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
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
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
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
Slightly further away is a small group of wineries along the
highway between Port Angeles and Port Townsend, with
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 méthode 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.
three of a series on wine trail touring in WA, see
About the US wine industry in general
2. Wine making in Washington state
Wine touring in Washington state
4. Wine costs, pricing, and quality
tours and tasting around Seattle - the large wineries
boutique wineries in the Woodinville area
Wine trail tours
Wine tasting in
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15 May 2009, last update
26 Aug 2018
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