The Puget Sound AVA is home to a wide variety of grapes. The climate in the PS AVA is quite varied but is cool and mild. It is very similar to the climate in the Loire Valley and in Burgundy and in Germany along the Rhine river. Those regions in Europe are defined by mild and cooler temperatures that produce clean, crisp and low alcohol wines.
While grapes have been grown in the Puget Sound AVA in a commercial fashion for well over 100 years, it wasn’t until the late 1970s when Gerard Bentryn of Bainbridge Island Vineyards decided to plant a new vineyard on Bainbridge Island. Gerard traveled the vineyards of Europe to discover what grapes might grow well in the Puget Sound climate and discovered many grapes that would work well.
The three top grapes that he planted are Sieggerebe, Madeleine Angevine and Muller-Thurgau, all white grapes and characterized by their early ripening, easy drinking, low alcohol properties. Pinot Gris is also another grape that works well in the Puget Sound AVA. There were other minor grapes planted like Leon Millot and Island Belle but they never had much of a following.
In the 1990s a new surge of wineries and new knowledge lead to growers experimenting with red varieties. The largest plantings by far are of Pinot Noir. Gerard also experimented with Pinot Noir by planting the “Pommard” clone and had fairly good success. A new wave of clones brought into Oregon in the 1990s spurred growers to try these new “Dijon” clones. These clones were known to ripen earlier, have higher levels of sugar and had darker fruit. Gary Moulton (formerly at WSU Mt. Vernon research station) did extensive trials of these clones in the 2000s. The top clones being planted in the Puget Sound AVA now are 115, 667 and 777 with great success. Many new vineyards have gone in with these new clones.
Gary Moulton also opened the door to new varieties from around the world that he experimented with. Many of them posses fungus fighting attributes so important to the Puget Sound AVA when the rain moves in during September and October. Top among these new grapes is a relatively new grape from Germany called Regent that is highly fungus resistant.
The truth is that many, many different grape varieties will grow and ripen successfully in the mild climate of the Puget Sound AVA. Some people have experimented with grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, both grown in the Burgundy region. Hollywood Hill Vineyards was the first to plant and produce commercial quantities of Chardonnay in the Puget Sound AVA.
Some names you might hear from new growers include: Zweigelt, Garanoir, Golubuk, Ortega, Rondo, Iskorka and Auxerrois. All chosen to ripen in our climate and produce superior wines!