Washington is a state that mostly separates vineyards and wineries for wine production. Many wine houses in states like Oregon and California own both the vineyard and the winery, but it Washington that is often not the case. Although there are regions in the USA, such as New York, which do the same as Washington, it is rarely practiced to such an extent. One other region that practices the separation to the same extent is in Champagne, France. As you know, Champagne is a region, not just a description of French sparkling wine.
What explains this peculiar separation? There are a few reasons involved. One reason for this separation is that only part of Washington State has good wine terroir, and there may not be a desire to use the precious acreage on anything other than vines. Another reason for the split is a simple matter of skill. Vineyard farming is a skill about knowing how to farm grapes. Grapes are particularly sensitive to a number of environmental factors such as soil, sunlight, water distribution, and temperature. To a certain point, the farmer has to know the best time to pick the grape so that it produces the best wine flavor. In the meantime, the farmer worries about insects and birds, rot, or any extreme climate conditions that can spoil a harvest. In other words, experienced farmers run vineyards.
The skill involved in farming has nothing to do with wine making. When the winery gets the grapes, the decision to press the wine, ferment the wine, and blend the wine involves a little bit of wine making knowledge, and probably a fair amount of chemistry. To be successful, a wine maker can’t put a whole harvest into American oak barrels for a very long time so that the flavor is more oak than wine. Nor does the wine maker want to make a blending decision that renders a bad wine, nor age a wine past its peak or before its prime. The skill of wine making is not the same as vineyard farming.
On top of two skill sets there are two sets of staff. For any winery to own a vineyard, the financial resources need to be available. In addition, someone needs to oversee the head farmer and take over tasks like payroll, maintaining farm equipment, etc. For a vineyard to be willing to be sold to a winery there needs to be a financial or other strong incentive. Clearly in Washington State, there is inadequate incentive to join wineries with vineyards.
This means that wineries buy the grapes from vineyards, and when the vineyard is lucky and gets grapes from a special region such as Canoe Ridge, the winery can put the grape’s point of origin on the label. But unlike in other parts of the world, one cannot assume that a certain winery always produces wine from grapes of a certain region. As a result, there is less brand loyalty to a specific winery and more loyalty to wines whose grapes are from a certain region.
Diana Combs, Butlerway Lifestyle writer. She has written for Yahoo! Voices and loves all things wine related.