Americans are conditioned to think only in terms of the top. A silver medal isn't an acceptable goal (it won't get your face on a Wheaties box), and the job of vice president has never been considered a good career move (two words: Al Gore). And yet, some people seem to be quite happy in second placemost notably the winemakers of Washington State.
"We'll always be second to California," Chris Upchurch of DeLille Cellars said to me, sounding unaccountably cheerful. DeLille, a producer of Bordeaux-style reds based in suburban Seattle, was my first stop on a weeklong tour of the state. I knew Upchurch was talking in terms of volume, but he might have been referring to price. For even though Washington turns out some of the country's top wines, they're also some of the most affordable. While the state's largest winery, Columbia Crest, makes excellent Cabernets and Merlots for less than $15 a bottle, even boutique producers like Leonetti Cellar and Andrew Will Winery offer their much sought-after bottlings for about half the price of their California counterparts.
How do they do it? I wondered. Is Bill Gates funding new plantings with Microsoft money? Or are these winemakers simply less materialistic, content with smaller profits and correspondingly less fancy wardrobes? (They did seem to prefer Gore-Tex over Gucci.)