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When Craig and Vicki Leuthold opened the Maryhill Winery in 2001, there were about 100 wine producers in the American state of Washington. That number has since grown to more than 1,000 wineries this year, and that growth is likely to continue.
Maryhill Winery is part of that growth. The business makes 60 kinds of wine. It recently opened tasting rooms for its products in the cities of Spokane and Vancouver, Washington. It also is in the process of opening a tasting room just outside Seattle.
Our timing was great, Craig Leuthold told The Associated Press. "Washington wine has really increased in popularity."
The state of Washington has become a force in the wine industry. It has the second-highest number of wineries in the United States, after California. But California, which has around 3,700 wineries, remains a much bigger part of the industry than any other state. It sells more than $40 billion worth of wine nationwide.
Within the United States, wines from California are the top sellers, followed by wines from Australia and Italy. Steve Warner noted that Washington finished in fourth place. Warner is president of Washington State Wine, the industry's trade group.
More Washington wine is sold in the United States than French wine, he said.
The state's wine industry earns about $2.4 billion a year and adds more than $7 billion a year to the state's economy, Warner said.
Washington's wines are always highly rated, he added.
We are competing against wine regions with 28 generations of winemakers, who were doing it before America was a country.
Warner noted most of the industry's success comes from the state's climate and soils. Grapes, the small round fruit used to make wine, like long sunny days and cool nights.
Grape growers in the central and eastern part of Washington enjoy those conditions. The area also gets little rainfall compared with other grape-growing regions, which is a plus, said Warner.
Thomas Henick-Kling is director of the wine studies and grape growing program at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. He said the state still has plenty of available land at reasonable prices in wine country.
The land being set aside for wineries is expanding. Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 10,000 hectares of grapes. Today there are nearly 24,000 hectares.
Washington also has skilled farmers and winemakers, graduates of winemaking programs at several local colleges, Henick-Kling said.
Washington's growth is no surprise, as the number of wineries and wine consumption continue to grow in the United States.
Jens Hansen retired from the U.S. Air Force, moved to the Seattle area and decided to become a winemaker.
Hansen received the 1,000th active license to operate a wine business. He now owns the Uva Furem winery in the city of Maple Valley.
I feel like the Washington wine community is a lot like the Air Force in that everyone looks out for each other, he said.
About 70 grape varieties are grown in the state, with the most popular red wines being cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Chardonnay and white Riesling are the most common white wines.
Most of Washington's wineries are fairly small.
But Steve Warner said that more investors from outside the state are joining the industry. It also helps that Washington has long had a lot of wealthy people who work for companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon and have money to invest.
I'm Pete Musto.
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