"We have a very special area up here," Upchurch said recently, standing on the second-floor deck of the winery, a new French-style château just outside Seattle, and surveying the surrounding land. The day was luminous and warm, snowmelt from the Cascade Range coursing through the Sammamish River in the valley below, the gardens on the 10-acre grounds histrionic with salmon- colored lilies. "You travel the vineyards and châteaus of Europe and then you look at this area and you can see where it's going to be in 50 or 100 years."
Of course, great or near-great things have been emerging from Pacific Northwest vineyards for years. Three grapes in particular have settled in. Pinot Noir has taken to Oregon's Willamette Valley as if it were at home in Burgundy. There are waiting lists just to get on the waiting lists for the masterful Merlots from such southeastern Washington producers as Leonetti Cellar. And top-flight Cabernet Sauvignon has made minor celebrities of a handful of Washington vintners at such wineries as Quilceda Creek Vintners.
Now comes the latest entry: meritage, a blending of grapes in the Bordeaux style, made with select fruit grown in the near-desert Yakima Valley east of the Cascade Range. But the true magic happens in the winemaking process. "A really good wine starts in the vineyard," Upchurch says. "But it becomes great in the cellar."