"Underappreciated" is not a term that can be easily applied to the wines of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) anymore. As the wines of the West Coast continue to come around the bend from extracted, fruity Californian mammoths to a more restrained style, eyes and palates continue to wander north to cooler climates. The misconception of most PNW wines miraculously growing on the unprotected rainy shores of Puget Sound still perplexes some folks, who wonder how they can reach such great heights in one of the world’s most famously wet areas – not just that, but an area that set a new record for total rainfall this winter.
In fact, the PNW sports some of the most significant rain-shadow effects in the winegrowing world. The narrow, steep High Cascades (with the aid of a handful of massive volcanoes) protect the flatlands of Eastern Washington from the weather typically associated with the region. In fact, in these desertous regions, emphasis is almost exclusively on varieties that love the heat and sun, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.
On the other hand, down in Oregon, the weather buffeting the coast is milder, so the lower peaks of the Western Cascades have the same effect. Due to this, the great vineyards of the Willamette Valley are significantly closer to the coast, and in more fertile ground. This balance is what allows the excellence of Pinot Noir, a notoriously finicky grape, in Oregon. In such cozy and predictable conditions, but without the searing heat of California, it’s no wonder the “Oregogne” moniker has come into vogue.