A Visit to Washington State's Columbia Crest Winery
Columbia Crest winery has been in operation for just over 30 years and in that time it has helped transform the Columbia River area of Washington State into one of the top wine producers in the world. It's a little strange maybe that when you think of the West Coast and wine, it's typically California and specifically Napa, Sonoma, or even Santa Barbara area. No one told these guys though, but through scientific research winemakers here discovered that the soils and environmental conditions had world class potential.
While there were small wineries in the state as early as the 1825 when the first wine grapes were planted at Fort Vancouver by the Hudson Bay Company, prohibition put a damper on the industry and it wasn't until the 1960's and 1970's when the commercial wine industry in Washington State really took off following professor Walter Clore's research and advocacy to change some of the laws that the state had enacted that prevents certain types of grapes from being cultivated commercially.
In the 1980's, Columbia Crest emerged as one of the leaders of the industry in Washington State and still pays homage to the work of Walter Clore through their Walter Clore Private Reserve.
By the 1990's the winery received several national honors including 1990 one of 24 "Best Value Wineries" in the world, in 2994, the 1990 Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon is the ONLY US wine awarded a gold medal at the "Challenge du Vin" in Bordeaux, France. Then in 1997, Wine Spectator named Columbia Crest one of the "Top 100 Wines of the Year" for the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1995 Estate Series Chardonnay.
This tradition of excellence continued in 2009 when the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was rated at 95 points and presented as the #1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator.
Not content to simply continue turning out award winning wines by themselves. In 2014 they turned to the community of passionate wine lovers and launched Crowdsourced Cabernet to give the community an opportunity to create a wine. As part of the program, Columbia Crest set aside 5 acres of grapes for the community to guide.
The program is a great resource for anyone who's ever wondered about the process of wine making as they allow you to vote on the process from harvesting the grapes to how much oak should be used to age the wine. Ultimately this even includes the blending process to achieve exactly the flavor profile that the community desires.
It will be very interesting to see how the community votes on both the 2014 that is currently in the process of being blended and bottled, as well as the 2015 that is nearing harvest.
Short of actually visiting the vineyard in person this is an amazing experience that you have to check out. Since I got back, I've actually found myself watching the "Vineyard Cam" wishing I was back there exploring some of the more than 2,500 acres of grapes that surround the tasting room.
While wine is affected by soil and weather, the other factor that shapes a great wine is the people. Everyone I met during our visit was amazing from Jaun Munoz-Oca, their head winemaker to the people that poured our samples. Columbia Crest has some of the finest wines that I've had the privilege to taste, but they are fun, affordable, and approachable.
While I am sure there are those of you who can defend why a $200 bottle is better than a $20 bottle, for most of us "taste" is the deciding factor and high prices can be scary.
I found that most of the wines we tasted were between $15-$40 and while that may be a LONG way from "2 buck chuck" and the discount aisle at the grocery store, we're talking about world class wines here such as their 2012 Reserve Malbec that I am absolutely in love with ($35) and their 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that got 91 points from Wine Spectator and 90 points from The Wine Advocate ($45).
However you can also get the 2013 Cabernet Franc-based red wine for only $12!
If you are a soccer fan, they've even got a special blend for supporters of the Seattle Sounders MLS team though I didn't have a chance to try that.
Truthfully, everything I tasted there was worth trying again and I can't wait to return again soon ...
The Columbia Crest tasting room is open daily from 10 am till 5:30 pm. Self guided tours are available daily from 10 am till 3:30 pm and guided tours are available on weekends during those same hours. Both are complimentary. We also recommend the Wine and Food Pairing Experience which provides an opportunity to learn more about the flavors and pairing opportunities for their wines. Cost is $25 pp or $15 pp for wine club members.
- Written by James Hills
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