Monday, August 1, 2016

The Heart of Washington Wine Country

The Heart of Washington Wine Country

 Thirty years ago there were fewer than 100 wineries in Washington. Today there are more than 900.  Washington is the second largest wine producing region in America after California.  The Heart of Washington Wine Country is found 150 miles east of Seattle in Tri-Cities, named after the towns of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.

There are 200 wineries within a one hour drive of Tri-Cities.  This is a prime agricultural region near the Columbia River, with potatoes, blueberries, apples, hops, and wine grapes among the 45 different local crops.

Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley, and Yakima Valley are the viticulture areas around Tri Cities which have garnered international acclaim.  The region gets 300 days of sunshine a year, perfect for wine grapes and highly popular with people from Metro Seattle who come for a weekend escape.

Wine Traveler Favorites

Maryhill Winery

 "It’s hard to wrap your mind around the beautiful view,” says owner Craig Neuhold.  Craig and his wife Vicki will celebrate the 15th anniversary of Maryhill Winery in the summer of 2016.   

Family-owned and operated, Maryhill is a favorite of the Pacific Northwest.  Enjoy spectacular views, tasting room, gift shop, world-class concerts in a 4,000 seat amphitheater, and live music on the vine-covered terrace all summer. Taste over 50 wines that have earned more than 3,000 awards, including 2015 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year from Wine Press Northwest. Maryhill wines are a true testament to the quality and diversity of the state.

Milbrandt Vineyard 

Milbrandt Vineyards was founded in 1997 by Washington wine pioneers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt. Owning and operating their own vineyards as well as the winery, they helped establish two of the top AVAs in the state: Ancient Lakes and Wahluke Slope. Their Evergreen Vineyard has consistently produced 90-point wines with the guided talents of Cornell graduate and winemaker Joshua Maloney. The award-winning tasting room in Prosser is open seven days a week and offers seated tastings and patio parties.
Brothers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt are pioneers of the Columbia Valley wine regions. Butch started cooking in the military 50 years ago and today is known as an ace at pairing food and wine.  You can even watch Milbrandt Vineyards’ originally branded recipe show called Pair This on the winery’s website.
Their tasting room is in Prosser’s Vintners Village, home to 10 unique wineries.

J. Bookwalter Winery

Owner-Winemaker John Bookwalter has taken his family name to make a perfect pairing between wine and literature.

The winery’s flagship tasting room in Richland, named one of the best tasting rooms in the United States by Sunset magazine, now includes a full-service restaurant, Fiction. In the category of “winery restaurants,” Fiction is often mentioned as one of the finest in the country. J. Bookwalter also operates an attractive, modern tasting studio in Woodinville in suburban Seattle.

With literary brand names on the label such as Antagonist Syrah and Subplot 31, Bookwalter wines keep connoisseurs deeply involved from beginning to end like a good book.  For those who like Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship Protagonist is not be missed with 91% premium cabernet and 9% Syrah in a supporting role.

J. Bookwalter has grown from one of Washington’s oldest wineries into one of the Pacific Northwest’s most recognized boutique wine brands, relying on exceptional vineyard sources and meticulous winemaking to produce some of the world’s finest wines.

Tourists Welcome

The region is well known for local wineries, expanding craft beer offerings, wide open spaces, and the new arrival of legal cannabis.  It also should be recognized for its friendliness.  This is not a place where you find pretentious people.  It’s a place here the local residents welcome visitors.  They are just glad that someone took the time and trouble to come visit them out in the country, I think. 

“Our region has become popular with tourists who come not only to enjoy the wines, but meet with the owners, experience a walk through the vineyards and learn about the industry,” says Visit Tri-Cities President Kris Watkins. 

There are many opportunities to explore the outdoors between winery visits.  Go horseback riding with Red Mountain Trails, stroll to ten wineries clustered together at Vintner’s Village in Prosser, or enjoy desert beauty with Columbia Kayak Adventures. Walk the 23-mile continuous riverfront path along the Columbia River, known as Sacagawea Heritage Trail

Two major additions have come to the area in the last couple years. The Clore Center welcomes you with an operating tasting room with $5 wine tastings featuring a different region each month.  The wine education is casual.  “It’s learning a little with a glass of wine in your hand,” says Executive Director Abbey Cameron. 

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center opened in 2015 in Tri-Cities, expanding Washington State University’s highly esteemed program in viticulture and enology.  WSU is known as one of the “Big Four” in U.S. schools for learning how to grow vineyards and produce wine at the highest level. 

Fly into wine country to Tri Cities Airport in Pasco, an expanding regional airport just a short, one-hour flight from Seattle. The airport has many connections from airports in the western United States.  Some of the airlines allow you to check through cases of wines for free. 

A visit to Tri-Cities and the surrounding wineries enlivens the senses, captures your heart and makes you long for the day when you can plan another visit.

 CAPTIONS (from top):  Red Mountain, one of America's most widely respected wine growing regions;  Summer concerts at Maryhill Winery;  Milbrandt Vineyards tasting room at Vintner's Village in Prosser;  The tasting room and Fiction Restaurant at J. Bookwalter Wines;  Grape stomp in Tri-Cities wine country; St. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center;  Hot Air Balloon Festival provides views of wine country

Republished and expanded from Delta Sky, May 2016, The Wine Traveler 

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