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Visiting Washington Wineries

by Peter May » Sun Jan 05, 2020 8:01 am

We are planning visiting Washington State to attend the American Wine Society Conference to be held in Bellevue, Seattle.

We are intending staying 2 weeks in WA in October to visit wineries before the conference. We are considering staying in Kennewick as it's close to both Yakima and Walla Walla AVAs.

All comments or suggestions will be most welcome.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Bruce K » Sun Jan 05, 2020 1:10 pm

For what it's worth, I'd strongly recommend staying in Walla Walla over anywhere in the Tri-Cities. It's a pretty, now-vibrant town that I think would be much more enjoyable as a home base. A further advantage is that the wineries based in Walla Walla are all either downtown, a few minutes outside of town, or at most a 20-minute drive away. Plus, in my somewhat biased opinion, I think there are more interesting, innovative wineries in Walla Walla (Cayuse, Reynvaan, Rotie, Maison Bleue, etc.) than elsewhere in the Columbia Valley.

That said, if you are spending a full two weeks, you could do a week or 10 days in Walla Walla and the remainder in Tri-Cities or Yakima. Or you could add on a day or two in the Columbia Gorge, where a growing amount of interesting winemaking is happening. Or, in the opposite direction, Lake Chelan.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Peter May » Mon Jan 06, 2020 7:37 am

Thanks Bruce, very informative.

One question, what is/are 'Tri-Cities'?
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by David M. Bueker » Mon Jan 06, 2020 9:20 am

Democracy dies in the Senate
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Jenise » Mon Jan 06, 2020 3:52 pm

I'm with Bruce; terrible plan. You'll drive your ass off and in the meantime you're in Nowhereville. Kennewick's very populous (and growing) because it's geographically an apex for agriculture, industry and big box retail as served by rail and highway, but it's not a vacay destination. I spent 24 hours there last year because it was the only place I could get service for my Mercedes van which had developed an issue. I would never voluntarily go back. Yakima, the self-described (with self-deprecating tongue firmly in cheek but nonetheless) "Palm Springs of Washington", is not a whole lot better, but the Mexican food in that area is fantastic. And there are certainly some very good wineries most people haven't heard of but should, like Co Dinn.

Still I'm not sure I'd send someone to Yakima for wine-tasting. It's not 'pretty'. And I certainly wouldn't ahead of the Columbia Gorge. The Columbia Gorge is just jaw-dropping BEAUTIFUL. It's its own world. The wines have a different minerality and structure than anywhere else in the state and I have several favorites there. Just imagine this: in the space of a 25 mere miles, west to east on the north side of the mighty river, you go from cool-climate for pinots and white grapes to warm climate for Italian and Rhone varieties. One second there are forests next to you and the next golden brown cliffs of basalt. I can tell you where to go to see Indian petroglyphs. The Oregon side is to my eye less lovely, but there are excellent wineries there too. It's the only two-state appellation in the country and for uniqueness it has no equal.

And you have to visit Marysville, which the Miz might appreciate. Not so much the winery (though for the view it's a wonderful place to have lunch) but the mansion Sam Hill built for his bride Mary who ultimately never lived in it. An eccentric rich man from the East Coast, he wanted to establish a peacenik religious utopian community dedicated to ensuring that we never had another World War (we need him now, don't we), and of all things he thought building a replica of Stonehenge there on the river would help.

The drive across the camas from Yakima to Golden, on the Gorge, is one of the most stunning drives in this state, too. There's a town next to Yakima, name starts with a T but I can't think of the whole of it, that's very western, and the buildings are painted with fabulous murals. Then you're in the wide open that passes through several different style of forae from forest to desert savannah to vast fields of wheat, and you're likely to see wild horses roaming. I have, every time I've driven it. Somewhere on the internet, and maybe even in this forum, you can find an incredible article about the Gorge written about ten years ago by the former San Fran Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonne. It will convince you, if I haven't.

Go to Marysville, go to the Gorge, and then go to Woodinville just north of Bellevue to pick up, in a very small area relatively speaking, all the wineries you may not have been able to visit in Walla Walla. WA has over 1000 wineries now and at least half of them seem to have a tasting room in Woodinville.

You're probably just starting a list of wineries to visit, but do you have any planned already?
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by John S » Mon Jan 06, 2020 4:01 pm

I agree with Bruce K, the Tricities area isn't a great base for an extended period. Maybe stay there one night to visit the nearby Red Mountain wineries? Walla Walla is a much more interesting town with better food options and many more wineries. Three or four days would be plenty of time to spend there. There aren't really many great wineries in the Yakima region. Definitely put Woodinville on your list, as there are many, many tasting rooms centred there (its on the northeast edge of Seattle, about 20 minutes from downtown). There is also a small area in southern downtown Seattle that has a few tasting rooms. The Columbia Gorge is a great scenic drive with some interesting wineries as well. You can get to Walla Walla using that route.

Two weeks is a very long time for just staying in Washington, and I'd recommend going to Oregon as well if you haven't been there before. You are relatively close to the Willamette Valley in Oregon (about a 4-5 hour drive from Seattle), and if you are a pinot noir fan then that is a great destination (I'd recommend staying in McMinnville, but Portland is an interesting city as well, though about 30 minutes from the wine region itself). Four to five days in Oregon would be a good option in my view, if you don't mind the drive (or you could fly). But you would need a rental car to visit all these regions.

Jenise just beat me with her post, which provides great info too!
Last edited by John S on Tue Jan 07, 2020 1:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Jenise » Mon Jan 06, 2020 4:14 pm

Sounds like we're all on the same page but yes re the Red Mountain wineries. I hadn't thought of that, since it's otherwise rather desolate an area and I myself haven't visited it (other than to have some very bad Mexican food). It's on my list of things to do just haven't been able to squeeze it into my stays in Walla Walla.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Peter May » Tue Jan 07, 2020 8:06 am

Thanks, John & Jenise.

We have no plans to go to Oregon, we have a very limited time and the 2012 AWS Conference was in Portland and we visited Willamette Valley, and of course Melrose Winery near the CA border :P

So we will stay in WA, but I know nothing about WA wine scene (or geography) except there has been a real boom in wineries since we visited Ch Ste Michelle in the 1980s :)

The AWS will be organising day trips to Woodinville - and they say to Walla Walla but that's such a long way from Bellevue and I don't see how they can unless its a very early start - but I don't want to be in a coach for that amount of time.

But we haven't fixed on anything except the dates we fly in/out Seattle and the dates of the conference, so we are grateful or all suggestions
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Jenise » Tue Jan 07, 2020 10:26 am

Check out the geography. Nested within the Walla Walla Valley AVA, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater which might be Washington's most important AVA these days because of star resident Cayuse Winery, resides entirely on the Oregon side of the Valley. The two other most significant AVAs are WW for the original heavy hitters like Leonetti, and Red Mountain which is the current hotspot for sturdy, elegant cabernets.

You don't need to go to or anywhere near Willamette, but don't rule out putting a toe in Oregon when you're in Washington wine country because you're almost there.

Anyway, we clearly can't help you until you do more investigating.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Bruce K » Tue Jan 07, 2020 11:00 am

If you do spend time in Walla Walla, I'd suggest not only visiting the wineries but also driving around to see some of the vineyards, which will give you an idea of the wide range of soil and climate in a very small area. For example, there's the Upper Mill Creek vineyard as you approach the Blue Mountains on rolling, Loess-covered hills, and the vineyards just east of Walla Walla like Les Collines, also on Loess. Driving south into Oregon (just 10-15 minutes or so), the Rocks vineyards are stunning as Jenise noted, and couldn't be more different. From some of those vineyards, you can look up into the hills and see Seven Hills and Sevein vineyards on very different terrain. And from the Rocks, you can drive up parallel to the Walla Walla river and see some promising new higher-elevation vineyards. Then, when you taste at the wineries, you can get a sense of how different the various terroirs are.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by John S » Wed Jan 08, 2020 5:25 pm

With two weeks available, not including the conference dates, I think we are saying (at least I am) you definitely have a lot of time. You could almost see every nook and cranny of the WA wine regions in that time frame. If that's your plan, then just identify the regions you want to visit - and plan from that list. The Woodinville and Walla Walla region have the most wineries, and Walla Walla has the best infrastucture for wine tasting (obviously the Seattle/Woodinville area does too), so these areas should probably take a fair bit of your time. Lake Chelan is a very different region, more cool climate, and that might be worth a look (although it could also be ignored). Red Mountain is a key grape producing region, but only has 6-8 wineries to visit, so can be done in a day. The Yakima Valley has a fair number of wineries, but only a relatively few high quality wineries. The Columbia Gorge has a few wineries and is very scenic.

So a possible itinerary could be taking the inland route from Seattle (Hwy 90, perhaps Hwy 2 if the weather cooperates, as it is a more scenic drive), go to Lake Chelan for a couple of days, then go to Yakima for a day or two, go to Red Mountain (Tricities) for a day, then to Walla Walla for 3-4 days, then down the Columbia Gorge (Hwy 84) for 2 days and back to Seattle. That's about 2 weeks. Of course, this all depends on how many wineries you want to visit each day, how much of each day you want to be doing other activities, how many hours per day you want to drive, etc. There are so many unknown variables regarding your preferences, it's hard for me to be more explicit.

You could definitely do a side trip if you wanted - Vancouver, Oregon, Victoria, gulf islands? - if you aren't interested in Lake Chelan and/or the Columbia Gorge or just do a more thorough review of other WA wine regions I haven't mentioned above (e.g., Horse Heaven Hills).

Some useful websites to identify the different AVAs in WA:

https://www.winesnw.com/wahome.html
https://www.washingtonwine.org/wine/facts-and-stats/regions-and-avas
https://www.seattlemag.com/article/best-wines-washingtons-winegrowing-regions
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Peter May » Thu Jan 09, 2020 12:59 pm

Many thanks for all the info.

We are now studying all your recommendations and advice and going to make a plan.

We have already booked the flights, first night's hotel and a car.

Today I also had a reply from AWS, they are planning a organised trip to Woodinville on the Thursday before conference and still in planning is a trip to Walla Walla starting on Monday 26 Oct returning Thursday. But we've already paying for the car so we'll do Walla Walla on our own and take the AWS Woodinville trip
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Jenise » Thu Jan 09, 2020 5:02 pm

Peter, I would advise you not to rely in totality on the AWS for providing you with all you need to experience about the opportunities in Woodinville. There are somewhere between 150 to 200 tasting rooms there. Many have their base winery in Eastern Washington but also open tasting rooms for Western Washington/greater Seattle metropolitan area exposure, and many--including some of Washington's best--are actually Woodinville-based wineries like Delille, Obelisco and Avennia. Western Washington (but outside of Woodinville) is also home to our other rockstar winery, Quilceda Creek, and highly regarded wineries like Andrew Will.

The AWS will most likely only take you to those that 1) agree to handle a crowd and 2) have bus parking. They'll probably only visit four in a day. Your experiences at each will be slowed down by the number of others in your group. You might want to add a few more days in Seattle at the end of your trip to catch up (or dry out). You certainly don't want to leave Seattle without going up in the Space Needle or visiting the Chihuly gardens. Or, hey, getting on a ferry to go have lunch on one of the islands. Well worth doing, that.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by wnissen » Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:51 pm

This is an interesting thread, as someone who lives fairly close to Washington but has spent almost no time visiting wineries. Thanks to all.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Peter May » Tue Jan 14, 2020 12:58 pm

An update:

Thanks to all who have shared their knowledge. On your advice we are not going to stay in Kennewick, but after our first night in an airport hotel (21 Oct) will drive to Walla Walla and stay there 6 nights. We aim to stay at a hotel in walking distance of a choice of restaurants (as we have wine with dinner :)

Then we go back to Bellevue/Seattle for the AWS conference, including tour to Woodinville on Thursday 29.

We fly back on Tuesday 3 Nov so have time on Sunday and Monday to visit wineries not visited by AWS. On previous AWS winery visits we have been given tasting by the owner and/or winemaker with wines not usually poured in tasting room and as the bus has been small its a small group.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by John S » Thu Jan 16, 2020 5:34 pm

Again, I would suggest visiting the Red Mountain area on the way from Seattle to Walla Walla, and so it might be worthwhile to stay in the Tricities area (Kenniwick is one of the three cities) - which is about 20 minutes away from Red Mountain - for one night. That allows you to stop at L'Ecole 41 and Woodward Canyon the next day on the way to Walla Walla as well. Also, 6 nights might be a little much in Walla Walla, but if you looking to do in depth visits, you will certainly have a lot of time to do so. For example, you'll have time to dip into Oregon (15 minutes away) and check out the Rocks district vineyards (not many tasting rooms in that area yet). Five nights would still be a lot of time to stay in Walla Walla.

Also, some wineries in Woodinville are only open on the weekends, so plan accordingly. There are still many tasting rooms that are open 7 days a week, but some of the smaller producers are only open weekends.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Peter May » Sat Jan 18, 2020 1:10 pm

Thanks John

But there seems to be missing examples after 'For Example'

Ah - I guess you edited your post while I was writing the above. Many thanks
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Jenise » Sat Jan 18, 2020 3:10 pm

I will add to John's note that I consider Woodward Canyon and L'Ecole MUST visits. These were among the first five or six wineries in the state--true pioneers and the quality of their wines have stood up over time.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by John S » Sun Jan 19, 2020 6:20 pm

Peter May wrote:But there seems to be missing examples after 'For Example'


Bruce K's earlier comments provide some great examples of things to do in the Walla Walla region. You could also perhaps go to the Horse Heaven area, near the upper Columbia River.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Jenise » Sun Jan 19, 2020 7:15 pm

I still lobby for dipping a bit south to visit a few wineries along the geological masterpiece that is the Columbia River. You'll never see anything like it anywhere else, and no just because you laid eyes on it in Portland doesn't mean you've seen what's possible just 30-50 miles upriver.
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Re: Visiting Washington Wineries

by Peter May » Mon Jan 20, 2020 7:49 am

Will do, Jenise.

Jo definitely wants to see the Columbia River

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