Special Interest Online Publications - Wine and Cuisine
Wine & Cuisine
By Gary Werner, Washington Wine Commission
Washington State is a land of discovery – quite literally. Much of our terrain remains
as vast and wild as it was when Lewis and Clark explored this region two hundred years ago. But modern explorers will discover something those early visitors never witnessed: a truly dynamic wine and cuisine scene.
Washington State is home to America’s second-largest wine industry. More than 600 wineries cultivate a world-class range of Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Riesling and many other classic varietals. This means everyone finds a favorite at our welcoming tasting rooms and wine shops.
Local flavor is ready to savor at our seasonal produce stands and farmer’s markets. Then it’s prepared and plated with pride by the innovative chefs who drive our vibrant restaurant culture. Sourcing from evergreen coasts, snowcapped mountains and sagebrush plains – Washington State serves a thoroughly satisfying gastronomic adventure.
Your journey can begin almost anywhere in the state, though many visitors start in Seattle. There is much to recommend here, and one required visit is the lively fish vendors and fruit stands at Pike Place Market downtown. Also at the market, DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine has elite treats to satisfy even the most serious gastronauts, including wine tastings every Saturday afternoon. Pike & Western Wine Merchants, located at the north end of the market, offers a large selection of Pacific Northwest wines and also has free wine tastings on Fridays.
Wine and food shops abound in Seattle, so expect to discover something special in whatever neighborhood you visit. The same can be said for the dining scene in town, which is nothing less than amazing. Top spots range from Wild Ginger, Tilth, El Gaucho, Canlis and the Harvest Vine across to Café Juanita in nearby Kirkland. Speaking of food and wine enjoyment, there is nothing else on the Seattle calendar like Taste Washington in April. More than 200 wineries and 60 fabulous restaurants come together with thousands of consumers for an always amazing weekend. If a quieter tasting is more your scene, the eight boutique producers of the South Seattle Artisan Wineries group host joint open house tastings on select Saturdays throughout the year.
Take the drive to Woodinville
Looking to wine and cuisine outside Seattle, visit the former logging town of Woodinville – the unofficial capital of Washington wine. Chateau Ste Michelle leads the state’s industry from its headquarters here by the Sammamish River. As the largest wine producer in Washington, the Chateau has excellent visitor facilities offering tours and tastings, as well as an impressive summer concert series and other special events throughout the year. Such success has inspired a thriving wine vibe across Woodinville. More than 40 wineries and tasting rooms now operate from this small town, and great visitor experiences include Columbia Winery and Januik-Novelty Hill.
While many smaller wineries are not open to the public on a daily basis, the Passport to Woodinville Weekend event in April allows you to sample these finely crafted wines and meet the people who make them. If you visit in August, join the entire state wine industry for a celebration called the Auction of Washington Wines, with a Thursday evening picnic and a Saturday night black-tie gala to support care at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Finally, on the foodie front in Woodinville, consider visits to top restaurants including The Herbfarm, the Barking Frog and the popular, casual Purple Café.
Yakima Valley: Sunshine and harvest
It may seem strange to experienced wine country travelers to see almost no vines around Woodinville. But that’s because the wine industry’s presence here has been driven by access to the buzzing Seattle market. The vast majority of the state’s vineyards are in central and eastern Washington, about a three to four hour drive from Seattle. There, beyond the mighty Cascade Mountains, the pervasive rain of the Pacific Coast is replaced by almost constant sunshine and a nearly perfect climate for wine, as well as excellent regional produce.
You’ll see for yourself as you descend into the vast garden that is the Yakima Valley. Stop by the Barrett Orchards’ Washington Fruit Place just west of downtown Yakima for delicious tree ripened fruit, especially cherries. Or very nearby, try local favorite Johnson Orchards. Both have packaged fruit ready to go; but if you stop in early July, you can pick cherries yourself! From May to October, you can also enjoy the farmer’s market in downtown Yakima every Sunday, or try the Saturday morning market in the town of Prosser.
Wine festivals are plentiful
On the wine front, Prosser’s Vintners Village development is becoming a hub for local enophiles. More than a dozen wineries operate tasting rooms within walking distance of each other in an attractive landscaped setting. There’s also the Prosser Wine & Food Fair, gathering dozens of wineries and local food artisans each August. For similar fun on a larger scale, look to the Sunshine & Wine celebration at the Central Washington State Fair in Yakima each June. However, if you’d like to savor regional wines without the crowds, consider the Spring Barrel Tasting open weekend at nearly 60 wineries across the Yakima Valley each April. You can enjoy samples of the new vintage with the growers and winemakers themselves. Finally, for great places to eat along the way, stop by Second Street Grill or the Greystone Restaurant in Yakima, or consider Picazo 7Seventeen in Prosser. A little further east, try Bella, a charming Italian deli in Benton City.
Red Mountain and the Tri-Cities
Rising above Benton City, you’ll see the gentle slopes of Red Mountain – and some of the state’s most sought-after vineyards, including Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval. Top spots for winery visits here include Hedges Family Estate and Kiona Vineyards, although many newer producers are sprouting on the mountainside – including Fidelitas and Hightower.
Driving further east, you’ll soon arrive in the Tri-Cities (the collective name for Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick). This is the population center of the vast Columbia Valley and a crossroads for great wine. Enjoyable winery visits here include Barnard Griffin, J Bookwalter, Tagaris, Goose Ridge and Powers/Badger Mountain. For the opportunity to sample wines from nearly 100 regional wineries in one setting, plan to attend the annual Tri-Cities Wine Festival. It features seminars, tastings and more each November. Finally, on the dining scene, notable local favorites include Anthony’s at Columbia Point – for fresh Northwest seafood and relaxing waterfront views.
Walla Walla: Sweet onions and “very very” fine wine
Another hour’s drive east is the historic community of Walla Walla, where art galleries and other boutiques line the town’s very traditional streets and reflect its recent wine-fueled prosperity. But well before Sunset Magazine named Walla Walla its “Wine Destination of the Year” in 2005, this town was known for its famous sweet onions. The Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival is still celebrated in mid-July and will provide you with plenty of arts & crafts and entertainment –
as well as sweet onions galore.
The area also grows scores of other fruits and vegetables, including fantastic asparagus and corn on the cob that you can buy at local farm stands. Plus, a weekend farmer’s market runs from May until October in downtown Walla Walla. On the subject of local foods, make sure to try some of the city’s best wine restaurants including Saffron and Whitehouse-Crawford. Also, CreekTown Café offers a great opportunity to hang out with local winemakers at lunch.
Tasting rooms and festive samplings
Speaking of local winemakers, there are an amazing number of tasting rooms to visit in and around Walla Walla. Popular spots include: Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No41, Reininger, Waterbrook, Cougar Crest and Three Rivers west of town; Pepper Bridge, Northstar, Gramercy and Waters south of town; Buty, Dunham and more out near the airport; plus Seven Hills, Spring Valley, Canoe Ridge, Nicholas Cole and too many more to mention downtown. Phew!
To sample several at once, consider the collective Spring Release event during the first weekend in May, and also the Holiday Barrel Tasting the first weekend of December. Both events include dozens of producers showing off some of their most anticipated wines. Another fabulous afternoon of wine and food fun is the outdoor Feast Walla Walla in April. More than a dozen restaurants and food artisans, almost 30 wineries, and many musicians and artists come together for a delightfully creative atmosphere.
Spokane features several excellent options
There is clearly much to see and sample across Washington’s wine and cuisine landscape. But it extends beyondthis admittedly amazing stretch from Woodinville to Walla Walla.
In Spokane, for example, more than a dozen wineries including Arbor Crest, Latah Creek and Barrister are building a dynamic local industry. You can sample the work of each of them at their Spring Barrel Tasting event on Mother’s Day weekend.
An encore to Seattle’s popular Taste Washington weekend is held in Spokane each June, features more than 100 state wineries pouring their new and old favorites. Regional restaurants also support the event, offering samples of their most savory dishes.
Wenatchee and Chelan are growing in popularity
At the center of our state, the Wenatchee Valley and Lake Chelan provide great opportunities for hiking scenic landscapes and recreation on the water. But this area is also home to some fantastic food and wine events. If you visit in May, enjoy the Spring Barrel Tasting hosted by almost all area wineries. In September, join the Taste of the Harvest festival in downtown Wenatchee. Also, top tips for individual winery visits across the region include Tsillan Cellars, Nefarious and Vin du Lac in Chelan – the lattermost hosting free Saturday evening concerts during the summer. In Manson, Wapato Point Cellars has wine and dine events every Tuesday, and wine and dessert events
Scenic drives lead to more options
In the Bavarian-themed resort town of Leavenworth, be sure to look for the tasting rooms for Kestrel, Ryan Patrick and Silver Lake. Finally, amazing scenery awaits visitors to Cave B Winery in nearby Quincy, with a welcoming inn, restaurant, spa and more.
In southwestern Washington, the Columbia River Gorge is famous for its breathtaking natural beauty and some of the world’s finest windsurfing. But this rugged corridor through the Cascade Mountains presents a real discovery for wine lovers who are willing to trace the Lewis & Clark Highway (SR-14) along the river. During the spring, enjoy the weekend-long Passport to a World of Wine with new releases and special reserve bottles at winery tasting rooms throughout the region. Top visits include Syncline Wine Cellars in Lyle, Wind River Cellars in Husum and Maryhill Winery in Goldendale. Also, summers at Maryhill are a particular treat, with concerts by national names such as BB King and Crosby, Stills & Nash at a captivating outdoor amphitheater. Finally, when this discovery drive inspires your hunger, consider the local, seasonal, organic menu at the Solstice Wood Fire Café in the pretty little town of Bingen.
The Olympic Peninsula’s Wine & Cheese
One final corner of the state’s gastronomic landscape awaiting discovery is the Olympic Peninsula. The artisan wineries here cluster around the town of Port Angeles and great visits include Camaraderie Cellars and Olympic Cellars. But all of the regional producers help host events such as the Northwest Wine and Cheese Tour in April. Join top regional cheese makers while they are on-site at local wineries and experience some mouth-watering cheese-and-wine matching. During the summer, there is a wine-themed Lavender Celebration, when the fields around nearby Sequim are in stunning bloom. Then during October, you can enjoy a tour of wineries as part of the region’s delightful Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival.
You’ve only just begun
Of course, this is just a sample of Washington State’s dynamic wine and cuisine scene. You’ll discover many other outstanding wineries and food artisans as you explore our state firsthand. No doubt even Lewis & Clark would be amazed. (For more information, visit washingtonwine.org.)
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