Toast the wine industry

Looking for a way to celebrate the height of summer and support a growing driver in the state’s economy at the same time? We thought you might, so here’s an idea: Pour yourself a tasty glass of Washington wine.

The Washington State Wine Commission recently celebrated its 25th anniversary by launching a website honoring 25 of the state’s industry pioneers. This spring, the commission released a study showing just how valuable the wine industry is to the state’s economy.

Winemakers, growers and distributors contributed $8.6 billion to the state’s economy in 2011, nearly triple the $3 billion it added in 2007. The wine industry generates $656.6 million in revenue for state and local governments and employs about 30,000 workers, mostly in Eastern Washington.

There were only 19 wineries in Washington in 1981. Today, there are 740, along with 350 vineyards, and those numbers are growing. There is at least one winery in all but three counties. Thurston has several. Walla Walla County has the most, of course, at 123.

Only the state of California produces more wine than Washington. We shipped 11.2 million cases in 2010 that sold for about $1 billion, with the five largest wineries accounting for 70 percent of the total production.

Those facts prompted Gov. Chris Gregoire to remark during a tour of Washington’s wine country recently, “We’re known for Starbucks, for Boeing, for Microsoft. But make no mistake about it: We’re known for our agriculture.”

She said the availability of water has been a priority of hers since she first became director of the Department of Ecology in 1988.

Gregoire was visiting construction projects serving prime viticulture areas, such as a new irrigation pumping station on the Yakima River and a $20 million wine distribution center south of Burbank. The state has invested in both.

Celebrate summer, toast the winning candidates in this week’s primary or lift a glass in honor of your most recent personal accomplishment, but do it with some of Washington’s finest wines.