English Estate shows its age with vines planted decades ago. ##Photo provided

Southwest by Southwest

Washington wineries organize for official appellation status

By Viki Eierdam

While Vitis vinifera grapevines have been growing in Southwest Washington since at least 1971, the lesser-known wine region has struggled to gain momentum. For the first several years, Salishan Vineyards in La Center stood as the lone winery, until English Estate planted vines in east Vancouver in 1980 — opening its doors in 2000. Slowly, but steadily, another winery followed, and then another. The last decade witnessed the greatest growth, and now, the Southwest Washington Winery Association (SWWA) is poising itself for major collaborative marketing and continued strides toward AVA (American Viticultural Area) status.

Established in 2016, the SWWA has increased from a respectable 11 wineries in 2018 to an impressive 17 in 2019; more growth is expected. With more than 20 tasting rooms in Clark County alone, SWWA has the potential to double its numbers when considering the reach of Lewis and Cowlitz counties, as well. Counting other affiliated businesses or individuals, SWWA currently consists of 40 members.  

While the SWWA’s first couple years focused on structuring the association and establishing annual events, now the focus centers on laying the groundwork for an AVA. Much work still needs to be done, but Roger Rezabek, owner of Rezabek Vineyards and chair of the AVA task force, says they’re close to finalizing proposed boundaries.

He says the southeastern-most border will be near Washougal and edge into Skamania County. It then follows the Columbia River westward and north, to Longview, continuing north along the I-5 corridor to the Thurston County line, and then east to approximately the point where elevation rises to 1,000 to 1,200 feet. Returning south, topographical contour lines trace back through Lewis, Cowlitz and Clark counties, staying below 1,200 feet. Most vineyards are located at the 150- to 850-foot elevation range, with a couple exceptions nearing 1,200.

Although no name has been officially decided, two favorites remain Mount St. Helens AVA and Southwest Washington AVA.

The AVA task force, consisting of eight winery/vineyard owners, has been busy uncovering vineyards within the proposed boundaries. Predominantly in Clark County, 130 to 150 acres of wine grapes spread over 38 vineyard sites. Another member of the task force, J.C. Culper, says that figure is closer to 50 when considering plantings as small as a half-acre.

In Clark County alone, more than 20 different varieties of wine grapes grow, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Madeleine Angevine, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Semillon and even Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Several vineyard owners are also experimenting with early-ripening hybrids, such as Maréchal Foch and Léon Millot; while others are banking on obscure varieties, like Golubok and Zweigeltrebe.

The last two are being cultivated at Stavalaura Vineyards in Ridgefield. Owner/winemaker Joe Leadingham chose the red varietal after learning of its success in Northern Europe, close to the same latitude as Southwest Washington. Golubok is best described as an intense, earthy wine, heavier and darker than Cab. Although the wine develops its hue from skin contact, its inkiness derives from the pigment in its pulp.

Rezabek describes Southwest Washington as a maritime climate with a shorter growing season than the other side of the Cascades. Even still, Sauvignon Blanc harvested on his vineyard site in 2018 delivered at 25 brix, a pleasant surprise.

Most soil in rural Clark County is influenced by glacial floods. Clay loam, more specifically Hockinson, Hesson, Hillsboro and Cinebar, exists in a number of different places.

In 2018, SWWA assembled and presented a vineyard display for the Clark County Fair. More than 700 people walked through the exhibit, allowing the group another chance to share its narrative. For its efforts, SWWA won an Agricultural Education award. 

Richard Meyerhoefer, president of SWWA and owner of Emanar Cellars in Battle Ground, says, “Collaboration makes a big difference. Since SWWA formed, we’ve noticed a big jump in attendance at our annual events, like the Memorial Day Spring Wine Release. People are coming from across the river with passports and the association wineries are experiencing marked increases.”

Other annual events include: Valentine’s Wine and Chocolate, Labor Day Weekend Food and Wine Pairing and Thanksgiving Weekend Barrel Tasting. Passport booklets can be purchased for these special events.

Since its inception, the SWWA board has aimed to host their own wine event. On May 11, this dream became reality as 16-plus wineries representing only Southwest Washington converged on the historic Pearson Air Museum for Savor Southwest Washington Wine; an all-inclusive four-hour wine and food showcase. In addition to nearly 60 wines, six area restaurants served small bites specifically made for the wine-focused afternoon.

For more about the Southwest Washington Winery Association, go to

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