The setting is elegant, the food divine, the wine fine and endless and magnificently diverse. On a Sunday evening in June, the Grand Pennington Ballroom at Spokane’s Davenport Hotel is filled with representatives of more than 60 Washington wineries and 20 area restaurants, caterers, and markets-and hundreds of Washington wine devotees.

Taste Washington has paired samplings of Washington food and wine, much to the gathering’s enjoyment. In the process, the celebrants are supporting Washington State University’s fledgling Viticulture and Enology Program and the School of Hospitality Business Management, as well as the Davenport District Arts Board.

A celebratory note also resonates among the participants who have learned that, due to successful lobbying by the Washington Wine Commission, the Washington legislature has earmarked nearly $1 million to support the viticulture and enology program. The funding will support two Cooperative Extension positions, one in enology and one in viticulture. It will also provide one-time money for two-and-a-half faculty positions and for renovating a laboratory at WSU Tri-Cities for enological purposes.

Washington ranks second nationally only to California in wine production. Both acreage and reputation have experienced a meteoric rise since WSU’s Walt Clore and others convinced Washington farmers that they could indeed grow European vinifera grapes. Washington wine production reached 17 million gallons in 2002, with 240 wineries currently in operation throughout the state.

And in the Grand Pennington Ballroom, a chef from Walla Walla’s Whitehouse-Crawford serves me a little pancake topped with Walla Walla Sweets, green peas, and salmon. He is flanked by representatives of Tamarack Cellars, Patit Creek Cellars, and Seven Hills Winery, all of whose merlots are perfect with this treat. From the balcony overlooking the ballroom, Gordon Brothers Winery’s Jeff Gordon is extolling the merits of another auction offering, this one donated by Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, and the bidding begins.

This is one of those fortunate places where everyone is smiling-at the gustatory pleasures that fill the ballroom, at the conviviality, and at this very bright spot in Washington’s agricultural economy.