It wasn’t too long ago that the wine scene in Clark County was anemic with English Estate Winery as the sole Vancouver area pioneer and Salishan Vineyards in La Center holding its own on a lonely bluff overlooking a largely undeveloped valley.
Today, the North Bank is home to 15 wineries, a Spanish tasting room hoping to offer their own wine label again in 2016 and a co-op in downtown Vancouver featuring four Eastern Washington wineries. Additionally, vintners are gathering regularly with a goal to establish a recognized AVA (American Viticultural Area), to pool marketing resources and strengthen the camaraderie that vintners and vineyard owners seem to come by naturally.
On top of all this, growth continues to brew on the horizon.
This past Labor Day weekend, Rezabek Vineyards, which is located in Battle Ground, welcomed visitors to their vineyard for the first time as part of the Southwest Washington Wine Country Food and Wine Pairing Weekend. Rezabek is in the midst of the permitting process and has been hosting private tasting for several months now, but was able to pour their eight-wine lineup under an outdoor tent for the special event. It afforded people an opportunity to see the acres of sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and chardonnay that the Rezabeks have been planting since the spring of 2010. Of particular interest is the one-third acre planted in pinot meunier (pee-no moon-yay).
With the inclusion of pinot noir and chardonnay, winemaker Roger Rezabek is growing the three key grapes used in making sparkling wine and believes “our climate is very similar to the Champagne District of France.”
Back in La Center, a couple has acquired a true piece of Clark County wine history; 6.75 acres of pinot noir grapes planted in 1982. Kevin and Kristy Kotrous have already sold this years’ harvest to a number of wineries: Pomeroy Cellars, Rusty Grape Vineyards, a Ridgefield winery yet to open and a home winemaker from Chicago who takes a West Coast purchasing trip annually.
“I don’t think we realized the gravity of it and to be the custodians of them is a privilege,” Kristy Kotrous said when asked about the 33 year-old grapes. “I think these are showing that they’re pretty productive still and, with good care and being tended to well, they should produce for many years to come.”
From Washougal to Ridgefield to Battle Ground, at least seven wineries are now in various stages of the permitting process to open their doors to the public, and 10 vineyards are quietly supplying grapes to area winemakers and beyond. In fact, Yacolt Valley Vineyard has been cultivating their 10 acres of pinot noir since 1997 and Cawley Vineyards in Woodland caters to non-commercial winemakers looking for as few as 100 pounds.
According to the Washington State Wine Commission, the government agency that represents all wineries and grape growers in the state, the recent growth of the local wine industry is part of a statewide trend; Washington wine is on the rise.
An August study conducted by the commission showed an increase in total state economic impact of $1.3 billion since 2009, or a compound annual growth rate of 8.5 percent per year. In addition, the total economic impact of the Washington State wine industry was $4.8 billion in 2013, up from $3.5 billion in 2009.
Barring major climate events, the study said grape yield forecasts show continued growth of between 5 and 9.1 percent per year through 2019, when wine grape tons harvested are expected to exceed 300,000 tons.
Slowly but surely, the Clark County landscape is becoming a wine destination – tapping into tourist dollars that prominent regions like the Willamette Valley and Sonoma County have enjoyed for decades.
In 2013, Washington’s wine industry…
- 210,000 tons of wine grapes
- 14.8 million cases of wine
- $236.2 million in wine grape revenues
- $2.4 billion in direct and secondary wine-related revenues
- 2,790 workers in vineyards
- 3,260 workers in wineries
Supported through economic impacts:
- $4.8 billion in business revenues
- $61.9 million in state taxes
- 25,900 jobs