Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with the Washington State Wine Commission for eight days, to several of the state’s wine regions, laced with highways and byways that provide inspiring and changing scenery. The journey began in Walla Walla Valley and Red Mountain, continued in Prosser through the Cascade Mountains and on to Woodinville, about 30 minutes northeast of Seattle where emerging boutique wineries bring together the state’s broadest mix of winemakers and styles and where tasters can customize their own oenological paradise over several neighborhoods. Our wine finale ended in Seattle with the Taste Washington wine and food festival. We sipped at least 20 wines a day for over eight days.
Not only did I meet more female winemakers than anywhere else I’ve traveled, I learned that Washington State wine is the second largest producer of wine in America after California. But the state is having somewhat of a wine identity crisis. Should Washington wine be marketed from the state or the numerous regions like Walla Walla, Yakima Valley or Red Mountain? Should Washington State be known for one type of wine when so many varietals (over 70 and growing) are being made? One thing is certain – Washington State is not hung up on old-world notions. There are over 1,100 wineries. Expand your mind and palette with a Washington State wine experience.
12 Memorable Wine Experiences in Washington State
Taste Washington (Seattle)
Discover local produce and the ever-growing wine scene at Taste Washington, the nation’s largest single-region wine and food festival, where over 250 Washington wineries gather to pour their varietals at the Lumen Field Event Center in March alongside some of the state’s best restaurants.
Alongside wines we enjoyed from Colombia Crest, Col Solare, Monet & Chardonnay (mobile paint and sip), Cataclysm, and Vibe Cellars (from Lake Chelan), we devoured a bevy of local cheeses, pates, foie gras, and mousses, along with shrimp bites and desserts. Comedian Eddie Ortiz led festive bubbles and bingo games.
As part of Taste Washington, visitors can sign up for winemaker dinners and wine seminars with a blind wine tasting and a panel of wine experts. The New Vintage with dance party is a walk-around tasting experience with wine, spirits, and food while the Grand Tasting evenings allow guests to mingle with winemakers and chefs that are pushing Seattle to the forefront.
Stay: No need to be sleepless in Seattle. Book a room at The State Hotel, a new boutique property in a historic 1904 building located a half block from Pike Place Market. Not only do rooms come with uber comfy beds, lobby breakfast pastries and gourmet treats, but views of the Bay and waterfront, too. Fall in love with the chic lobby design and the hotel’s restaurant Ben Paris where masterful cocktails are served alongside classic dishes with imaginative spins. Try the Salmon Poke Nachos, Sauteed Clams, and Duck Confit pasta.
Northstar Winery Wine Blending Experience (Walla Walla)
What better way to learn about wine than to sample from five barrels to determine your flavor preferences, before creating your own bottled red blend using science and different percentages to lead you to your very own medley.
Sip a variety of Northstar’s highly acclaimed Merlots where winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld blends New World Fruit with an Old-World winemaking style, influenced by Bordeaux’s “Right Bank.” Cork your own bottle and design your own wine label. Our vino mixture was heavy on Red Mountain Merlot with added Columbia Valley Merlot and Petit Verdot. Reserve this 90-minute experience in advance ($125 per person) with a maximum of 6 allowed per appointment.
Spring Valley Vineyard Farm Supper (Walla Walla)
Described as “Dark fruit aromas mixed with herbal, dusty and almond notes,” the 100% Cab Franc was one of the most memorable wines we sipped in Washington State while the spicy 2017 Frederick Red Blend was also a palate pleaser.
The family’s roots here date back to the mid-1800s when Shari Corkrum Derby’s grandfather, Uriah, began farming in the area. Today, every grape is tested by hand, including crop thinning, leaf pulling and harvesting. Come appreciate Spring Valley Vineyard’s history by sampling extraordinary 100% estate-grown wines by booking a farm supper here any day of the week for six or more.
Young female winemaker Kate Derby Raymond who is the great, great-granddaughter of Spring Valley founder Uriah Corkrum, reminded us that “wine is like a feeling.” The family’s wine labels preserve their history and family stories. Spring Valley’s Vineyard’s Uriah Red Blend was voted 17th and then 13th in the world by Wine Spectator.
Caprio Cellars Free Food and Wine Pairing (Walla Walla)
Bordeaux blending is Caprio Cellars’ strength. There are a lot of similarities between Cabernet Sauvignon in Walla Walla and Napa due to minerality from the soil and fractured basalt, providing the conditions to grow big strong Cabs.
The beautiful new tasting room built in 2019 offers a phenomenal food and wine pairing for FREE when you reserve in advance. In-house Executive Chef Kyle Daniel creates seasonally inspired small plates from a custom-designed food truck kitchen next to the tasting room specifically paired to enhance each wine. Guests can expect exquisite offerings like garden salads with local organic produce, duck confit, Italian meatballs, and baklava. There is a 20-person max seating in the tasting room for each wine pairing.
Founder and winemaker Dennis Murphy was named by the Wine Industry Advisors as The Most Inspiring Wine Person in 2022. He moved to the area 24 years ago to learn how to make wine and planted his first vineyard in 2005, releasing Caprio Cellars’ first wine in 2010. He shared that he would like to plant Petit Verdot, making Caprio Cellars an estate with all 5 varietals. With Caprio Cellars’ award-winning 100% estate-grown Bordeaux varietals, be prepared to want to buy every bottle.
Treveri Cellars Sparkling Wine House Bubbly Flight in an Igloo (Yakima Valley)
At this sparkling wine house in Yakima Valley, start your day with bubbles at Washington’s first sparkling wine house. Owner and head winemaker Juergen Grieb was born and raised in Trier, Germany where he received his formal winemaking and sparkling wine degrees. After applying for a winemaking job in 1982, he has been in Washington State making wine ever since. Fun Fact: Yakima Valley became an AVA in 1983, a year after Napa.
Juergen and his son Christian produce cool sparkling wines marrying Washington fruit and German roots. Try the Treveri Cellars Sparkling Muller-Thurgau (hybrid between a Riesling and Silvaner grape) or Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc while our favorite bubbly was the Treveri Cellars Brut Prestige, a timeless classic bringing the best cuvees for the year into one bottle using traditional champagne grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).
Spend an afternoon sipping handcrafted 100% varietal methode champenoise sparkling wines (sparkling wine or bubbly cocktails) on the wrap-around covered patio seating that extends to numerous outdoor tables with vineyard views on every side. In colder months, find enclosed igloos where cheese and charcuterie plates are available for purchase.
With a wide variety of terroir, Washington State can produce expressive wines that are fruit-forward and balanced. But the best part is that they are affordable – most around $20 or less a bottle. Treveri ‘s sparkling wines can also be found at Butcher’s Daughter in Los Angeles and at Morimoto Restaurants around the world. The sparkling wines have been served at the White House and US State Department and on the wine lists of some of the Pacific Northwest’s top restaurants and bars.
Yellowhawk Sparkling Wine House Resort Sparkling Tasting Flight with Weekend Brunch (Walla Walla)
In 2020, this 84-acre hilltop retreat atop the Blue Mountains became a sparkling wine house resort where winemaker George-Anne Robertson produces Yellowhawk sparkling wine, including a sparkling Malbec, Semillion, and Red Blend. Sip a tasting flight and dine on the patio in warmer weather paired with their epic caramelized sweet onion dip with spiced chicharrones, charcuterie, and cheese, or weekend farm-inspired brunch.
This enchanting wooden and stone historic home reminded me of something you might see in Aspen or the edge of the Grand Canyon (like El Tovar) as the grand estate with wooden beams, high vaulted ceilings, and angular windows frame the view and pool. Stay longer by renting the one-bedroom pool house or the 14,000 square foot estate house with 8 bedrooms and 6 baths surrounded by the estate vineyard.
Hedges Family Estate custom wine flight + Champagne Sunday Brunch (Red Mountain)
Winemaker Tom Hedges reminds us that, “Wine should be built on history, not ego.” One of a few vineyards in America to receive the Green Emblem Award by Michelin for biodynamic farming and sustainable practices, the French-inspired chateau tasting room is family owned and operated tending to the riches of Red Mountain, one of the smallest and hottest AVAs.
Tour the gardens, learn about biodynamics, and reserve a Sunday in advance from 11 – 3 PM for a tea sandwich-inspired brunch at Hedges Family Estate with a glass of Hedges labeled French champagne. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 AM – 5 PM, sip a custom flight of red blends, Cabs, Syrahs, and Rosés.
14 Hands Cake and Wine Pairing (Prosser)
While we had a hard time deciding if we liked the Reserve Merlot ($40) from Horse Heaven Hills or the 2019 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) at 14 Hands better, try the wine and cake pairing where moist Nothing Bundt Cakes are matched with three winery-exclusive Reserve wines. Dubbed “Bundt Bites and Wine Flights,” the big fruit-forward reds are extraordinary but don’t miss the crisp juicy whites and bubbly rosé.
The inspiration for 14 Hands wines recalls a time when wild mustangs once freely roamed the hills of eastern Washington, measuring 14 hands high. These small horses would travel down from the hills every day to drink from the mighty Columbia River and graze upon the waist-high grasses along the riverbank and then retreat back up into the hills to cool off at night. The little horses became known for their endurance and were revered around the world. The landscape that gave these unbridled horses their spirit and tenacity today feeds the vines of 14 Hands.
JM Cellars Wine Tasting in a Lushly Wooded Oases (Woodinville)
A woody serene 7-acre setting in Woodinville is where you might expect fairies or gnomes to pop out from the trees offering you a sip of vino. Thirty minutes northeast of Seattle, JM Cellars has been crafting wine since 1998 in Woodinville. This former home, once a dairy farm in the Pacific Coast woods, is surrounded by flowers and Douglas fir trees and is now used for weddings, events, and tastings.
Winemaker John Bigelow sources wine from across the state and stomps his own grapes. They make 5-7000 cases a year with quarterly releases, almost all being sold to wine club members. Reserve a time online to visit this oasis and cuddle up at the fireplace or outdoor fire area with a special tasting.
Sample JM Cellars Pinot Noir made with Sonoma grapes, a sparkling wine made with Puget Sound grapes, a Chilean wine called Carmemere, or our favorite, a stellar port made with grapes from Portugal inspired by John’s trip up the Douro River. This Tawny Port from JM Cellars blends 3 vintages, creating a dark ruby red showing deep cherry, blackberry, and raisin flavors and aromas. No need to finish in one sitting, as this bottle can be stored in a cool, dry environment lasting 4-6 weeks. Sip with dark chocolate desserts or blue cheese.
Patterson Cellars Beignets and Bubbles for Brunch at Barking Frog (Woodinville)
Create your own pairing of beignets and bubbles as the Barking Frog Brunch Menu offers perfectly crafted warm beignet ‘dough balls’ with powdered sugar and huckleberry or apple pie cream cheese frosting. Patterson Cellars is the official winery for the Willows Lodge hotel and spa and since Barking Frog is located a few steps away, all you need to do is walk back to your hotel room after your bubbly brunch. May we suggest the 2020 Patterson Cellars Blanc de Blanc to begin?
DeLille Cellars Modern Wine Tasting Room (Woodinville)
DeLille Cellars was the first winery in the state to focus on both red and white Bordeaux-style blends. Voted Bested Tasting Room by Seattle Magazine in 2021, this Woodinville winery located in a 3-story modern tasting room reveals the unique terroir of Washington through the European art of blending as guests can sample over 20 of DeLille’s wines.
Delille Cellars’ well-known 2019 D2 red wine blend ($50) showcases the beauty of Washington State Merlot from the Columbia Valley and is named after the D2 highway that leads through France’s Bordeaux wine region. Our favorite blend was the 100% Red Mountain Four Flags Cabernet with 4 vineyard sites on Red Mountain where winemakers are experimenting with grapes on various elevations (which is not a mountain nor is red). Stay for dinner next door at The Lounge, an upscale restaurant helmed by Chef Michael C Toni.
Just 30 minutes outside the city, there are 117 wine-tasting rooms and 127 wine brands in a 5×2 mile area. The winemakers in Woodinville said the area’s slogan is “Drinking the entire state.” Stay at nearby Willows Lodge with 84 newly refreshed rooms with Japanese Zen vibes and cozy fireplaces.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Igloo Experience (Woodinville)
In colder months, reserve a wine tasting for 2.5 hours in a private heated insulated waterproof igloo outside at the chateau that put Woodinville on the map for wine and remains the state’s oldest and most acclaimed winery. A gourmet charcuterie spread in the cozy igloo pairs well with the 2020 Red Blend from Columbia Valley or Chateau Ste Michelle’s Luxe Brut Sparkling Wine.
Less pretentious and way more affordable, is Washington State America’s best-kept wine secret? I think so.
Pro Tip: Alaska Airlines lets you check a case of wine for free when you fly from 32 west coast cities.
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