Washington Wines and Wineries: Paul Gregutt Talks Pacific Northwest Wine

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about Washington wine?

PG: The worst misconception is that Washington doesn’t exist! Some people still think it’s Washington D.C. Many others lump it in with Oregon, and don’t grasp that the two are entirely different, except where the AVAs overlap. Another misconception is that Washington wines are over-priced. If you look at how Washington ranks on the annual Top 100 ‘Value’ lists put out by the major wine publications, it generally places far more wines on them relative to its total production than any region in the world. At the other end of the spectrum, look at the priciest wines you can buy – Leonetti Cellar and Quilceda Creek. Quilceda has gotten the 100 point scores, so clearly it belongs up there with any Cabernet producer in the world. Their Cabernet sells for $115 a bottle. Compare that with Harlan, or Sloan, or Screaming Eagle, or Mouton etc. etc.

Q: Who is doing the most interesting and ambitious winemaking in Washington today?

PG: I’ve got to punt on that one. Read the book! It’s loaded with recommendations.

Q: Why ISN'T Washington too cold to be a meaningful wine producer?

PG: The eastern half of the state is mostly desert. It’s hot in the summer, and dry in the winter. Vineyards are being planted in places that offer protection from Arctic blasts (such as above the Columbia river). Major advances in irrigation techniques and other strategies (burying canes, etc.) have also helped to mitigate the impact of the occasional bad winter freeze. When vines do freeze, remember, they are planted on their own rootstock, so they can be cut down to the ground and come back just fine. Can’t do that in California!

Q: If terroir can be defined, how would you define Washington's?

PG: Washington is a big place. There are many different soils and climatic conditions to explore. But to be very general, Washington fruit is bright and spicy, with tart natural acidity. The flavors of the white wines are crisp and citrusy; the red wines offer a multiplicity of berries, cherries and black fruits. Oak is generally used sparingly, and some winemakers are not afraid to show some of the herbal side of grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon.