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Washington State is one of wine’s better-kept secrets, although that is changing.

Now the second largest wine producer in United States, Washington made 11 million cases from 36,000 acres in 2009. Sure, you knew that.

Washington achieved this in one generation. There was virtually no wine making in the state until late 1970s. Today, there are more than 680 wineries. The industry employs 14,000, pumps more than $3 billion into state’s economy. More than two million visitors enjoy Washington wineries each year.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates dominates with its Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest brands selling two million cases a year. Ste. Michelle is nation’s seventh largest wine producer and controls 60 percent of Washington’s winegrape acreage. It enjoyed double-digit sales increase in 2010. Although it has earlier roots, Ste. Michelle planted its first vines in 1972 and took on its current name in 1976.

The state, naturally, touts itself. “Washington State is recognized as a premium viticultural region around the world,” boasts Washington Wine Commission. “Washington’s wine future is limitless. As consumers discover the quality of Washington wines, demand continues to grow nationally and internationally. New acreage and wine varietals are being planted and new wineries are opening at a remarkable pace.

“The state has ideal geography and conditions for growing premium vinifera wine grapes. Primarily grown on their own root stocks, the vines produce grapes of consistent quality, resulting in strong vintages year after year.”

It ain’t bragging if you do it. Washington does.

Next week, surprising story of Washington’s wine country.

Recommended (all Washington State):

• Covey Run Gewürztraminer. Off-dry, flamboyantly fruity. $10

• Columbia Crest Grand Estate Merlot. Cedar, spice and everything nice for the price. $12

• Charles & Charles Volume II Red. Cab-Syrah. Generously polished; green olives, dark berries. $12

• Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells. Great nose, dense fruits, balance. Superb. $18

• Nelms Road Merlot. Supple spice, fruity. Second label for stellar Woodward Canyon in Walla Walla. $21

• Tamarack Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley. Deep purple, easy on the palate, plenty of pleasure. $29