OLYMPIA — When Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the United States in January, the White House rolled out only the best. It turns out the best includes Washington wine.
It seems the other Washington has learned what we have known for a long time -- our wines are among the best in the world.
The fertile land already famous for our delicious apples, cherries and sweet onions has earned international acclaim for its arbors.
At that White House dinner, two Washington wines were featured: a 2005 cabernet sauvignon from Quilceda Creek Vintners and a 2008 Botrytis riesling from Poet's Leap Winery by Long Shadow Vintners.
Poured for our state's No. 1 trading partner, it was a fitting reminder of the relationship that our state and China share. It also signaled that Washington wines are top in their field.
While March officially marks Washington Wine Month, any time is a good time to celebrate Washington's bounty. Wine is good for the economy, it's good for our growers and some say it's even good for the heart. From Walla Walla to Woodinville, from the Columbia Gorge to the San Juan Islands, the quality of Washington's wine is off the map.
Last month, as is tradition when you are head of the National Governor's Association, I toasted the president and the first lady on behalf of all 50 states at a White House dinner.
I sent a message in advance to the White House that if they didn't provide a Washington wine to fill our clinking glasses, I'd bring my own and pay for corkage! We celebrated our nation with another delightful Washington wine, a 2008 DeLille Estate Chaleur Blanc.
These selections weren't made by coincidence. Nor are they an overnight success. They are the results of decades of hard work, the fine talent of our 700 wineries and 350 dedicated grape growers, and 40,000 acres of rich Washington soil.
Thirty years ago, a group of winemakers determined that the 46th parallel could be a suitable place for wine grapes. Some people called them crazy. We now call them visionaries.
Our wine industry contributes more than $3 billion to the state economy. It employs more than 14,000 people, directly or indirectly. Our growers aren't in it for just the passion -- they feel the joy of growing something from the earth, watching it bear fruit and getting it in the bottle.
What they don't always get to see is the joy their efforts bring to so many others: to celebrate a special occasion, meet new friends, or, in the case of the state dinner, bring nations together. It is an enviable pursuit and one of which to be proud.
Remember that Washington wines (and our other craft beverages) are not only good, they also are part of what makes our state great.
This time of year, for those of us on the west side of the mountains -- it's nice to be able to open a bottle of wine and taste a bit of Eastern Washington sunshine.
* Chris Gregoire has been the governor of Washington since 2005.