Washington State has granted its eighth federally-recognised American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Wahluke Slope, located near the Saddle Mountains in south-eastern Washington, has more than 20 vineyards, one winery and two wine production facilities within its 81,000-acre region.

There are also plans to open several new wineries in the region.

Wahluke will be awarded appellation status by the US Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) on 6 January 2006.

Washington Wine Commission executive director Robin Pollard said: "Wahluke is one of the state's premier wine growing regions. Government approval of the AVA will allow the industry to distinguish the quality fruit produced on Wahluke Slope and differentiate itself among global competitors."

The Wahluke Slope AVA, which lies in the centre of the Columbia Valley AVA, has 5,205 bearing acres, representing nearly 20% of the total wine grape acreage in Washington state.

The initial plantings at Wahluke were white varietals such as Riesling, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, but red wine grapes now make up 80% of total acreage, used for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.