Read This Wine Lover’s Washington State Wine Guide

As the nation’s second-largest wine-producing state, Washington has no shortage of options for the intrepid wine tourist. Many flock to well-known places like Walla Walla or Woodinville, located just outside of Seattle. But there’s a lot more to the Evergreen State when it comes to all things fermented grapes.

A total of 19 United States Vineyard Zones (AVAs) dot the map of Washington. It’s a remarkably diverse wine state, from the wet Puget Sound in the west to the much drier Yakima Valley in the east. Along the scenic Columbia River, you’ll find stunning appellations such as Columbia Gorge and Horse Heaven Hills. Red Mountain should also be on the list of esteemed growing areas, a stretch of desert near Tri-Cities that currently produces some of the most exciting wines in the state.

Washington Wine Commission

Most of Washington’s wine scene occurs on the drier east side of the Cascades. You will find grapes that benefit from the arid climate, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. According to the Washington State Wine Commission, reds accounted for about 60% of production in 2020. The main white was chardonnay, which thrives in some of the cooler, higher regions of the state. Other popular varieties include Merlot, Syrah, Riesling and, increasingly, Pinot Noir.

Here are some wineries to visit in the great state of Washington, along with some suggestions on where to eat and stay. As always, chat with your local sommelier or someone in the know for additional suggestions on what to try and look for in this vast scene. Each of the selections below truly embodies the best of what’s happening in their respective appellations.

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Kiona Vineyards

The view of the Kiona vineyards.
Facebook/Kiona Vineyards

This Red Mountain label is pioneering equipment for the region, arguably one of Washington’s most unique growing areas. The desert conditions here produce less rainfall per year than Phoenix, but that doesn’t mean the grapes aren’t doing well. On the contrary, because truly breathtaking Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, Malbec and even Lemberger come from the Kiona estate. The label first planted itself in 1975, seeing potential long before the masses. Today, the region outside of Benton City produces some of the most captivating wines in the Pacific Northwest.

Aniche Cellars

Tasting of the Caves d'AniChe.
Facebook/AniChe Caves

Located in the town of Underwood in the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge, AniChe quietly produces some of the most interesting and sparkling blends in the region. They specialize in particular in Rhône grape varieties, such as Roussanne and Marsanne, but also in other European grape varieties such as Sangiovese and Albariño. It is beautifully located, situated right on the river with great views of Mount Hood in the background and the kite surfers and cliffs in the foreground.

Vineyards Amos Rome

Aerial view of the vineyards of Amos Rome.

Amos Rome does its work in the beautiful Chelan region, located in central Washington orchard country. At its heart is Lake Chelan, with the foothills occupied by dozens of wineries, cider houses, inns, and more. Among the best is Amos Lee, increasingly known for his sparkling wine, pure Chardonnay and impressive blends. The production is so small, generally, that it is advantageous to go to the source to discover the full extent of the cellar and its vines. Plus, the setting is beautiful, with expansive grounds, great views, and multiple patios for sipping.

Freehand cellars

Freehand Cellars Tasting Room.

In hop country otherwise known as Yakima Valley, there is also a bustling wine community. Freehand Cellars has become a worthy stop on the wine route, crafting elegant pinot gris, cab franc, syrah, and more. There’s an accompanying food program if you’re hungry or just want to explore a good pairing and you can even stay there, which you should, as it’s hard to give up the wines, the elegant tasting room ( perhaps to be expected from the architect owners), as well as striking views of Mount Adams and the nearby Rattlesnake Hills.

Quilceda Creek Vineyard

Quilceda Creek flows.

Regularly garnering 100-point scores from top critics, Quilceda Creek has built a solid reputation. If you like silky smooth red wines made for hearty fare like steak, this label is for you. Best of all, it’s right next to Woodinville in Snohomish, though it pulls fruit from the east of the state, like so many labels. You will be hard pressed to find a better Cabernet Sauvignon in America. Launched in 1978 with its first winemaking vintage the following year, it remains one of Washington’s oldest and best-known wineries.

Beyond wine

In terms of accommodation, there are many directions, but we advise you to choose a home port in the heart of one of the appellations and settle there for a long weekend or a week. The Lodge at Columbia Point is a great option for those looking to experience Red Mountain and the Yakima Valley in particular. In the gorge, Skamania Lodge is a great place to call home briefly, with plenty of amenities and even tree houses you can snuggle up in. It’s close to tasting rooms along the Columbia and charming little towns like White Salmon where you can get refreshments and vibrant eats at places like Henni’s Kitchen and Bar.

In Chelan, you can experience the life of a winemaker at the Nefarious Cellars guest house. There are also plenty of resorts and fine restaurants, like Kelly’s Resort and Lake Chelan Artisan Bakery. Look for Andante if you like Italian-inspired dishes and want to try other local wines or just a good cocktail. If you’ve had enough of wine, Washington is home to a colossal craft beer and cider scene. In Yakima, in particular, you’ll find tons of options, like the renowned Bale Breaker Brewing. Cheers!

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About Irene J. O'Donnell

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