Why should California get all the love? A 40+ year Napa Valley veteran waxes poetic about making wine in Washington State.
We’re back to tackle another question in our Ask The Expert series!
In today’s edition, a big name from Napa Valley talks about what he loves about Washington State. Dennis Cakebread, owner of Mullan Road Cellars (and of Cakebread Cellars fame) answers the question: What Makes Washington Wine Special?
In 2011, I found myself driving from Seattle to visit winemaking friends in Eastern Washington. Winding past the Cascade Mountains and continuing down Highway 90 through the Columbia Valley, I observed lush greenery and tall pine trees give way to desert-like scenery, with long stretches of sagebrush marking the trail between vineyards. I immediately was intrigued with the unique terroir and landscape.
I learned two lessons about Washington wine on that road trip. First and foremost, the most important tool for making great wines here is a good truck. Secondly, Washington is as rich in history and culture as it is in terroir, all of which make for world-class winemaking.
By the time I arrived in Walla Walla, I was curious as to how Washington became the second largest wine producing state and this small town its winemaking capital. Visiting the Ft. Walla Walla Museum, I learned about such early explorers as Lieutenant John Mullan who, in the late 1850’s, led a team of 200 men to build 600 miles of wagon road in just 18 months. They paved the way for future winemaking endeavors – literally. I later named my new wine project Mullan Road Cellars to celebrate that same pioneering spirit and camaraderie that’s alive today as local grape growers and winemakers collaborate to make better wines each vintage.
Terrain and climate play key roles in shaping Washington wines. People often think of Washington as being wet and rainy, but the Cascade Range acts as a large umbrella that shields precipitation from falling east. Less than 8 inches of rain a year may seem like a farming challenge, but the Grand Coulee dam provides generous irrigation for the area’s signature wind-blown loess soil. Add warm summer days that bring an extra two hours of sunlight than even the Napa Valley sees, and you have ideal growing conditions that yield elegant wines with great acid and tannin balance.
The beauty of Washington wines stems from the region’s history, distinct climate and terroir, but is probably best understood by tasting them. I encourage people to explore, sip and savor the wonders of this unique growing area, whether planning your own road trip or your next wine tasting adventure at home.
Thanks to Dennis Cakebread, owner of Mullan Road Cellars for his answer to the question What Makes Washington Wine Special?
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