Writing About the History, Variety & Triumphs of Northwest Wines

Image courtesy of pxfuel.com

A short time ago, I happened upon an article announcing that a group of writers who specialized in wine were starting a new print magazine dedicated to covering the NW wine industry. Called Great Northwest Wine, the publication is linked to a 10-year-old website with the same name, and most of the writers, editors and photographers involved with it used to work for Wine Press Northwest, a magazine the Tri-City Herald newspaper produced for 23 years before ending its run this past September.

According to the article, there are now over 1,000 wineries in Washington State, 900 in Oregon, 370 in British Columbia, 65 in Idaho, and “a handful” in Montana.

Even residents of the area assume wine-making is a fairly recent addition to the NW economy, but one website I found credits photographer Peter Britt with planting what he called the Valley View Vineyard in the 1850s. (Britt’s estate in southern Oregon is known today as the location for the Britt Music & Arts Festival, “the Pacific Northwest’s premier outdoor summer performing arts festival.”) According to HistoryLink.org, the first NW grapes were planted even earlier, in 1825, at Fort Vancouver, then an outpost of the British Hudson’s Bay Company.

The Oregon Wine site traces the origins of Oregon’s modern wine industry to 1933 when, in the days after the repeal of Prohibition, a group of entrepreneurs received “bonded winery status.” According to the site, Hillcrest Winery in the Umpqua Valley is the state’s oldest estate winery and it was Hillcrest’s Richard Sommer who planted the many varieties of grapes on which today’s thriving Oregon wine reputation is built.

The Washington Wine site tells us that around the same time Hillcrest was coming into existence, the Washington Wine Producers Association was being founded. By 1937, Washington had 42 wineries.

Grape picking, WA, 1920s, State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov, accessed 2-1-22

NW wines have been winning awards around the world for many years now. Thirty-five years ago, Washington was known mostly for Riesling wine, but today it produces an almost equal amount of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot grapes (approx. 35,000 tons of each), which together account for 77% of the state’s total production.

In Oregon, as anyone who knows wines at all can tell you, Pinot Noir is king, topping 60,000 tons in annual production, four times its nearest rival, Pinot Gris.

But this is a site dedicated to writing about the Northwest rather than the wonders of NW wine, so let me give you some sites that feature writing about NW wine as well as a few books on the subject for you to check out:

NW wine yesterday and today:

Wine in Washington (HistoryLink.org)

The Washington State Wine Commission’s history page

Washington’s Wine History“–article from the Seattle TimesPacific NW Magazine

Oregon Wine History

The Oregon Wine Board’s history page (written by Oregonian wine writer Katherine Cole)

Oregon Wine History Archives–a wonderful site with oral histories, lots of great interviews with Oregon winemakers, information on regions, and tons of photos

Most of sites listed above include links to more current information on the NW wine industry–and here are three more:

Great Northwest Wine

Wine Press Northwest magazine

Oregon Wine Press

If you’re ready for a richer taste that will linger longer on the tongue, try these fuller-bodied reads:

The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World by Brian Doyle (“A beautifully written nonfiction chronicle of a year in the life of a vineyard.”)

Pinot Girl: A Family. A Region. An Industry. by Anna Maria Ponzi (“An intimate memoir by the daughter of one of Oregon’s earliest wine families.”)

Oregon Wine: A Deeply Rooted History by Scott Stursa (“Uncover the forgotten roots of Oregon wine with author Scott Stursa and raise a glass to its prosperous future.”)

The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ronald A. Irvine (“…Full of insight into the beginnings and future of the world class wines of Washington, the land it is grown in and the past and present players involved.”)

Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt (“”The most comprehensive and authoritative book on Washington wines.”)

Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest by Cole Danehower and Andrea Johnson [photographer] (“Beautifully illustrated with photographs and helpful maps, this in-depth guide is a milestone in the North American literature on wine.”)