In 1987, the Washington State Legislature recognized a small but growing industry that could have an impact on the state’s economy if it caught on—growing grapes and making wine. Although Washington already had an established agricultural industry, especially a robust apple crop, the idea of creating the critical mass necessary to become an emerging wine industry was new.
This was the time when the Washington Wine Commission (WWC) was created and today, 25 years later, the commission is representing a much larger group of wineries, winemakers and grape growers. I think there were about 40 wineries in the state when the WWC kicked in; today, there are 750 bonded wineries and even in a harsh economy, most are toughing it out.
above, Taste Washington in 2002
It also represents 15 years of Taste Washington, the state’s premier wood and food weekend (March 31-April 1 this year, www.tastewashington.org). I remember attending the second Taste, in the Paramount Theater in 1998. The setting was intimate because the state only had 129 wineries at the time, and not all of those wineries attended. It was the first time I met Steve Burns, the affable former executive director of the WWC, who was nearly floating on air with excitement as writers and reporters (no bloggers back in the old days), sampled Washington wines with the cuisine of the Northwest.
As I flit from booth to booth, I was ecstatic to have so many wineries represented in one place. As a budding wine writer, I generally had to travel from Walla Walla to Woodinville—across the state—to sample wines and meet winemakers. A few years ago, I found my tasting book that covered my notes from that event. Nearly every entry said something about “promising,” or “one to watch,” or “far better than the previous vintage.” I’ve only missed a handful of Taste Washington events, and am looking forward to celebrating its 15th year.