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Spotlight: Wine Country

Uncork a trip through Washington’s superb wineries

Nestled beneath the protective eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, Washington State’s award-winning Wine Country extends from the Yakima Valley to the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla. And if you think the label “Wine Country” is little more than an exaggerated advertising slogan, think again: New wineries pop up every month here. “Wine Country” might, in fact, be putting it mildly.

The geography here is perfectly tuned to growing fantastic grapes, so much so that it’s a wonder the region didn’t carve out a space for itself on the international wine map even sooner. The aforementioned Cascades serve as a barrier from the rainier weather patterns found on the coastal side of the state, leaving the region east and south of Yakima warm and dry year-round. An average of 300 days of sunshine each year, coupled with volcanic-ash enriched soils (thanks to the fiery peaks of the Cascades’ Volcanic Arc), makes for the perfect vineyard incubator.

Yakima Valley Tourism

Yakima Valley Tourism

Vineyard Roots

Geography can’t take all of the credit though, just a hefty chunk of it. The rest goes to pioneer craft winemakers. Wine grapes were first introduced to the region in 1825 and the growth of wineries sputtered until the 1920s, when Prohibition sparked a wave of household winemaking. By the time Prohibition was lifted, southeastern Washington was primed with both perfect geography and a population of experienced, self-trained grape growers.

By 1938, there were 42 wineries in the area. By 1960, commercial-scale vineyards were emerging. And by the 1970s, the wine industry in southeastern Washington State was in off to the races at a full-sprint, well on its way to evolving into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today, sporting more than 800 individual wineries.

Yakima Valley Vintages

The town of Yakima and the Yakima Valley at the northern reaches of Wine Country attract most of the attention. This is the head of Washington State’s wine scene. The bulk of the Spirit and Hops Tasting Trail is found here, and visitors could spend a lifetime jumping from wine bar to wine bar and tasting room to tasting room.

If you’re a history buff and need a break from acting as an amateur sommelier, head for Yakima Valley Museum in the center of town near Franklin Park. Small and eclectic, the museum is surprisingly impressive, with the highlight being a “Time Tunnel” exhibit, which portrays life in the valley more than 10,000 years ago.

If you’re up for a day trip, then the eastern slopes and foothills of nearby Mount Rainier make for a nice break from city life. From downtown Yakima the entry point to Mount Rainier National Park is less than 70 miles to the east.

Moving south from Yakima, you can hop from winery to winery by way of Toppenish, Zillah, Prosser, the Tri-Cities (made up of the communities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland) and finish up in Walla Walla—effectively the southern terminus for Wine Country.

Toppenish is known for its 70 public murals that are dotted throughout its small downtown area. Stroll the town center in between sips of red and enjoy the free open-air art show. The American Hop Museum is also found here, the only one of its kind in the world. History buffs will want to check out the Rail and Steam Museum and the 1911 Toppenish Train Depot.

Yakima Valley Tourism

Yakima Valley Tourism

Back to the Beginning

Prosser is regarded as the birthplace of Washington Wine Country. As such you’ll find no shortage of wineries, tasting rooms and wine bars to sip and sample your way through. The rest of its main attractions pair well with the wineries: Jazz clubs, art galleries and antique shops abound.

Walla Walla makes for the perfect closing act to a valley-wide wine tour. The “town so nice they named it twice” is bursting with not just tasting rooms and wine bars, but also art galleries, night clubs and incredible restaurants.

When you arrive in town head straight for the Walla Walla Visitor Center on Main Street. Here, you can find the usual information on local events and important happenings, to be sure, but don’t leave without grabbing a self-guided walking tour map. This is the perfect way to explore Walla Walla’s historic downtown core at your own pace, leaving plenty of opportunity to peel off and pop into a tasting room or boutique shop whenever you feel like.

Fort Walla Walla Museum is one of the premier non-wine-related attractions, as is the Kirkman House Museum. The former showcases artifacts and collections dating to early 19th century within the walls of Fort Walla Walla, an infantry outpost built in 1856. The fort alone is worthy of a visit. In similar vein, the Kirkman House is one of the last remaining examples of perfectly preserved Victorian Italianate architecture in the country.

For More Information

Washington Wine Country
800-221-0751
www.winecountrywashington.com
Washington State Tourism
800-544-1800
www.experiencewa.com