Far and away, Washington’s largest growing region is the Columbia Valley AVA.
Columbia Valley comprises roughly 11 million acres, grows more than 99 percent of the wine grapes produced in Washington, contains a whopping 10 sub-AVAs, and covers more than a third of the state — touching its central, south central, and southeastern regions (and even spilling over into Oregon).
Part of what makes the Columbia Valley such an ideal outpost for grape growing is its climate. Shielded by the Cascades, Columbia Valley sits in a rain shadow that dumps just six to eight inches of annual rainfall on the region. Rivers running through the valley make it easy to add any additional water and give growers the most possible control over their vineyards. Most notably, those growers produce merlot, syrah, riesling, and chardonnay grapes.
Cities and Towns
Given the enormous size of the Columbia Valley AVA — nearly 9 million acres covering a third of the state’s total land mass — it’s difficult to narrow down just a few cities or towns for exploring the whole region.
Rather, your best bet is to zero in on a specific sub-AVA (of which there are 10) and find a city or town to act as a home base for that region. Outside popular destinations like Walla Walla and Yakima, a few under-the-radar wine-tasting outposts include Wenatchee (for exploring the Wenatchee Valley and Cascade foothills) and the Tri-Cities (with easy access to six AVAs).
Key Touring Routes
Again, the Columbia Valley AVA’s enormous size makes it difficult to single out one or two specific highways — but knowing a few can help you navigate the wide-ranging region. Interstate 82 connects the Tri-Cities and Yakima Valley, U.S. Route 97 heads north-south through the Yakima Valley and Cascade foothills, and Interstate 90 travels east-west through the central part of the state.
At the far southwestern tip of the Columbia Valley AVA sits Maryhill Winery, with a regal tasting room that overlooks the Columbia River, acres of vineyards, and the surrounding Columbia River Gorge. Closer to the northern edge of the Columbia Valley sits Gård Vintners, and the winery’s tasting room in Ellensburg pours a variety of wines from its sustainable estate vineyards.
Please remember to designate a driver.
– Written by John King. Updated by Matthew Wastradowski in September 2020