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Blog: Yakima Valley AVA celebrates 30th Year

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This year marks the 30th anniversary of Washington’s first American Viticultural Area. The action also marked the start of a huge growth spurt for the state’s wine industry.

Yakima Valley was established and recognized by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau as an AVA in early 1983. It was the first AVA outside of California in the Western United States.

Today, more than 13,500 Yakima Valley acres are planted with vineyards, producing grapes for hundreds of wineries throughout the state.

Two other AVAs were recognized in 1984. Walla Walla Valley is home to more than 100 small wineries. The huge Columbia Valley AVA includes the Yakima and Walla AVAs, as well as several other smaller AVAs established later.

There are 13 AVAs in Washington today. Some of the newest to be recognized are in North Central Washington: Wahluke Slope (2006), Lake Chelan (2009) and Ancient Lakes (2012).

While early Washington settlers started planting grapes as early as the mid-1800s, it wasn’t until after Prohibition that many commercial vineyards took hold. Serious planting of grapes didn’t begin until the late 1950s with the advent of two grape grower associations, Washington Wine Growers and Associated Vintners, according to a wine industry study for the Washington Wine Commission.

Washington Wine Growers later became Ste. Michelle Estates. Associated Vintners, started by a group of University of Washington professors, became Columbia Winery. Both are large wineries still in operation, but under different ownership.

Washington is the nation’s second leading producer of wine grapes and wine, still far behind California, but well ahead of all other states.

The growth of Washington’s young wine industry over that past 30 years has been phenomenal.

Fewer than 20 commercial wineries active in the early 1980s produced less than 2 million gallons of wine. Today, there are close to 800 wineries producing more than 25 million gallons of wine.

The state’s five largest wineries produce about 70 percent of the state’s wine. The next 30 largest wineries produce about 20 percent, leaving about 10 percent of the production for the other 750 small wineries.

Washington wine growers harvested their largest ever crop last year, nearly 200,000 tons.

The wine industry’s total economic impact to the state is in excess of $3 billion, according to the Wine Commission.

That’s something to celebrate with a glass or two of wine.

The Yakima Valley wine industry plans to do just that with a planning a series of events this year to celebrate its 30th anniversary. For more information, visit their website at wineyakimavalley.org

Reach Rick Steigmeyer at 509-664-7151 or . Read his blog Winemaker's Journal or follow him on Twitter at @steigmeyerww.

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