Washington is the second-largest wine-producing state in the United States and has had exponential growth over the past thirty years. Starting out with just 20 wineries in 1980, the state now is home to over 1,050 wineries and over 60,000 acres of vineyards. Just imagine these wineries and vineyards laid in amongst the Pacific Northwest with visions of outdoor escapades and fresh local fish, fruits, and vegetables. So, it would be natural to check flight prices for the perfect reset on a Washington wine country vacation.
In every area of the state, you’ll find trails, rivers, and the topography due to how the area formed eons ago—one that still affects today’s winegrowing and viticulture. Sculpted by ancient volcanic eruptions and the Ice Age Missoula Floods, Washington is undulating landscapes providing epic scenery, outdoor adventures, with soil types prime for grape growing. But where to begin?
West of the Cascades
Seattle & Puget Sound
The state is home to the Cascade Mountains that run from North to South, separating the East and the West into two distinct wine-growing locations. West of the mountain range is rainy Seattle and its luscious green outposts and coastal regions, and it’s where you’ll start after deplaning in Seattle.
No, Seattle doesn’t immediately make you think of wineries, but it is home to burgeoning growth of urban wineries and sits within the Puget Sound AVA. The AVA itself is only home to 120 acres of vine, but there’s plenty to taste. Depending on your liking, visit the famed Pike Place Market or head up the Space Needle. Check out the multiple museums and beautiful parks like Green Lake or Discovery and wander off to some of the wineries setting up shop amongst the bustling streets. You can taste some Bordeaux-style blends at Welcome Road Winery or Pine Lake Cellars in West Seattle. Or head to SoDo Urbanworks on 1st Avenue where ten wineries have set up shops for tastings. Enjoy Rhone-varietal wines from Kerloo Cellars, Rotie Cellars, and Latta Wines, or check out the other seven tasting rooms and enjoy the revived industrial district. You can spend an entire trip up the Puget Sound, finding wineries all along the way.
To explore the Puget Sound AVA and West of the Cascades, Woodinville is 30 minutes north of Seattle and has emerged as a more rural hub for the 130-plus wineries surrounding the area. The town sits on the Sammamish River and has waterfront parks to leisure away in. Woodinville is home to the behemoth of Chateau Ste. Michelle, with the state’s earliest vines, and their grounds are not to be missed. Two districts are home to clusters of tasting rooms. The Hollywood District is home to Alexandria Nicole Cellars, the Syrahs and Bordeaux varieties from àMaurice, and Maryhill. In the Warehouse District, take yourself on a female-owned winery tour and hit up Adrice, Damsel, and Warr-King. Erik Segelbaum, Advanced Sommelier and founder of SOMLYAY hospitality consulting, has a few gems in the area including the French-style wines of DeLille and Adam’s Bench situated “down a beautiful wooden drive, it’s a wine haven. However, you’d better get there quickly as they are about to open a new tasting room in Woodin Creek, and don’t forget to ask how the winery got its name. You might even get to sit on the bench!” There are also plenty of breweries and cideries to refresh the palate if needed or head to the Woodinville Whiskey Co. for something stronger.
Columbia Gorge & Southwest
Southwest Washington, near the border of Oregon, is home to over 50 wineries in the Columbia Gorge AVA. Stay in Vancouver and here experience the idyllic ideas of the Pacific Northwest. This is one of the coolest appellations and stays East of the Cascades. Naturally, you can find white varieties like Chardonnay or Riesling or sample some of the thinner-skinned red varieties. Try the Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noirs at Phelps Creek, or head to Syncline to try their Gamay. Then, head east and make a stop in Lyle to visit COR Cellars or try the natural-style wines of Tetrahedron Wines.
East of the Cascades
East of the mountain range, it’s a different world. The desert-like climate has an arid continental climate with hot summers and scarce rainfall. This is due to the rain shadow effect of the moderating rains from the Pacific evaporating over the Cascades. The climate allows red varieties to thrive in the Columbia Basin formed here and it’s here, you’ll discover the Columbia Valley AVA. The AVA is the largest in the state. Many microclimates and sub-AVAs lie within, all due to those Missoula Floods and eruptions that created valleys, rivers, and changing altitudes that allow vineyards here to thrive.
In the Cascade Valley, find your stay in German-inspired Leavenworth. Enjoy the local foods and try the Cabernet Sauvignons from Water from Wine or the robust wines from Patterson Cellars. If you’re a water creature, make Lake Chelan your home base in the upper Columbia Valley; enjoy outdoor activities or spend some time at North Cascades National Park. If you’re a fan of Riesling, try Vin Du Lac and eat at their bistro. Have a fresh white or sparkling at Rocky Pond or head to one of the sub-AVAs like Ancient Lakes, Wahluke Slope, or the newly minted Royal Slope to do a deep dive.
The Yakima Valley sees very little rain and can get hot in the summer. The Valley runs 70 miles and is home to apple and stone fruit orchards, cherry trees, and of course, grapevines. Most of the vineyards lay along the slopes from 1,000 to 1,400 feet and this elevation and influence of the River helps to keep the wines from being too ripe or jammy. It’s home to multiple sub-AVAs, including Snipes Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, Naches Heights, and the newest AVAs, Candy Mountain and Goose Gap. Home to Cabernets and Merlots and other Bordeaux varieties, scope more than 80 wineries up and down the Valley. Two AVAs provide some more tasting trails, including Rattlesnake Hills, where you can visit Sheridan or Two Mountain Winery. Red Mountain is one of the smallest and hottest AVAs. There are over 20 wineries here, and you can visit iconic Washington wineries, including Kiona Cellars and Col Solare, home to the famed partnership of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori. Lastly, head down to Prosser and visit Vintners’ Village to visit any of the 11 wineries there. It’s also recommended to sample the breweries here as Yakima is home to the biggest growth of hops in the nation.
Walla Walla is home to wheat and sweet onions, but it’s the wine you want. And maybe some historic sites like the Fort Walla Walla Museum or the Whitman Mission to sober up in between. Or grab some wine and picnic in Pioneer Park. Walla Walla is just due east where the Columbia, Walla Walla, and Snake Rivers meet. The region is home to more than 100 producers. Find Bordeaux blends at L’Ecole Nº 41, established in 1983, the third in the region. Segelbaum notes the latter is a mainstay of the state as its historical architecture. His other recommendation is Woodward Canyon, where “Rick and Darcy Small know great wine and great hospitality. Their modest tasting room is the perfect spot to taste their wines, some of the best in the state. There’s no pomp or circumstance here, just sensational wines and warm hospitality.” Try the Syrahs from Gramercy Cellars or if you’re more of a Rhone-style wine fan, try expressions from the Rocks District of Millton-Freewater AVA. The Airport District in Walla Walla is home to 20 wineries ready for you when you step off the plane.
Northwest – Spokane
If you’re ready to explore some uncharted territory, set your sights on Spokane. Enjoy museums, waterfalls, or even the Bing Crosby House. Finally, venture out to Lewis-Clark Valley AVA that covers both Western Washington and Idaho. If you’re staying on the Washington side, have the white wines at Latah Creek.