With its dark blue colored fruits and high juice content, Merlot varietal grapes have long been a favorite of wine producers around the globe, with it being found in vineyards across Europe, the Americas and elsewhere in the New World. One of the distinguishing features of Merlot grapes is the fact that they have a relatively low tannin content and an exceptionally soft and fleshy character, meaning they are capable of producing incredibly rounded and mellow wines. This mellowness is balanced with plenty of flavor, however, and has made Merlot grapes the varietal of choice for softening other, more astringent and tannin-heavy wines, often resulting in truly exceptional produce. Merlot is regarded as one of the key 'Bordeaux' varietals for precisely this reason; when combined with the drier Cabernet Sauvignon, it is capable of blending beautifully to produce some of the finest wines available in the world. Since it began in the 1820s, wine-production in Washington state has gone from strength to strength, with many of the finest United States wines coming out over the past twenty years hailing from this region. Today, the state is the second largest US producer of wines, behind California, with over forty thousand acres under vine. The state itself is split into two distinct wine regions, separated by the Cascade Range, which casts an important rain shadow over much of the area. As such, the vast majority of vines are grown and cultivated in the dry, arid desert-like area in the eastern half of the state, with the western half producing less than one percent of the state's wines where it is considerably wetter. Washington state is famed for producing many of the most accessible wines of the country, with Merlot and Chardonnay varietal grapes leading the way, and much experimentation with other varietals characterizing the state's produce in the twenty-first century.