Photos and story by Ann Hattes
Winery hopping in Washington is an unforgettable journey with its magnificent vineyards that lie in the same latitude as the great wine producing regions of France. Often the person pouring your samples is the winemaker so ask questions about the distinctions between grapes, harvests and bottling.
A fine way to celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend is sampling newly released wines at Yakima Valley wineries (www.yakimavalleywine.com). For a truly delectable indulgence, come back for the Red Wine and Chocolate festival every President’s Day Weekend (February) for sumptuous chocolate confections coupled with a wonderful red wine.
Nearly 60 wineries are within an hour’s drive of the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco and Richland; (www.visittri-cities.com), located at the heart of the Columbia Valley. The area annually boasts more than 300 days of sunshine making it popular with vintners and golfers alike.
During the month of December celebrate Holidays in Wine Country with Columbia Valley Wineries (www.columbiavalleywine.com). Sip and sample at Preston Premium Wines (www.prestonwines.com), the state’s oldest family-owned winery; Columbia Crest (www.columbia-crest.com) Washington’s largest winery; Badger Mountain (www.badgermtnvineyard.com), the state’s first certified organic vineyard; and Terra Blanca (www.terrablanca.com) with Washington’s first barrel-caves.
In early December enjoy Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend (Dec. 6 & 7, 2003) at Walla Walla (www.winesnw.com/walla.html) area wineries, less than half a day’s drive or quick 45 minute flight from Seattle or Portland.
Washington – Wine Region of the Year 2001
Washington State is known round the world for its apples, cherries, oysters and hops. Then in 2001 Washington was acclaimed Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. “In less than 20 years we have gone from basically nothing to what you see today with world class wines winning world class competitions,” states David Lowe of Wineglass Cellars (www.wineglasscellars.com).
Washington State’s northerly latitude allows for an average of 17.4 hours of sunlight during the summer growing season, two more than California’s prime regions. The extra daylight allows grapes to ripen fully and cool nights allow the fruit’s natural acids to remain high, creating richly flavored and well-balanced wines.
COLUMBIA VALLEY (www.columbiavalleywine.com)
Preston Premium Wines (www.prestonwines.com)
Preston Premium Wines is one of a handful of over 170 wineries in Washington now run by a 2nd. Generation. Since 1976 Preston has been making Gamay Beaujolais Rose, rare for a Washington winery. A good bridge between reds and whites, Gamay Beaujolais Rose is a light rose with hints of cranberries and strawberries. It makes a great complement to ham and turkey dishes as well as grilled hamburgers.
Barnard & Griffin (www.barnardgriffin.com)
Visit Rob Griffin, a third generation Californian who got interested in the art of fine wine making during his grade school years, at his Mediterranean motif tasting room within walking distance of Bookwalter Winey (www.bookwalterwines.com). Bookwalter, with the addition of “celebrity” winemaker Zelma Long as consultant, continues to “push the envelope” in producing wines. Zelma, with a career in Napa/Sonoma spanning 30 years, is recognized as one of the early technical leaders in winemaking.
YAKIMA VALLEY (www.visityakima.com)
In the Yakima Valley, situated 140 miles or 2 & ½ hours east of Seattle, meander down Interstate 82 to exit 40, continuing your trip on Yakima Valley Highway. Pick half a dozen places or more to explore. For an introduction to Northwest wines, you might start at the Barrel House (www.BarrelHouse.Net), a wine bar in the old historic district of downtown Yakima.
Bonair Winery (www.bonairwine.com)
Mount Adams towers above Bonair Winery featured as one of Washington’s “Best Places to Kiss.”
“The Yakima Valley is the oldest and finest wine producing region in Washington. It’s a secret that most wineries in the state do get their grapes from this valley,” says (Mr.) Gail Puryear, Bonair’s winemaker.
“When we built the winery in 1985, it was the first winery in the Yakima Valley,” adds Shirley Puryear, Bonair’s President and CEO. “We used to live in Napa 30 years ago and Napa then was like Yakima now. You have to look for a place to stay and look for a place to eat. That’s what makes it fun.”
Wineglass Cellars (www.wineglasscellars.com)
When the Lowes, who used to be one of Bonair’s best customers, started Wineglass Cellars they knew nothing about making wine. “There isn’t another winemaker I can’t go to for help, opinions, advice,” comments David Lowe. “You can’t find that anywhere else in the world. One of the reasons Washington is so strong with Cabernet is because we work together,” he concludes.
Kestrel Vintners (www.kestrelwines.com)
“We have some of the oldest plantings of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay in the state,” explains Kestrel Winery’s winemaker Ray Sandidge. (Kestrel took over the vineyard in 1995.) Kestrel Vintners craft wines that may be enjoyed ten to fifteen years after the respective harvest. Kestrel barrel ages some of their red wines for 24 months prior to release and may bottle age them for one or two years after that.
WALLA WALLA VALLEY WINERIES (www.winesnw.com/walla.html)
Walla Walla wineries in Washington’s southeastern corner are about a 4 & ½ hour drive or a 45-minute flight from Seattle or Portland. For perspective, Gallo produces 760,000 cases a day, which is twice as much as the Walla Walla wineries together produce in a year.
Three Rivers Winery (www.threeriverswinery.com)
Veteran Washington winemaker Charlie Hoppes concludes that the most interesting wines are crafted at the blending table. Three Rivers’ Meritage is the signature wine and the first assembled blend of the vintage. Hoppes crafts the wine for harmony, balance and longevity.
The Meritage Association (www.meritagewine.org) helps wine consumers identify wines that represent the highest form of the winemaker’s art, blending.
Meritage wines are handcrafted, red or white American wines blended uniquely from the “noble” Bordeaux grape varieties. To use the Meritage name the wine must be a blend of at least two of the traditional red or white Bordeaux grape varietals, with no single varietal making up more than 90% of the blend.
Every corner of Washington has an adventure awaiting the wine lover.