Observing the wine industry changes from a statewide point of vi - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Observing the wine industry changes from a statewide point of view

Posted: Updated:

WASHINGTON - The wine industry is booming in Washington state, and many of the wineries are right here in our own backyard. So how much has the industry changed over the years?

Reporter Rex Carlin made it his mission to learn more about the growth and change wineries are making to keep up with demand.

If you take a look at the state of the Washington wine industry today compared to two or three decades ago, you wouldn't even recognize that it's the same area.

There are 26 times the number of wineries open for business today than in the late eighties and early nineties, and that number continues to rise - with a few important factors contributing to the industry's rapid growth.

The northwest wine industry is expanding at a rapid pace...and is not so secretly taking over an entire region.

Charlie Hoppes with Fidelitas Wines knows this firsthand.

Hoppes has risen with the industry and has seen the northwest wine industry grow to levels nobody could have imagined.

"When I first started in the late 80's there was 35 wineries, now there's obviously 900," said Hoppes. "It's gone from a small business, kind of a novelty business, to a really big force."

But how and why did this industry grow at such a rapid pace?

What has happened is a perfect combination of factors that blend as well as a good wine.

First; over the past few decades, wine experts and growers have found more and more areas in the region that are more than suitable to grow grape varietals. This led to more grapes being grown, which makes for easier access to the most important part of making a quality wine.

More grapes being grown and more wineries means more jobs, which means more students aiming toward a career in the industry.

"It really has shifted from this perception of a hobby, farm hobby, wine making operation, to very much an intent to study viticulture, study enology," says Rob McKinney, Columbia Crest V.P. of Operations, "to become either a grower or a wine maker or one of the other areas that help support this business in general."

It comes at a perfect time for an industry that is seeing a rapid expansion with tasting rooms opening all over the region.

And wine tasting has quickly become a trendy weekend activity...something that could have never happened without tasting rooms, which serve as satellites of the wineries themselves in wine-heavy areas such as Prosser, Walla Walla, and Woodinville.

"You have these areas where the tasting rooms are in one area, and it's really easy for somebody to park and visit several tasting rooms at one time," said McKinney.

As with growth in any industry, it takes a village to succeed.

The wine industry has become a major source of job growth throughout the region in areas people might not even connect to the industry itself.

Support businesses have sprung up rapidly to help wineries with everything from water usage to marketing to transportation and more.

"Equipment, manufacturing that they provide. Either bottling line equipment of wine making equipment, bottling production, those have popped up everywhere," McKinney said. "Many different companies have grown and developed because of the growth within the wine industry."

And even with 900 wineries in the state of Washington alone, they say there is still room for growth in an industry that doesn't plan on slowing down.