The Columbia Valley, located in the southeast corner of Washington State, has emerged as one of the most important wine regions in the United States, largely based on the reputation of the region’s bold, rich Cabernet Sauvignons. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, growers in the Columbia Valley produce Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah and Merlot wines.
The total region of the Columbia Valley extends for nearly 135 miles (220 kilometers), from the Canadian border into northern Oregon. However, the real heart of the Columbia Valley is centered around the Columbia River. There are several distinct American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within the Columbia Valley: Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and Walla Walla Valley.
From a geographical perspective, what makes the region unique is that it shares the same latitude as two of France’s famed wine regions: Bordeaux and Burgundy. When you combine the fact that the region lays in the shadow of the Cascades Mountains, it adds up to a very unique growing climate: it is dry and continental and receives more sunshine than some regions in neighboring California.
While the Columbia Valley really emerged as one of the world’s foremost wine regions in the 1980s, there is a long tradition of winemaking in the region that extends back to the 1860s. In the 1930s, winemakers experimented extensively with growing grapes in the region.
However, it was only in the 1980s that the region attracted international attention. In recent years, Cabernet Sauvignons from Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountains have received 100-point Robert Parker ratings, among other top awards and distinctions, putting Washington State on the map as a top U.S. wine region.