Twenty years ago, Washington winemaker Brian Carter had a hard time convincing East Coast wine drinkers that grapes weren't being raised under umbrellas in the rainy part of the Pacific Northwest.
"We've come a long way," said Carter.
Today, it is not unusual to see a Washington premium Merlot or Chardonnay listed on a New York City restaurant wine list, said Carter, chief winemaker and vice president of Apex Winery of Sunnyside.
Guest speaker at the Sunnyside Kiwanis Club's Thursday morning meeting, Carter said the past 20 years of wine making in Washington have been phenomenal.
When he began his career as a winemaker, there were only 2,000 acres dedicated to wine grapes in the state. This past year, more than 29,000 acres are covered with rows of some of the best wine grapes grown anywhere in the world.
Carter told the club members that the production of wine grapes now ranks as the fourth largest crop in the state and contributes more than $2.4 billion worth of business to the state.
"Today there are more than 240 wineries scattered across the various growing regions of Washington," Carter said.
He said the Yakima Valley was the state's first designated wine growing region. "Now, we are seeing more areas applying to be named as regions, including Red Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills," he explained.
"You can expect to see bottles of wines in the future with labels noting growing regions such as Horse Heaven and Royal Slope," he predicted.
Historically, wine grape have been grown in Washington state since it was a territory. Some of the earliest winemakers were from the Yakima Valley, including William Bridgman, who is honored by the Apex winery with a premium wine sporting the Bridgman label.
The industry dropped out of sight during the Prohibition era to resurface again in the 1950s as a minor force on the national market, according to Carter.
Since the 1960s, the state's wine industry has enjoyed renewed growth.
"In the Yakima Valley we are blessed with a desert climate which is favored by grapes," he explained.
"We are getting better at growing the grapes for wine, controlling the production of grapes, and adding new varieties, such as the Syrah and Viognier grapes which are proving popular among wine drinkers." he said.
"We are now faced with developing new marketing campaigns to attract the new wine drinkers," he said.