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Although the volume of wine making, overall in the US, has remained largely constant for the last decade, WA state is showing strong growth.

The state is now the second largest wine producer in the country, although still a long way from challenging California's pre-eminence.

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The Wine Industry in Washington State

Part 2 of a series mainly about Washington wine trail touring and tasting

The gentle and sunny countryside in eastern Washington makes for scenic sightseeing as well as quality wine growing.

Part two of a series on wine trail touring in WA, see also

1.  About the US wine industry in general
2.  Wine making in Washington state
3.  Wine touring in Washington state
4.  Wine costs, pricing, and quality
5.  Wine trail tours and tasting around Seattle - the large wineries
6.  Touring the boutique wineries in the Woodinville area near Seattle
7.  Wine trail tours around Leavenworth
8.  Wine tasting in downtown Leavenworth



Washington state is notable not only for the extraordinary and sustained growth in wineries over the last twenty and more years, but also for having very many small boutique wineries.

The boutique wineries are more interesting to visit.  You get closer to the wine makers and the wine making process, and can get a better appreciation of the skills of the craft, as compared to visits to mega wineries that merely showcase the science of the process.

Washington - the Country's Second Largest Producer of Wine

Thirty years ago, Washington had a mere 8 wineries and about 2,500 acres of wine grapes.  In 2008, this had increased to just over 600 wineries and 32,000 acres of wine grapes.  In the last five years (through 2008) there has been an average of a new winery opening every week, and by any measure it is accurate to claim that the wine industry is booming in Washington state more than in any other part of the US.

Most of Washington's 600+ wineries are small rather than large.  The largest, producing over half of all wine in the state (about 60 million of the 102 million bottles in 2008), is Chateau Ste Michelle, with a lovely winery and visitor center in Woodinville, sprawling over 87 acres of grounds, where they host summer outdoor concerts.  This is a good place to consider visiting as part of a Woodinville area winery tour.

Chateau Ste Michelle have a second winery in Eastern Washington, too at Canoe Ridge.  The Woodinville winery is for their white wine production, and the Canoe Ridge winery is for their red wine production.  The company is best known for its Riesling wines, but has other favorably received wines too.

They sell wines under ten different brands in Washington, with additional brands in California and elsewhere.  The winemaker is in turn owned by Altria, the group that also owns the Philip Morris tobacco company.

The balance of Washington's wine production comes from successively much smaller wineries.  Over half of all wineries produce fewer than 5,000 bottles a year of wine.  Note that most wine makers express their production either in cases (a case holding 12 26oz bottles) or in gallons (there being five bottles of wine per gallon), so 5,000 bottles translates to 420 cases or 1000 gallons of wine.

Washington's Typical Small Wineries

56% of all Washington's wineries - about 335 in total - make less than 1,000 gallons of wine a year.

This is a microscopic amount of wine for a winery, and wineries of this size typically have only one employee - the owner/winemaker, who will work either part-time or full-time, perhaps assisted by a spouse or employee on occasion.  These are as much a 'hobbyist' type wineries as they are professional wineries - although what a wonderful hobby to have!  You get to make wines as you wish, and you can potentially make a small profit from your hobby.  There are few other hobbies that are as satisfying or potentially as commercially rewarding.

Wineries of this small size almost never grow their own grapes, but buy grapes in on contract from grape growers, and may cooperatively share equipment to process the grapes into raw juice for fermenting and storage.

Almost none of these smaller wineries have their own dedicated 'winery' building or 'chateau' and grounds, but will instead be found in business parks, with rented space in a plain generic concrete building, with other light industrial and office type tenants on either side.  Typically, such a space will be split into three main areas - a front office/tasting room for the public, a middle area for wine storage, and a back area for shipping and receiving.  The grape processing, bottling, etc, might be in the back or middle areas, or might even be done off-site somewhere else.

This might not reflect the idealistic image you have of a winery, completely with musty cellars, long lines of oak barrels lining the walls five or ten high, and with grape vines growing scenically outside the chateau, but in some ways, it promises a better experience, because in these small micro-wineries, the person you meet and talk to is probably the owner/winemaker himself, and you'll get a much more interesting and direct appreciation of the winery, what makes them distinctive and different, the wines they make and why, and so on.

A large winery will staff its tasting room with employees, some of whom may have never met any of the company's actual wine makers, and who are completely uninvolved with any of the 'hands-on' aspects of winemaking, and only know what they have read about, rather than what they've actually done themselves.

You'll also find an amazing variety of personality types among the wine makers.  Some seem to have almost too much of an appreciation for their product, while others seem to be ridiculously genteel.  Some are generous and warmly open, often giving you way too many and way too generous pours of wine, others carefully pour exactly measured samples of wine and insist on payment before they pour the first drop.  If you visit enough wineries, you'll end up with some amusing experiences of the people you've encountered that will be almost as memorable and enjoyable as the wine you've sampled.

The changing nature of wines offered by these wineries

One thing we have noticed is that the newer wineries do not offer as consistent a product from year to year as is the case with longer established and larger wineries.  There are two explanations for this.

A new winery and winemaker are still becoming established, and may not yet have locked in their grape sources and their 'style'.  Likely, they will be adapting (and hopefully improving) from each year to each new year, based on what they are pleased with, and what sells well (and profitably) for them.

Smaller wineries have less bureaucracy to interfere with their decisions to change their wine styles, particularly ones that may be semi-generically labeled such as 'Red Wine' or 'Columbia Red' or 'Claret'.

We make these points as a mild caution.  If you sample one year's wine, do not make the assumption that previous or subsequent years of the ostensibly same wine will taste similar.  They may contain very different grapes.  Even if the grapes are the same, they may have been made in a very different style (eg changes in the type and amount of oak they experience).

The vibrant and changing nature of some of these wineries is an exciting and positive thing (and gives you a reason to revisit them on a regular basis), but it can also be mildly frustrating if you find a wine you absolutely love, only to have the winery never duplicate it again in subsequent years.

Larger wineries too

Larger and more commercial wineries exist in Washington as well, of course.  About 30 wineries in total make more than 1 million gallons of wine a year, another 65 make between 100,000 and 1 million gallons a year, and there are 250 wineries making between 1,000 and 100,000 gallons of wine a year.

Grape Varieties in Washington State

Two thirds of all grapes grown in Washington are either Riesling and Chardonnay (for the whites) or Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (for the reds).  The other one third is spread over a wide range of different grapes, mainly of the classical Vitis vinifera varieties.

Here is a table showing annual production, in tons, for both 2004 and 2008.  This helps get an understanding of production trends.





White Riesling








Sauvignon Blanc




Pinot Gris












Chenin Blanc












Total White




Cabernet Sauvignon












Cabernet Franc








Pinot Noir
















Total Red




Total All Grapes




source - USDA, Jan 24 2009

Touring in Washington's Main Winery Regions

Click on to part 3 and subsequent parts of this series for specific information about touring around Washington's several wine regions.

Part two of a series on wine trail touring in WA, see also

1.  About the US wine industry in general
2.  Wine making in Washington state
3.  Wine touring in Washington state
4.  Wine costs, pricing, and quality
5.  Wine trail tours and tasting around Seattle - the large wineries
6.  Touring the boutique wineries in the Woodinville area near Seattle
7.  Wine trail tours around Leavenworth
8.  Wine tasting in downtown Leavenworth

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Originally published 15 May 2009, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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