Washington wine industry growing despite recession - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Washington wine industry growing despite recession

Washington will soon be home 11 AVA's Washington will soon be home 11 AVA's
Spokane is home to more than a dozen licensed wineries Spokane is home to more than a dozen licensed wineries

SPOKANE, Wash. - In Washington the apple is still king but the upstart wine industry is making waves growing from a niche business just a decade ago to an industry valued at $3 billion annually. From 160 wineries 10 years ago to more than 600 today the industry's growth is expected to continue according to the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

That growth has several facets. The number of wine grape plantings increased from 24,000 acres in 1999 to an estimated 33,000 this year. While that pales in comparison to the 523,000 acres of grapes planted in California the Evergreen state is making steady progress. As of 2006 wine grapes were the number 11 Washington crop cultivated by farmers.

Another sign of growth -- Washington state will soon be home to 11 AVA's or American Viticultural Areas. These AVA's are grape growing region's which are defined by geographic features and the grapes grown there.

Some of the best known Washington AVA'S include the Columbia Valley AVA, the Walla Walla AVA and the Yakima Valley AVA. At the end of May the Lake Chelan AVA will join that list. The Washington Wine Commission is excited to officially recognize the region saying, "Lake Chelan is already a beloved tourist destination, especially during the summer, when visitors enjoy sunshine and abundant water recreation. Now, in addition to those activities, travelers can enjoy the emerging Lake Chelan wine community by visiting the vineyards." Lake Chelan is currently home to 15 wineries and 260 planted acres of grapes

Spokane is also on the forefront of the growing industry. Washington is now home to 602 licensed wineries - number 600 is located in downtown Spokane. Bridge Press Cellars was awarded its license by the state Liquor Control Board on February 10. Owner Melody Padrta and her husband join more than a dozen other wineries in the Spokane area. Together these wineries form the Spokane Wine Association. Every year the region's wineries market themselves to the community by holding special events like this weekend's Spring Barrel Tasting.

Despite all of this growth there are challenges remaining for the Washington wine industry as it tries to expand internationally. In 2007, only about 2 percent of all wine made in Washington and Oregon was exported outside the United States.

That's why each year the Washington Wine Commission sponsors a trip for more than two dozen importers, wine experts and hotel and restaurant wine stewards to travel through Washington and sample the wines. This year wine buyers from more than 20 countries made the trip stopping in Seattle, Walla Walla, Pasco and Prosser.

Even Governor Chris Gregoire is getting in on the act marketing Washington's wines to a wider audience. On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. the governor suggested to first lady Michelle Obama that she serve Washington wines at the White House. Talking about the growth of the industry she said, "Despite the national recession, our efforts to diversify our state's economy are paying off. I applaud those entrepreneurs and small business owners who are working

with our grape growers to produce some of the finest wines available."
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