Raise a glass to Washington's wine industry

Washington is working hard to maintain the aerospace industry's vigorous presence in the state, but another event in the news is a reminder of the rich dynamic that sustains the economy.

The Washington State Wine Commission and Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau will collaborate to produce and expand the nation's largest single-region wine and food event held annually in Seattle.

Taste Washington will grow from one day to two days, and be held March 31 and April 1, 2012 at CenturyLink Field Event Center. Celebrity chefs and wine-industry celebrities will be featured in seminars on Saturday, and the Taste Washington Grand Tasting will dazzle and educate palates for two days.

The goal is to continue to grow into a national destination event, said wine commission spokesman Ryan Pennington. Taste Washington already attracts more than 3,000 wine and food enthusiasts to sample the delights of more than 200 Washington state wineries and more than 60 Pacific Northwest restaurants.

The two organizations decided to have each do what they do best. The wine commission, a state agency created in 1987, will coordinate its constituents, and the visitors bureau will concentrate on the tourism and hospitality elements.

A four-year-old study, in the process of being updated, put the state wine industry's annual economic impact in the United States at $4.7 billion. The commission represents every winery and wine-grape grower in Washington, and their work is self supported. No taxpayer money is used.

The nearly 750 wineries in Washington and 350 grape growers nurture an economic food chain that creates and touches 19,000 jobs from the vineyard to the retail outlet.

Wine exports are a relatively small portion of overall economic impact, Pennington said. But the opportunities exist for expansion.

South Korea last week ratified a free-trade deal with the U.S. that lifts a 15 percent tariff on wine. Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell notes that during fiscal year 2010, 24 percent of the wine exported from the state went to South Korea.

There was not a dry eye in the South Korean parliament as the trade agreement was approved. The already intense emotions over the topic were leavened by tear gas released by protesting lawmakers. The potential market opportunities created for Washington farm products, including wine, is $52.8 million a year.

Raise a glass to Taste Washington and the new partnership that will power it. All those cheeky little varietals help give the state's economy a healthy glow.