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Washington's Wine CountryJune 9, 2008 By: Michael Browne Travel Agent
A view of one of Washington's Red Mountain vineyards.
Over the past few years, Washington state has become a mecca for visitors seeking out winery and vineyard tours. As the second-largest wine-producing state in the U.S. (after California), Washington welcomes 2 million visitors to its wine country each year, and the number of wineries continues to grow—by more than 400 percent over the past decade.
On the Map
Vineyards on the east side of the Cascades grow 99 percent of Washington’s wine grapes. Seven of the state’s eight official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)/appellations are located here—the macro appellation of the Columbia Valley encompasses the smaller Yakima Valley AVA, Red Mountain AVA, Walla Walla Valley AVA, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope and Rattlesnake Hills (Washington State’s newest appellation). The Columbia Gorge AVA begins at the western edge of the Columbia Valley AVA and continues west and south to areas along the Columbia River in both Oregon and Washington.
Two other emerging regions benefit from the huge rain shadow created by the Cascade Mountains—the North-Central Washington region (often referred to as the Columbia Cascade region) and the Lake Chelan area (AVA application in process).
Almost every Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the year, Bon Vivant Wine Tours (206 437-1298) offers a scheduled tour from Seattle that individuals, couples or small groups of three to six may join on a per-seat basis. Among these “public” tours, which are kept to small groups of 10 or fewer for a better wine touring experience, are:
The Woodinville Wineries Day Tour (from Seattle, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.). As home to the headquarters’ estate of Chateau Ste Michelle—Washington’s largest, oldest and most famous producer of fine wines—the town of Woodinville has become a center of the Washington wine industry. Just 25 minutes from Seattle, Woodinville also includes the public facilities of other major producers and a growing number of smaller family-owned wineries, which specialize in small-lot premium wines. On the Woodinville day tour, clients will visit one or two of the larger producers, as well three or four smaller winemaker-owned wineries.
A luxury touring van or mini-coach will pick up and drop off guests at their downtown Seattle hotel or other convenient Seattle meeting place. Most days, the tour will stop at an attractive and reasonably priced restaurant and wine bar; if the weather is fine, the tour may visit a local delicatessen or other takeout food provider, for guests to purchase food for a picnic stop at a local winery.
Scheduled tour pricing is $79 plus tax per person, $69 plus tax per person for purchases of four or more seats.
Other tours include the Seattle City Wineries Day Tour ($79 plus tax per person, $69 plus tax per person for purchases of four or more seats), which takes guests to unique— sometimes hidden—wineries in and around the Seattle metropolitan area, and the North Sound (Bainbridge Island and Olympic Peninsula) Overnight Tour ($129 per person, per day; $119 for purchases of four or more seats) of some of the most distinctive small wineries in Washington state, great mountain and marine scenery and a country getaway without going too far from Seattle. As part of the latter tour, guests will take a Washington State Ferry to Bainbridge Island and then drive from Bainbridge to the Kitsap Peninsula, cross the Hood Canal Bridge and visit wineries in the Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles areas. For overnight lodging, Bon Vivant offers several choices of accommodation in the Port Angeles area. Dinner on the first night will be at an excellent and reasonably priced restaurant in the area.
Further east, in the Walla Walla Valley, Blue Stocking Tours offers two-night wine-and-dine packages that include a stay at the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel, the only luxury hotel in the center of downtown Walla Walla. The first night, guests will dine at the hotel’s restaurant, The Marc, offering regional and seasonal ingredients merged with the inspired Pacific Northwest cuisine from Executive Chef Bear Ullman. The following day, a complimentary breakfast starts off the day as guests prepare to visit six to eight local wineries, tasting through the diverse and award-winning wines of the valley. A gourmet box lunch will be offered along the way. That night, guests are treated to a sumptuous, three-course dinner, paired with area wines in one of the valley’s finest restaurants. Contact Blue Stocking at 509-522-4717. Half-day and full-day tours are also available.