A Yakima vineyard in the Cascade rain shadow. Photo by Tracy Hunter/Flickr

The Washington Wine Shadow

The popularity of our state’s wines has been an obstacle for other wines to enter the region, but that may be changing.

Sitting in a room at South Seattle College, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the first-ever SOMM Summit, I got to thinking about Seattle’s growth, or lack thereof, as a wine city. Even as our economy and skyline have expanded and changed massively in the past decade, our wine industry both has and hasn’t.

Certainly, production is radically different. As we approach 1,000 wineries in Washington, so much has changed: Woodinville has become not just a winemaking but a wine-tasting destination, and SoDo isn’t far behind. Places and grapes that a decade ago were at best a wild idea have found commercial success. Much of this is due to our extreme loyalty to local wine, which previously might have been ideological but is now justifiable on quality alone.

However, that loyalty has produced an unusual dynamic whereby wines from other regions near and far have struggled to find here the traction they have in other similarly sized markets throughout the country. While the wines of Northern California are well-represented in the Bay Area, they don’t dominate the conversation, and shelf space, as Washington wine does in Seattle.

That’s why SOMM Summit was so encouraging to me. That you could attend seminars held by one of the most prestigious regions on Earth (Bordeaux) and by a place that most people don’t realize makes great wine (South Africa), or could taste wines from Australia and Uruguay side by side, showed that those regions, wineries, and promotional bodies recognize what’s possible here in Seattle.

One of the first things you learn about Washington wine is the tremendous influence the Cascade Mountains have on growing conditions. The rain shadow they create is why the eastern part of the state is so dry, which allows great grapes to be grown there. Analogously, Washington wine itself has been something of an obstacle for other wines to enter Seattle, as it’s hard to totally overcome our longstanding preference for local wines.

That analogy might be a bit tortured, but I do see plenty of signs that the dynamic is changing—not just wine events, though those do put Seattle further on the map, but also the influx of new Seattleites from everywhere, who might want to learn about Washington wine but aren’t necessarily ready to forget about the wines they’ve enjoyed elsewhere. In the end, this increased availability won’t benefit only wine drinkers, but winemakers as well, since the best way to ensure that you continue to make world-class wine is to drink world-class wine from the rest of the world. It’s a strategy we should all consider, winemaker or not.

barcode@seattleweekly.com

More in Eat Drink Toke

Photo by Conner Knotis 
                                Jerk Shack’s jerk chicken.
Bring on the Jerk

Finally, the Caribbean stakes a spot in Seattle thanks to Jerk Shack.

Dennis Peron. Illustration by James the Stanton
The Cannabis Community Mourns Activist Dennis Peron

The grandfather of medicinal marijuana was 72.

Touch Down in Kerala, India via Kirkland

It’s 30 minutes east of Seattle, but Kathakali boasts some of the best Indian food in the area.

Working Nine to High

Can you keep your day job and your cannabis?

Patrons get their pong on at Spin. Photo courtesy of Spin and Victoria Kovios
Spin Gives Ping Pong Hustlers a Home

Slicing up the obsessively slick new downtown bar.

Joli’s French Twist in Phinney Ridge

The new resturant brings a feminine streak to bistro-style dining.

Courtesy photo
A Pizza Bar With a Pedigree, Potential, and Plenty of Hiccups

Supreme in West Seattle serves up New York-style pie and apologies.

Illustration by James the Stanton
Corporate Sharks Smell Weed in the Water

As more states legalize cannabis, big players take a big step forward.

Is poké, like this from GoPoké, a fad or a new fixture. Only time will tell. Photo by Suzi Pratt
A Year of Fads and New Fixtures in Seattle Dining

Neither money nor reputation guaranteed success in this frenzied year of dining evolution.

Remembering the American Mother Goddess of Medicinal Cannabis

Joanna McKee changed the conversation about marijuana.

The Liquor Industry Make a Play for Legal Weed

The landscape of cannabis in North America is potentially about to experience a hostile takeover.

Chef Soma and Her Cult of Soba Are Back

Kamonegi in Fremont serves up the underappreciated noodles, along with esoteric takes on tempura and other Japanese-inspired delicacies.