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A fun activity, enjoyable year-round, is to visit a few wineries and sample their wares.

With over 600 wineries to choose from, Washington state is one of the best places to go wine tasting and touring.

 
 
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Wine Trail Touring and Tasting in Washington State

Part 3 of a series about visiting and enjoying wine and wineries in Washington
 


Click on the map to open a larger map of WA state showing full details of the wine growing regions

Most of the grape growing regions in Washington state are in the south east, while many of the wineries are located close to Seattle.

Part three of a series on wine trail touring in WA, see also

1.  About the US wine industry in general
2.  Wine making in Washington state
3.  Wine touring in Washington state
4.  Wine costs, pricing, and quality
5.  Wine trail tours and tasting around Seattle - the large wineries
6.  Touring the boutique wineries in the Woodinville area near Seattle
7.  Wine trail tours around Leavenworth
8.  Wine tasting in downtown Leavenworth

 

 

Washington state is becoming increasingly prominent as a wine region and now is the nation's second largest wine producing state.

Good quality wines can be sampled at most of the state's 600+ wineries, making for a pleasant afternoon excursion for most people, or a fun multi-day tour for the more serious student of wine appreciation.

Happily, there are over 40 wineries less than 30 minutes from downtown Seattle, as well as over 400 more further afield, making a wine tasting tour easy for everyone to enjoy as part of a visit to the Puget Sound area.

Washington's Main Winery Regions

It is important to realize that grapes are not always processed, and wine is not always made, in the same places where the grapes are grown.  Although more than 95% of Washington's grapes are grown in the eastern part of the state (considered to be the very climatically different area east of the Cascade mountain range), some 20% of the state's wineries, including the very largest, are in the Seattle area.

There are about 40 wineries in the scenic Woodinville area, a mere 20 miles (mainly on freeway) from downtown Seattle.  For most visitors to the Seattle area, this makes the Woodinville area the prime region to visit for wine touring and tasting.

Slightly further away is a small group of wineries along the highway between Port Angeles and Port Townsend, with seven wineries in a 50 mile stretch of highway.  This is probably an inconvenient distance from Seattle for a day trip, but could be combined with travel between Seattle and perhaps the Olympic Peninsula or between Seattle and Victoria, BC (via the ferry that operates from Port Angeles).

There are small concentrations of wineries also around the Leavenworth area, and over in Spokane, too.

The rest of Washington's wineries - indeed, some 80% of them, totaling many hundreds - can be found in south east Washington, and people with a more serious interest in wine and wine touring will probably choose to head in that direction, perhaps traveling via Leavenworth, then down first to the Yakima region and along I-82 to Kennewick, then further east to Walla Walla.

From Walla Walla, it might make sense to drive south into Oregon and to I-84, proceeding west to Portland, which could either be the end (beginning) of your journey, or a port of call prior to 'closing the loop' by driving up I-5 and back to Seattle.

For the sake of completeness, it is relevant to note that there is a significant amount of wine growing both north of Washington state in British Columbia, and also south in Oregon.

In subsequent parts of this series we provide specific touring information for winery touring around Seattle, winery touring in the Leavenworth area, and winery touring in the Columbia basin in Southeast Washington.

Planning a Winery Tour

Obviously the first big issue is to decide where it is you'll go touring and tasting.  We'll assume you've already done that and selected one of the big three regions in WA for your experience.  You'll then want to focus more specifically on which wineries in that region you'll visit.

In part, this decision might be based on geographical considerations - if you're going to one part of a region to visit one winery, it makes more sense to visit other nearby wineries than to drive 20 miles to the next winery.

In part, this decision will also be based on a very practical thought - which wineries will be open for tasting.

Most wineries are open on Saturdays, many on Sundays, some on Fridays, and fewer on Mondays - Thursdays.

Not all wineries, when they are open, are open from early morning until late afternoon/early evening.

Wineries open at varying times ranging from late morning until mid afternoon, and close anywhere from about 4pm through until about 6pm.

With so many wineries to choose from in each region, you can readily put together a wine tour almost any day and time, but you should research which wineries will be open prior to commencing your day's touring.

Winery Specialization

Some wineries concentrate on making still white wine, others on still red wine, and some will have a mix of both.  Some may also (or exclusively) offer sparkling wine.

If you have some definite preferences for the wines you want to sample, you should check which wineries offer which types of wine and factor that into your planning.

There's one other form of specialization as well.  Some wineries price their wines at higher or lower price points than other wineries.  Usually, most wineries seem to charge about the same for a tasting session (commonly $5 for about four samples in Woodinville, and usually less money and/or more samples in Leavenworth), so that isn't an issue in terms of cost of tasting per se.  But it has two derivative issues.

Firstly, you can get a chance to taste some wines that might be more expensive than those you normally choose to buy.  This can be a great chance to help you feel good (or bad!) about the price points you choose when buying wine.

Secondly, if you're wanting to buy some of the wine you sample and enjoy, then it makes sense to go to wineries that offer wines in the budget range you normally prefer to stay within.

How many Wineries to Visit

How high is up?  Some people will go to only one winery, while others will do five or even ten.

If you're planning on drinking and swallowing the wine samples, keep in mind that each sample is typically about one ounce.  By the time you've had six or seven samples, you've consumed a quarter of a bottle of wine (a standard bottle of wine contains 26 oz).  Twelve or thirteen samples (maybe less if the pours are unmeasured and generous) and you've had half a bottle of wine.

So the number of wineries you visit may be limited by prudence in terms of how much wine you plan to drink.

Perhaps aiming to visit three wineries is a realistic number for many people, depending on the time and the number of samples you enjoy at each winery.

We've found that in the Seattle and Woodinville areas, most wineries seem to provide about four samples as standard, sometimes with a bonus sample or two.  But in the Leavenworth area, you can sometimes find ten or more samples on offer at a single winery.

A single winery visit can take anywhere from as little as 10 - 15 minutes (allow a couple of minutes per sample, and a few minutes extra time in general) to an hour or more (if service is slow, or if you're enjoying yourself and carefully pacing your rate of wine drinking).  Travel time between wineries can range from as little as half a minute walking from one winery to the winery immediately adjacent to it in a business park complex, to perhaps 15 minutes or more if you're driving from one side of a winery region to the other.

Transportation

If you're going to be driving around, someone is going to have to be designated driver and either not drink wine samples, or, as an alternative, behave like a professional wine taster and swill the wine around their mouth but then spit it out rather than swallow.

Another alternative is to take part in a wine tour that includes the transportation to and around the wineries, allowing everyone in your group to sample wines freely and fully.

Food

One disappointing aspect of most wineries is that they don't provide any type of food.  About the best you can hope for is a plate of oyster crackers on the bar, and even this is intended to be used as a palate cleanser rather than as a stomach filling bar snack.

A few wineries do have food for sale, and if you're including one such winery, you might choose to visit that winery at an appropriate eating time.

Otherwise, if you're planning on touring the wine trail for more than a couple of hours, you might want to consider either taking some food with you or including a break at a local restaurant in the area you'll be in.  Some wineries have nice outdoor seating areas, and on a nice day, this can be a lovely way to enjoy a picnic/outdoors lunch.

Winemaking Tour or Tasting Only

Some wineries offer formal tours of their winemaking facilities, along with an explanation of the wine making process from grape to bottle.  This can sometimes be interesting, but you'll quickly realize that one tour is much the same as another, and so you'll probably only want to have one or at the most two such tours.

It can be interesting to have a tour of a winery that makes sparkling wine as well as one that makes still wine, and, as a further degree of refinement, one that makes sparkling wine with the mthode champenoise process (fermented in bottle) as well as the bulk/Charmat process (which is very different).

On the other hand, there's not a lot of difference to see between making white wine and red wine, so that wouldn't be a valid reason to take two different winery tours.

Part three of a series on wine trail touring in WA, see also

1.  About the US wine industry in general
2.  Wine making in Washington state
3.  Wine touring in Washington state
4.  Wine costs, pricing, and quality
5.  Wine trail tours and tasting around Seattle - the large wineries
6.  Touring the boutique wineries in the Woodinville area near Seattle
7.  Wine trail tours around Leavenworth
8.  Wine tasting in downtown Leavenworth

 

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Originally published 15 May 2009, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
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