traveling to the production facility, walking the vineyards, meeting the winemaker, and perhaps participating in a barrel tasting — you are missing out on a huge part of the Washington wine industry.

Fortunately, it’s easy to get started. With our state’s more than 850 wineries, plus those in neighboring British Columbia, Oregon, and Idaho, tasting possibilities are essentially all within a day’s drive of Whatcom County.

Dan Radil is a Bellingham wine enthusiast. Reach him at Look for his next column in the Aug. 24 issue of Whatcom Magazine.