Do you know where Washington State’s $4.8 billion dollar wine industry began?
Believe it or not — it started in Southwest Washington at Fort Vancouver.
By Michele Bloomquist
EDITORS NOTE: Michele Bloomquist is the owner of Heisen House Vineyards in Battle Ground, WA, where she also serves as winemaker. Michele is one of the founding members of the Southwest Washington Winery Association.
According to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, wine grapes were among the first cultivated fruit planted in the Pacific Northwest at Fort Vancouver in 1827. Bottles and corks soon became part of the regular restocking of the Fort’s supplies – indicating the success of those first vines.
The Oregon Trail brought new migrants – and new grape varietals – to the region. Today, the annual tonnage of wine grapes grown in Washington State is second only to California.
Though Southwest Washington was the birthplace of wine in the Northwest, it was some 150 years before the first commercial vineyard and winery in the area was established in 1971. Salishan Vineyards was located on the southern bluff of the Lewis River overlooking the town of La Center. Owners Joan and Linc Wolverton championed the area as an ideal one for growing cool climate wine grapes such as Pinot Noir because of its similarity to Burgundy, France.
Regulatory struggles led other early Pacific Northwest winemakers to locate across the Columbia River, establishing the now multi-million dollar Willamette Valley wine region ibn Oregon.
The Wolvertons operated as the lone winery in Southwest Washington for several decades before closing in 2006, but not before inspiring many of the currently operating wineries to also establish in Southwest Washington. For example, cuttings from the Wolverton’s vineyard were used to help establish the vineyards at English Estate Winery, planted in 1980.
As the number of wineries and vineyards in the area increased, an informal network of growers and winemakers formed, helping each other navigate the ins and outs of starting and managing a vineyard and winery.
It wasn’t until 2015, however, that formal bylaws were established and the mission to “promote and encourage the development and growth of the wine grape industry in Southwest Washington” was agreed upon to establish the Southwest Washington Winery Association. In 2016, the inaugural year of the Association, nine wineries and two tasting rooms became founding members of the Association. Since then, membership has increased to 18 wineries and tasting rooms and seven vineyards, as well as musicians, supportive businesses, and individuals.
In addition to offering its members support and camaraderie, the group promotes four region-wide tour events each year with the intent to broaden awareness of the region.
Traditionally these have been Valentine’s weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, Labor Day Weekend and Thanksgiving Weekend. In addition to a website and social media presence, they publish a guide to the region including a map and contact information for each winery.
The group has participated in community events such as the Gratitude Festival in Ridgefield, Slow Food Southwest Washington, and the Food Summit at Clark College.
In May of 2019, the group sponsored its own event — Savor Southwest Washington Wine. This first-of-its-kind event featured member wineries pouring alongside five local eateries offering wine-friendly appetizers, as well as local musicians at the Pearson Air Museum (just steps from Fort Vancouver). The event was attended by more than 240 local wine-lovers and was a huge success, highlighting the quality wine and food available in the Southwest Washington region. The group is currently planning next year’s event.
The exciting thing about Southwest Washington is that the tasting experience is still intimate. Most of the wineries in the area produce fewer than 1,000 cases per year, which means winemakers are frequently pouring their own wines in their tasting rooms.
Many of the tasting rooms are located onsite with mature and developing vineyards. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about grape growing and wine production on a small scale. Given the region’s proximity to warmer climates (predominantly Eastern Washington), area wineries are able to produce wines for nearly every palate, using fruit they grow themselves, and supplementing from vineyards throughout the state.
That said, the area between the North bank of the Columbia River and the foothills of the Cascade Mountains boasts a climate and soils similar to Burgundy in France. The region excels at growing traditional European grapes such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as lesser-known varietals such as Golubok, Marechal-Foch and Zweigelt-Rebe.
One of the main objectives of the association is the establishment of an American Viticultural Area (AVA), which will help establish the region as a unique wine-growing region with its own characteristics.
With 150 acres of vineyards planted at 38 sites and more than 20 wineries, it may not be long before the Birthplace of Washington Wine becomes an important viticultural area in its own right.
Wineries and tasting rooms located in the Southwest Washington wine region include:
Airfield Estates — Tasting room scheduled to open on Vancouver Waterfront in fall of 2019.
Burnt Bridge Cellars — 1500 Broadway St, Vancouver, WA. (360) 695-3363. www.burntbridgecellars.com.
Cellar 55 Tasting Room — 1812 Washington St., Vancouver, WA. (360) 693-2700. www.cellar55tastingroom.com.
Columbia Gorge Vintners — 5500 S.E. Hans Nagel Rd, Washougal,WA. (360) 687-5509. www.columbiagorgevintners.com.
Confluence Vineyards & Winery — 19111 N.W. 67th Ave, Ridgefield, WA. (360) 887-2343. www.confluencewinery.net
Dolio Winery — 11001 N.E. 314th St, Battle Ground, WA. (360) 831-1478. www.doliowinery.com.
Emanar Cellars — 1113 S.E. Rasmussen Blvd, Battle Ground, WA. (360) 513-2448. www.emanarcellars.com.
English Estate Winery — 17806 S.E. 1st St, Vancouver, WA. (360) 772-5141. www.englishestatewinery.com.
Heathen Estate Winery — 9400 N.E. 134th St., Vancouver, WA. (360) 768-5199. www.heathenestate.com.
Heisen House Vineyards — 28005 N.E. 172nd Ave, Battle Ground, WA. (360) 713-2359. www.heisenhousevineyards.com.
Koi Pond Cellars Winery & Bistro – 212 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver, WA. (360) 281-2716. www.koipondcellars.com
Maryhill Winery Vancouver — 801 Waterfront Way, Suite 105, Vancouver, WA. (360) 450-6211. www.maryhillwinery.com.
Matranga Vineyards — At Tesori Da Speranza, 1511 N. Goering Rd., Woodland, WA. (360) 225-3805. www.matrangavineyards.com.
Mended Oak Winery — 10209 N.E. 299th St, Battle Ground, WA. (360) 903-6489. www.mendedoak.com.
Moulton Falls Winery — 31101 N.E. Railroad Ave, Yacolt, WA. (360) 686-4070. www.moultonfallswinery.com.
Olequa Cellars — 24218 N.E. 142nd Ave, Battle Ground, WA. (360) 666-8012. www.olequa.com.
Pepper Bridge Winery/Amavi Cellars – Combined tasting room scheduled to open on Vancouver Waterfront in Fall of 2019.
Pomeroy Cellars — 20902 N.E. Lucia Falls Rd, Yacolt, WA. (360) 686-3785. www.pomeroycellars.com.
Rezabek Vineyards/Day Break Cellars — 11700 N.E. 279th St, Battle Ground, WA. (360) 896-0218. www.rezabekvineyards.com.
Stavalaura Vineyards — 29503 N.W. 41st Ave, Ridgefield, WA. (360) 887-1476. www.stavalaura.com.
SuLei Cellars — 613 Main St., Vancouver, WA. (509) 529-0840. www.suleicellars.com.
Windy Hills Winery — 1346 S 38th Ct, Ridgefield, WA. (360) 727-2200. www.windyhillswinery.com.
For more information about the Southwest Washington Winery Association, visit: www.swwawine.com.