Wine Country Experiences Washington

AS A WINE COUNTRY, the state of Washington is unlike any other. Most of the state’s vineyards lie east of the Cascade Mountains where, on average, the sun shines more than 300 days per year.

Published: 8/04/2016

AS A WINE COUNTRY, the state of Washington is unlike any other. Most of the state’s vineyards lie east of the Cascade Mountains where, on average, the sun shines more than 300 days per year. Yet, many wineries are located up to 200 miles away! Now home to more than 900 wineries and 13 appellations, Washington is teeming with wonderful wine country experiences. In the northwestern corner of the state, Seattle puts you in close proximity to a booming urban winery scene, the established wine region Woodinville, and wineries on the Puget Sound. In central and southeast Washington, the mighty Columbia Valley holds many “sub-regions” whose names have become synonymous with excellent wine. Spend time in the Yakima Valley, Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, Walla Walla Valley, and Lake Chelan—and don’t miss the Columbia Gorge!

Interesting places

The topographical diversity of the Yakima Valley is amazing. From national forests with lakes, streams, and rivers to far-reaching orchards, hop farms, and vineyards, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun. Plus there are several historic towns, including Prosser, home to the annual Prosser Balloon Festival, the Scottish Fest & Highland Games, and the Prosser Beer & Whiskey Festival. The town of Yakima, home to the Fresh Hope Ale Festival, is a great place to stay with a charming downtown. There are several urban-style tasting rooms, chic restaurants, and inviting hotels including the newly opened Hotel Maison.

In the eastern part of the Cascade Mountains, the town of Leavenworth oozes with Bavarian charm and northwestern hospitality. It seems as if there’s always something to celebrate in downtown Leavenworth, where a series of events take place all year long. There are more than 20 wineries and tasting rooms downtown, so it’s a perfect place to tour and taste by foot. What’s more, Leavenworth is in close proximity to four seasons of outdoor fun—from hiking and horseback riding to rafting, skiing, and sledding.

Walla Walla’s Foundry Vineyards is a unique winery that combines art and wine into one unique experience. The tasting room is actually a tasting gallery, with splendid art exhibits that rotate frequently. As you taste the wines, notice the labels, which are individual pieces of art. Outside, there’s a sculpture garden that should not be missed. Take a glass of wine along and explore.

Fun tours

Every Saturday and Sunday from March through December, Maryhill Winery hosts a brief complimentary “Glimpse of Maryhill” tour from 12 to 2 p.m. for guests who would like to experience a behind-thescenes view of Maryhill’s facility, fermentation and bottling process, and barrel room. Visitors can add some play to their day at one of the winery’s four tournament-quality bocce courts. Pepper Bridge Winery’s food and wine pairing class begins with a tour of the winemaking facility followed by a guided seated tasting in its cozy library room. As each wine is poured, another small dish prepared by a local chef is presented. Each delectable bite demonstrates how its carefully selected ingredients interact with the wine’s aromatic and flavor profile to enhance the experience on your palate.

At Mercer Estates, you can order a glass of Pinot Gris in the tasting room and take it back to where it originated—the vineyard. Walking paths have been established in this large family wine estate’s Pinot Gris vineyard to give guests the chance to fully experience the sights, sounds, and aromas of the place where winegrapes grow. As you admire the beautiful vista views, you’ll appreciate what’s in your glass even more.

The Heathman Hotel in Kirkland, just outside of Seattle offers a great way to spend a day: the Bon Vivant Woodinville Wine Tasting Tour Package. You’ll be whisked away in The Bon Vivant luxury tour van or mini-coach for a customized guided small group wine tour and tasting in Woodinville wine country. Stops include one or two of the large wine producers as well as three or four smaller wineries. And when you bring one or more of your newly discovered wines to the hotel’s Trellis Restaurant, they wave the corkage fee.

Just chillin’

In downtown Walla Walla, The Vineyard Lounge at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center is a gathering place for visitors and locals who love wine. You can sink into a comfortable chair and order from a long list of local wines or opt for a fun cocktail made from local spirits. Order something delicious from the tapasstyle menu and settle into the relaxing wine country vibe.

On weekends from May through October, Walla Walla’s Amavi Cellars hosts an exciting food truck owned and operated by Chef Rich Koby’s Plow & Vine. Enticing options, such as pasta tossed with seasonal ingredients and the Chef’s signature Smash Fries, are served from 11 to 3 p.m. but don’t count on ordering a particular dish on any given day. The menu changes week to week, due to Chef’s extremely local and seasonal food sourcing. Yum. On Walla Walla’s Westside, Three Rivers Winery overlooks its own three-hole golf course, which was designed by golf architect, John Stidell, for wine enthusiasts who’d like to practice their game while they enjoy a little time in the countryside tasting Three Rivers wines. The mini-course winds through a grass amphitheater with hole distances measuring 45, 115, and 35 yards. J. Bookwalter Winery’s Richland tasting room features an enticing onsite restaurant, Fiction at J. Bookwalter. Known for its fabulous Sunday Funday Brunch, the restaurant is open for lunch the rest of the week and for dinner nightly. Fiction serves the freshest local organic ingredients possible. Handcrafted pizzas, imaginative entrees, and delicious tidbits, such as bacon wrapped dates, highlight the menu.

A little yellow house serves as the tasting room for Woodinville’s Brian Carter Cellars. Its charming deck overlooks the Sammamish Valley with Mount Rainier in the distance. It’s a great place to sit back and appreciate the wines of Wine Press Northwest’s 2015 Washington Winery of the Year.

For a firsthand farm-to-table experience, The Resort at Port Ludlow offers The Farm Tour, a self-guided tour of three local farms. You select your favorite ingredients at each and then return to the resort’s Fireside Restaurant. The chef takes it from there and creates a personalized multi-course farm-to-table meal from the foods you’ve chosen.

Wine savvy

Perhaps the state’s best one-stop resource for wine education is Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser. It features intriguing exhibits on Washington wine and agriculture, tastings that showcase wines from a different appellation each month, and a fascinating wine shop with an array of special wines including those made by students of Washington’s four viticulture and enology programs. Check out the center’s schedule for monthly blind tastings and food and wine pairing seminars.

In Woodinville, for a hands-on opportunity to craft your own blend, sign up for a private wine blending seminar at JM Cellars. The informative two-hour class begins with an orientation to the blending process and sampling of several varietals. From there, you’ll use winemaking equipment and your palate to create your own blend. Once formulated, you will bottle, cork, label, and wax your wine to take home.

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2016 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.