When Washington Governor Christine Gregoire took a shot at the California wine industry Monday, she got a big laugh from supporters. But as it turns out, there may not be a whole lot of validity to her statement.
During the signing of a capital construction budget that allotted $5 million for a wine research facility in Richland, Wash., Gregoire recalled a trade mission to Europe where she was asked about California wine.
"They make jug wine. We make fine wine," she said. "We're the second largest producer, but no one holds a candle to the quality of Washington state."
According to a wine expert, her statement was a half-truth.
"I think the comment would probably be more accurate to say that Washington cannot keep up with California when it comes to making 'jug wine,'" said Certified Sommelier David LeClaire, owner and CEO of Wine World in Seattle.
LeClaire said there are few wineries in Washington that are capable of producing "jug wine," while California has many vineyards who can offer "mass-produced wine at a very affordable rate."
"When it comes to the high quality wine, I think Washington and California are very equal. It's the inexpensive wine that we have a hard time competing with."
But the award for overall quality may go to California as well.
When Wine Spectator ranked the world's "Top 100" wines of 2011, only one Washington winery was worthy of the top ten.
Baer Winery's Ursa Columbia Valley 2008 earned the sixth spot for its "suppleness and pure flavors," while three California wines ranked among the top ten, with the Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2009 taking home honors for Wine of the Year.
But LeClaire said that fine wines produced in Washington would beat out those in California for value.
Of all California wines tasted by Wine Spectator in 2011 (2,753), the average price per bottle was $71. The price for an average bottle of Washington wine tasted (722) was $44.
If price were not an issue, however, "California would be nudging ahead of Washington in a lot of categories."
"I think if you were to make the assumption that Washington does high quality wine and California does 'jug wine,' that would be insulting," LeClaire said. "I don't think she really meant that all their wine was 'jug wine.' She's just supporting the team."
Steve Warner, executive director of the Washington State Wine Commission, agrees that the governor's comment was not meant as an insult.
"I think the point the Governor was making is that Washington state is so unique, and because of that uniqueness the quality has consistently been there," Warner said. "I think the governor was just stating that she fully stands behind the people and the industry and we do make high-quality, fine wines."