It was a small item in the newspaper, but one that reflects a big change for the Washington economy.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board recently announced that there now are more than 1,000 active winery licenses in the state. Considering that in 2000 Washington had 74 wineries, the fact that the state is, um, awash in wine is a relatively new phenomenon. Twenty years ago, Washington had 24,000 acres of wine grapes; now there are 59,000 acres.
All of that makes Washington the second-biggest wine state in the country — well behind California but ahead of everybody else. Oregon ranks fifth, with the climate of the Northwest being conducive to the growing of Chardonnay and Riesling and many other varieties of grapes.
All of that growth can be seen even in this part of the state. The Southwest Washington Wine Association is an organization of 19 wineries ranging from Yacolt to Vancouver. In fact, the earliest grapes in the state were planted at Fort Vancouver in 1853. At least, that’s what we heard through the grapevine (sorry).
In Southwest Washington, we do more than make wine, we drink it. No fewer than five tasting rooms — so far — have opened or announced plans to open at The Waterfront Vancouver development.
“We all know that wine is best enjoyed in a beautiful setting, and I can’t think of a more stunning spot than on the banks of the Columbia River,” said Barry Cain, president of the company developing the waterfront. That is the kind of hyperbole we might expect from a developer, but we can’t disagree; Washington’s successful wine industry is no cause for sour grapes (we apologize).
“To think about where we started and where we are today is absolutely thrilling,” said Steve Warner, president of Washington State Wine. “From humble beginnings, the Washington wine industry now contributes more than $7 billion to the state’s economy and generates roughly $2.4 billion in revenue.”
Of course, wine is just one example of how alcoholic beverages have influenced the state’s economy. Washington is a hotbed of microbrews and brewpubs and countless varieties of India Pale Ale — as even a brief stroll around downtown Vancouver reveals. According to the Brewers Association, a national organization, craft breweries have an impact of about $2 billion a year on Washington’s economy.
In fact, late Yakima resident Bert Grant is often considered the godfather of the U.S. craft brewing movement, which has swept the nation while vastly improving the quality of beer Americans drink. That seems appropriate; Washington produces a majority of American hops.
While all 50 states produce their own wine and craft beer, Washington has been at the forefront of both industries since those businesses started to take root during the 1980s. Part of that is due to the mother of invention. A continuing decline in some traditional industries east of the Cascade Range (especially timber) have led entrepreneurs to seek alternatives.
Meanwhile, the terrain of Central Washington has proven profitable in satiating humanity’s thirst for fermented beverages. Traditional crops such as apples and cherries now share fertile soil with grapes, hops and barley.
The lesson to all this is that Washington residents have embraced opportunity in developing the state’s wine and craft beer industries over the past four decades, and now the state has more than 1,000 wineries. We’ll raise a glass to that.