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Washington wine country

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Did You Know … ?

  • A new winery opens in Washington almost every 15 days.
  • Washington averages 16 hours of daily sunlight in summer, one hour more than in California’s top wine region.
  • Yakima Valley grows more than 75% of America’s hops.
  • Uniquely, Washington’s vineyards are up to 200 miles away from where the wine is made.
  • Washington’s Walla Walla Valley is on the same latitude as France’s Burgundy region.

Grapes and snowcapped peaks

Washington is America’s second-largest wine producer, after California. It produces 40-plus varietals, roughly split between reds and whites, and the best of these have been rated among the world’s top wines.

The scenery in wine country, which may include snowcapped peaks for a backdrop, isn’t bad either. Washington’s vine-covered acreages — mostly east of the Cascade Mountains — begin in the foothills.

Washington has 13 American viticultural areas (AVAs). Although one of the 13 hugs Puget Sound in the state’s northwest, almost all the state’s grapes grow in viticultural areas east of the Cascades where the climate is considerably drier. These vineyards extend as far north as the Lake Chelan area but are more concentrated farther south, especially in the Columbia, Walla Walla and Yakima river valleys. Bottom line: Those who wish to see the vineyards and taste their wines in some proximity to them generally have to go east.

Wine tasting is another matter. Washingtonians transport some grapes across the Cascades for wine production. Dozens of the state’s nearly 900 wineries are at Woodinville in the Seattle metro area, and there are small wineries in Seattle itself. Grapes are transported from vineyards to towns east of the Cascades, too. In other words, visitors can sample the grape without straying far from Prosser, Walla Walla or Woodinville — or even Seattle.

On the other hand, for those who want a taste of wine country as well as the wine, there are wine trails galore; numerous travel companies ready to squire tasters, and a long list of wine festivities some of which take participants from winery to winery.

For oenophiles who like other adult drinks, too, Washington’s climate, soil and water also support beer, hard cider and hard liquor production. Visitors can tour production sites and/or enjoy tastings in all categories.

Finally, given the proximity of Washington’s vineyards and wineries to lakes, mountains, rivers and Indian reservations, there is a plethora of choices for wine lovers who want variety and some outdoor activity in their itineraries. Similarly, city lovers can combine urban diversions with wine tasting and wine-related events.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Choose the August Vancouver Wine and Jazz Festival, an outdoor event featuring more than 250 wines, fine arts and music — blues and jazz. (This Vancouver is in southwest Washington on the Columbia River.)
  • Sign on for a wine tour, available in all wine regions, eliminating the need for a designated driver. Some tours also include services of a guide.
  • For a change of pace, at Prosser in Yakima Valley, sample the goods at Blue Flame Spirits, a craft distillery making gin, vodka, whiskey and a grappa-style brandy. Try the chili pepper–infused vodka.
  • Plan your wedding set at a winery outfitted to host special events.
  • Bike the Inland Ale Trail, with 27 establishments on the route in eastern Washington and in parts of Idaho. Take one or more of the tours offered at the breweries.
  • Bring the food and wine for a picnic at a summer concert at Maryhill Winery in the Columbia Gorge wine region. The Lake Chelan and Benson Vineyards Estate wineries offer live music and dancing with their picnic options. (Besides, Lake Chelan — the lake — offers other diversions, including jetboating and waterskiing.)

Things to do for Centrics

  • At Lake Chelan, hop on the seat of an electric bicycle for a guided wine tour. You also may stop for a swim in one of the lakes seen on the route.
  • Combine a taste for beer as well as wine at the late-autumn Mount Rainier Fall Wine and Brew Festival in Ashford.
  • If tied to a city-based itinerary, plan around city wine events. Seattle hosts the Seattle Wine and Food Experience in winter and, in summer, the Rose Revival and later, Wine Rocks Seattle and another, Wine Tasting at the Zoo. Spokane covers the bases at winter’s Taste Spokane.
  • Washington is home to 33 wine trails, last count, covering the wine turf from the Olympic Peninsula to Spokane and Pullman. Choose your preferred region and follow the trail for the wines and the landscape.
  • Take a wine class at Chateau St. Michelle in Woodinville (just outside Seattle). Topics may include wine pairings, cellaring and serving techniques, wine styles and blends, or glassware. Columbia Valley winery in Woodinville also has classes.
  • Expand your holiday “research” into adult drinks with visits to the tasting rooms of one or more of Spokane’s cideries, which use Washington-grown apples. The city also is home to breweries, distilleries and, of course, wineries.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Mix wine and chocolate for a romantic weekend in February. Conceived with Valentine’s Day in mind, groups of wineries in several wine regions sponsor tastings that combine the two.
  • Look for wine tasting sites in Prosser or Walla Walla where you can taste the work of several wineries without having to drive from winery to winery. Ditto for Seattle and Spokane.
  • Eat fresh-caught fish in wine-growing regions near major rivers, Lake Chelan or Puget Sound.
  • Sip brews across Yakima Valley in the local Spirits and Hops Trail, with more than 20 stops to consider.
  • Choose wine events with a double theme, such as the summertime Prosser Art and Wine Gala. Other one-day events also combine art themes with wine, in Auburn, Ephrata and White Salmon.
  • Supplement the wine tastings with some quality time in one or more of the wine country’s farmers markets. Choose winefests that celebrates foods, too.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Washington Tourism Alliance at