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State of Washington leads the way in promoting wine

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
July 23, 2003
It is not unusual to receive mail from individual wineries or distributors promoting their products.
It is unusual when an entire state sets up a marketing plan designed to sell more of the wines produced within its boundaries. California doesn't do it. Neither does Oregon, Texas, New York nor any other in which the production and sale of wine is a moderate to big business.
But the state of Washington has. Every month they send out by e-mail pages and pages of material about their wines, most of it informative, some of it pure hype. All of it, however, is interesting and well worth reading.
Washington State wine
This month's release carried a story about the birthplace of the Washington state wine industry which they identified as Prosser, a small town of 5,000 in the southern part of the state near the Oregon border.
It is the gateway to the Yakima Valley wine region and is home to many well known wineries. Among them is Snoqualmie, one of my personal favorites for quality at reasonable prices.
Famed Columbia Crest, probably vintage-year in and vintage-year out the producer of the area's best wines at bargain prices, is located at Patterson. Hogue Cellars, one of Washington's largest wineries is there as well.
They have banded together to create special events designed to attract tourists. In June, they sponsored a Vintner's Guild Summer Soltice and the Prosser Scottish Festival. On Aug. 9, the wineries will hold the Prosser Wine and Food Fair.
Sept. 26-28 features The Great Prosser Balloon Rally. All are designed to increase awareness of locally produced wines. Incidentally, many of them, particularly their cabernet sauvignon, merlot and riesling are available in Mississippi.
The state is best known for its merlot, among the country's best. Columbia Crest, year in and year out, produces merlot that is rated on a scale with the best from California and for far less money. When people ask me to recommend a good merlot that won't break the bank, Columbia Crest is always my first choice.
Now Washington state vintners have discovered the syrah grape will flourish in the Columbia Valley and produce rich complex fruit.
Columbia Crest's winemaker, Doug Gore, says this: "Syrah is at the same place merlot was 10 years ago, just before it became the star of the Washington wine industry. It's ready to take off."
He appears to know what he's talking about. Gore and Columbia Crest produced their first syrah as recently as 1994. Last year, the winery's 2000 reserve syrah placed No. 31 on the Wine Spectator magazine's Top 100 list for 2002.
Washington wineries
There are 45 wineries in Washington now producing syrah. Look for it to become very big on the American market. At the moment there is not one single syrah from Washington on the Mississippi ABC wine list. That will change.
Their association promotes more than just the state's wines. Washington State University produces cheese, as does our own Mississippi State University. WSU's comes packed in 30-ounce cans and is priced at only $14 or just over $7 per pound.
There's a reasonable $6 shipping and handling charge. But if the cheese is as good as their promotion piece claims, it will be well worth it. They're very fussy about when they will ship.
No order to Mississippi will be shipped until after Oct. 20 because of our warm weather. These dates vary from state to state. Ours is among the latest. If you're interested, their phone number is (800) 457-5442 or by mail it is WSU Creamery, P.O. Box 641122, Pullman WA 99164-1122. You can be certain we will try some at my house.
No one has ever argued with the familiar phrase, "It pays to advertise." That's what Washington State vintners are doing. In this time of overproduction in California, too many wines, too few customers, Napa Valley should start looking back over its collective shoulders.
Next tasting
A reminder: The next wine tasting is July 31 and will feature three chardonnays tasted head-to-head against three sauvignon blancs made by the same wineries. In that way we can judge quality as well as value received. While chardonnay is still the king of white wines, you will be surprised and pleased at how lovely today's sauvignon blancs have become and at substantially lower prices.
Guenoc, Stag's Leap and Chalk Hill, all outstanding wineries, have been selected for this tasting. The price is $25, and remember, we will be tasting seven wines the above six and a door wine. To make a reservation call 482-0930. The time is 6:30 p.m., the place Northwood Country Club and the public is invited. You do not have to be a member of the club to attend.