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Oregon Pinot Noir is Renowned. Why Doesn’t the Variety Excel in Washington?

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Washington State grows more than 100 grape varieties and produces world-class bottlings out of many, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Riesling and Merlot. One grape, however, has consistently eluded the state: Pinot Noir.

It’s not for lack of trying. Pinot Noir was first planted in Washington in 1941. Despite that long history, as of 2017, the variety makes up less than 1% of current plantings, and much of the fruit is used for sparkling wine. To date, most attempts to make still Pinot Noir have been more dalliance than full embrace, and the results, at best, more intriguing than illuminating. The state’s distinct lack of success with Pinot has been particularly dissonant given Oregon’s well-deserved accolades.

Photo Courtesy of House of Smith

One producer, however, is looking to change the current calculus. House of Smith, founded by Charles Smith, is launching an aggressive Washington Pinot Noir project.

“We’re pushing all of our chips in on this,” says Brennon Leighton, winemaker at House of Smith, which includes the brands K Vintners, Sixto, Substance and others. “We felt like the potential was there for [Washington] Pinot Noir. We just felt like we had to find the right microclimates, we had to find the right soil types and we had to find the right aspects to produce this wine.”

Doing that, however, would not prove easy.