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Washington wine has achieved great recognition and accolades for quality as well as value for its wines. It’s no wonder that with the amazing collaborative spirit exercised by our growers, winemakers, and industry members - who focus on the success of the whole over the individual - that so much has been accomplished in a short amount of time.

Since August is Washington Wine Month, we are spotlighting the attributes that make our wine growing state unique. As the number two wine growing region in the United States, second only to California, Washington stands out for its premium wines. One of the top reasons for this is the grapes, which are responsible for creating fruit-forward, full-bodied, complex and age-worthy wines. Because Wahluke Slope AVA is one of the top suppliers of grapes to Washington’s many wineries, we felt it should be highlighted.

The Wahluke Slope AVA was established in 2006 and is encompassed by the larger Columbia Valley AVA. Located in central Washington, it is bordered by the Saddle Mountains to the north, the Hanford Reach Monument to the east, and the Columbia River to the south and west.

There are only a handful of working wineries in the Wahluke Slope AVA, but it’s the twenty individual vineyard sites that set the area under vine close to 6,000 acres. This makes the Wahluke Slope AVA responsible for one-fifth of Washington’s grape production. Many Washington wineries, including Columbia Winery, count on Wahluke Slope for supplying them with the premium wine grapes that thrive here such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and a handful of others.

With grapes exclusively from the Weinbau Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope, our single vineyard Weinbau Merlot is full-bodied and intensely packed with black fruit aromas and flavors of black plum, blackberry, with hints of green peppercorn, dried leaves, toasted cocoa and a long finish with smooth integrated tannins.

Continental and arid in climate, this region relies completely on irrigation. Without irrigation nothing outside of tumble weeds would survive. Irrigation gives the wine grower control of vine vigor, which helps intensify the complexity of the grapes’ flavors, aromas, and tannins.

The well-draining alluvial soils with an overlay of sand allow the vines to establish their own secure root system. Climate, irrigation, and soil are key factors in differentiating the Wahluke Slope from other AVAs, but it’s Wahluke’s uniformity of its gentle south facing slope that plays the major role here. The gentle slope captures the sun’s rays and the south-facing aspect, especially vital in northern hemisphere growing regions, allows for extended sunshine hours made available to the grapes. More sunshine equals riper fruit, so it’s no surprise that the Wahluke Slope AVA is a highly valued Washington wine-growing region.

- Shelly Fitzgerald, Wine Education Specialist, CS, CSW, AWE, WSET Level 3