Three-day getaways in Northwest wine country

Wine Press NorthwestJune 15, 2012 

Want to stay close to home this summer yet still get away from it all?

Long weekends are a great way to visit Northwest wine country. That's just enough time to capture the flavor of a region without having to commit for a full week.

The Pacific Northwest is such an amazing region of the world. We have rugged coastlines, cosmopolitan cities, national forests and parks, great lakes, lengthy rivers, iconic mountains and vast agricultural regions.

And wineries. Lots of them. By our count, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho boast close to 1,500 wineries, and they're spread throughout the region.

With the wineries are great places to eat, stay and play.

In this issue of Wine Press Northwest, we look at a dozen of our favorite places to go for a long weekend and offer an idea of how to spend three days tasting and touring.

These are meant to be rough sketches, with plenty of room to explore on your own.

Enjoy, and happy sipping.

Woodinville and Seattle

How to spend three days: With more than 90 wineries and tasting rooms in and around Woodinville, you'll easily fill a three-day weekend. And, with an enological Disneyland along the Sammamish River, you're going to want to reserve at least one of your three days for Chateau Ste. Michelle, strolling its lush grounds and sampling its wines and those of its Col Solare Bottega. And reserve your tickets now for its 2012 Summer Concert Series. Swing a corkscrew and you'll hit scores of other wineries and tasting rooms for Eastern Washington-based labels along the Sammamish River.

How to get there: Many of the wineries are a half-hour's drive from Seattle along Highway 202, the Woodinville-Redmond Road, via I-405.

Where to stay: Near the wineries, consider Willows Lodge, Matthews Estate Winery and the Auberge Edge Seattle French Country Inn.

Where to eat: Recommended restaurants in Woodinville include The Herbfarm, Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, Italianissimo and The Twisted Cafe. In Seattle, check out RN 74, with its clattering train station destination board repurposed for wine selections. Nor can you miss with the Poco Wine Room, Urban Enoteca, The Tasting Room, Aqua by El Gaucho and Matt's at the Market, among countless choices.

Also of interest: This summer marks the golden anniversary of the Century 21 Exhibition, also know as the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Events are scheduled all summer at the Seattle Center. What was then The Eye of the Needle restaurant on the top of the Space Needle didn't have much of a Northwest wine list, but the Sky City Restaurant has now changed that with an almost exclusively Washington and Oregon list.

More Info

See woodinvillewinecountry.com for specific winery information and events.

San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island

How to spend three days: A ferry ride used to be considered the poor man's cruise. It's no longer quite so inexpensive but still cheaper than a cruise ship and an engaging way to start and end a wine tour. Begin your tour with stops in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island or Lopez Island to visit namesake wineries there. Once in Sidney, B.C., you've got a choice to make: Either continue on with Vancouver Island, or take a BC Ferry to the Southern Gulf Islands and wineries on Salt Spring Island and Saturna Island. Those moving on to Vancouver Island can find several wineries near the ferry landing and the famous Butchart Gardens on the Saanich Peninsula and Victoria as well as several wineries about a half-hour to 45 minutes north of Victoria in Cobble Hill and Duncan along Highway 1.

How to get there: From Anacortes take the Washington State Ferries to Friday Harbor and Lopez Island, then on to Sidney, British Columbia, where BC Ferries can take you to the Southern Gulf Islands. BC Ferries also offers service to Sidney and the Gulf Islands from its Tsawwassen terminal north of the Blaine border crossing.

Where to stay: On San Juan Island, you'll find a range of accommodations from B&Bs, to cottages to resorts, such as Roche Harbor, many of them in Friday Harbor, likewise for Salt Spring Island. In Victoria, choose from quaint and affordable, such as The James Bay Inn, to the posh and very Victorian landmark Fairmont Empress.

Where to eat: Find wine lists with Northwest wines at restaurants such as Friday Harbor House and Coho Restaurant on San Juan Island; Sooke Harbor House, west of Victoria; SeaGrille at the Brentwood Bay Resort on the Saanich Peninsula; the Bistro at Church and State Winery in Central Saanich; the Bon Rouge Bistro in Victoria; and the Tree House Cafe in Ganges on Salt Spring Island.

Also of interest: Look for whale-watch tours based in the San Juans, as well as the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. The Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria features walk-through displays of natural and cultural history, including an awe-inspiring collection of First Nations native totems and carvings.

More Info

San Juan Islands: www.visitsanjuans.com

Washington State Ferries: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries

BC Ferries: www.bcferries.com

Vancouver Island wineries: winesofcanada.com/bc_island.html

Chelan and North Central Washington

How to spend three days: Lake Chelan is one of the most beautiful spots in Washington and has long been a summer playground for west-siders. Now, it's wine country, too, with two dozen wineries and growing. The wineries are nicely clustered on the southern end of the lake near the city of Chelan. Spend one day on the south shore and one day on the north shore, where you'll easily be able to take in six wineries per day. If you can, squeeze in a trip to Rio Vista, a winery on the Columbia River not far from Chelan. Spend your third day touring Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Cashmere and tiny Peshastin.

How to get there: Chelan is about a half-hour from Wenatchee. Taking Stevens Pass, Wenatchee is about three hours from Seattle.

Where to stay: Hotels and resorts are plentiful in Chelan. The most popular choice (with a great restaurant and wine list) is Camp-bell's. Wenatchee and Leavenworth have plenty of choices, from budget motels to B&Bs. Warm Springs Inn in Wenatchee is on the Wenatchee River and is particularly romantic and inviting, as is Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth. While way off the beaten path, Sun Mountain Lodge has the Northwest's best wine list and some of this region's most amazing views.

Where to eat: At least five wineries in Chelan also have restaurants, including Vin du Lac, Lake Chelan Winery, Tsillan Cellars and Wapato Point. Visconti's, an Italian restaurant of great repute, has locations in Wenatchee and Leavenworth. For a hearty and fun breakfast, there's Blueberry Hills in Manson.

Also of interest: Lake Chelan -- the third-deepest in North America -- is the main attraction in Chelan. The Sunshine Farm Market is next door to Tunnel Hill Winery in Chelan. Visit Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee and the Bavarian delights of Leavenworth.

More Info

Lake Chelan Wine Valley: www.lakechelanwinevalley.com

Wenatchee Valley Visitors Bureau: www.wenatcheevalley.org

Yakima Valley to Tri-Cities

How to spend three days: This stretch through the heart of Washington wine country is difficult to do in three days. You'll need to decide which part of the Yakima Valley you'll want to focus on, choosing between the wineries around Zillah or Prosser. Zillah's wineries tend to be spread out in the Rattlesnake Hills amid the vineyards, while most of Prosser's are tightly packed together and can be accessed more easily. Red Mountain is in the eastern Yakima Valley, and as the state's smallest appellation, it can be done in one day. Moving on to the Tri-Cities, many of the wineries are in Richland, while a couple are in Kennewick and north of Pasco. Start or end at the trio of Barnard Griffin, Bookwalter and Tagaris, all side by side.

How to get there: The start of the Yakima Valley is just over two hours east of Seattle, while Red Mountain and the Tri-Cities are about another hour or so farther. You'll rarely be more than 15 minutes from the interstate at any time during your tour.

Where to stay: Accommodations are a bit sparse in the Yakima Valley. In Prosser, there are The Vintner's Inn at Hinzerling Winery, Seven Gables Pensione near the Vintners Village and Desert Wind Winery's inn. There are no accommodations on Red Mountain, but in the Tri-Cities the Clover Island Inn in Kennewick is on the Columbia River, as is the Marriott in Richland. For dining, Wine O'Clock in the Vintners Village in Prosser is one of the true gems of Washington wine country. In the Tri-Cities, check out Monterosso's in Richland, as well as restaurants at Bookwalter and Tagaris wineries. We also highly recommend both locations for Ice Harbor Brewery in Kennewick.

Also of interest: Take a break from the wineries with a jet boat tour up the Columbia River through the breathtaking Hanford Reach National Monument or take in a round of golf from any of more than a dozen courses in the valley and Tri-Cities.

More Info

Wine Yakima Valley: www.wineyakimavalley.org

Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau: www.visittri-cities.com

Columbia Gorge

How to spend three days: Easily one of the most beautiful drives in America, the Columbia Gorge has developed into a destination for wine lovers. Defining the Gorge can be a little difficult because there is the Columbia Gorge AVA, the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area and the generally understood "Columbia Gorge." For our purposes, we consider the broadest definition, which basically stretches from Goldendale, Wash., to Troutdale, Ore. You can break down your journey by moving from east to west on both sides of the Columbia River or tackling the Washington and Oregon sides separately. As your base, consider the Oregon towns of The Dalles and Hood River and the Washington town of Lyle. They tend to have the largest clusters of wineries. Either start or end your weekend at Maryhill Winery in the east to take in the marvelous views of Mount Hood and the Gorge's basalt cliffs.

How to get there: From Portland, Hood River is about an hour east. None of your travels will take you far from Interstate 84 in Oregon and Highway 14 in Washington. Bridges at Hood River, The Dalles and Biggs will get you across the Columbia.

Where to stay: The historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, with its Simon's Restaurant, is the queen of the Gorge and a perfect base for your travels. Celilo Inn in The Dalles overlooks the Columbia River. On the Washington side, The Lyle Hotel has wonderful food and accommodations, and Skamania Lodge is a hidden gem.

Where to eat: Hood River is the center of the Gorge's culinary world, so check out Celilo Restaurant, Riverside at the Hood River Inn, Three Rivers Grill and Stonehedge Gardens & Bistro for starters. Standout brewpubs in Hood River include Big Horse and Full Sail. One of our favorite lunch stops is Walking Man Brewery in Stevenson, Wash.

Also of interest: Maryhill Museum has a remarkable art collection, including original Rodins. Nearby, Maryhill Museum has a amphitheater for big-name concerts. And for the adventurous, Hood River is world famous for windsurfing.

More Info

Columbia Gorge Winegrowers: www.columbiagorgewine.com

Columbia River Gorge Visitors Association: www.crgva.org

Northern Willamette

How to spend three days: The northern Willamette Valley is the heart of Oregon wine country, where the industry began 40 years ago and six small appellations are further defining Pinot Noir. It is impossible to cover the entire northern Willamette in three days, but we suggest using three towns as your base: Carlton, Dundee and McMinnville. Carlton is in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and is a terrific town with dozens of wineries and a quaintness you can't help but appreciate. Dundee is on Highway 99W, so it's quite a bit busier. But here is where such iconic producers as Argyle, Erath, Eyrie, Domaine Drouhin and Sokol Blosser are located. McMinnville is the largest of the three towns, and one can easily get to the wineries in the Eola-Amity Hills as well as the McMinnville AVA. Be sure to call ahead to any wineries you wish to visit because many are open by appointment only.

How to get there: The northern Willamette Valley is less than an hour's drive southwest of Portland. From Interstate 5, get on 99W and don't stop until Dundee.

Where to stay: Yamhill County is the most wonderful place in the Northwest for bed and breakfast establishments. Three of our favorites are Youngberg Hill near McMinnville (which also is a winery), Black Walnut Inn near Dundee and Abbey Road Farm near Carlton.

Where to eat: You will find several great restaurants in the north Willamette. Nick's in McMinnville has been an industry favorite for decades. The Horse Radish in Carlton is perfect for a low-key meal, while Cuvee across the street is a superb French restaurant. The Dundee Bistro is owned by the Ponzi family and offers a great meal.

Also of interest: See the "Spruce Goose," a historic aircraft built entirely of wood by Howard Hughes during World War II. It's at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum near McMinnville.

More Info

Willamette Valley Wineries: www.willamettewines.com

Oregon Wine Board: www.oregonwine.org

Okanagan Valley

How to spend three days: The Okanagan Valley is a 100-mile-long region that stretches from the U.S. border at Oroville to Vernon in the north. This is the heart of the British Columbia wine industry, where most of the grapes are grown. We suggest breaking down the valley into three regions: the south around the towns of Osoyoos, Oliver and Okanagan Falls; Penticton, Summerland and the Naramata Bench; and Kelowna. In the south, start with such producers as Burrowing Owl, Gehringer Brothers, Nk'Mip and Tinhorn Creek, then head to the Corkscrew Trail near Okanagan Falls for stops at Wild Goose and Stag's Hollow. While you could easily spend a weekend on the Naramata Bench, be sure to visit Kettle Valley, La Frenz, Poplar Grove and Township 7. On your way through Summerland, visit 8th Generation. In Kelowna, Mission Hill is one of the most beautiful wineries on the West Coast. Stop at Summerhill for the pyramid and CedarCreek for some superb wines. The short drive north to Gray Monk will be worth the effort.

How to get there: From Vancouver, head east on Trans-Canada 1, then get on Highway 3 at Hope (where the original Rambo movie was filmed). At Keremeos, you have the choice of going to Osoyoos or Penticton. Highway 97 bisects the valley, and you'll never stray far except to get to the Naramata Bench.

Where to stay: The Okanagan Valley is the Lower Mainland's playground, so it is loaded with hotels, motels and B&Bs to match any budget. Burrowing Owl Vineyards has lodging and dining at the winery, and the Lakeside Resort in Penticton is a good central location for touring to the north or south. In Kelowna, stay at the Manteo and enjoy the breakfast.

Where to eat: The Okanagan is blessed with wineries that have restaurants, including Nk'Mip in Osoyoos, Burrowing Owl, Hester Creek and Tinhorn Creek near Oliver, Lake Breeze on the Naramata Bench, Sumac Ridge in Summerland and Quails' Gate near Kelowna.

Also of interest: Take a dinner cruise on the Casabella Princess in Penticton or visit the Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos. If you're a golfer, bring your sticks because there are plenty of courses. Worried about bringing back wine? The folks at the border likely won't hassle you too much as long as you are courteous and don't bring back 10 cases. Expect to pay 21 cents per liter coming back, however. More Info

Okanagan Travel Directory: www.okanagan.com

B.C. Wine Institute: www.winebc.org

Spokane & North Idaho

How to spend three days: While the Inland Empire and Idaho Panhandle are not known for their viticultural pursuits, they have developed into a wonderful wine-touring destination. Close to 20 wineries are in and around Spokane, led by Arbor Crest, Caterina and Latah Creek as some of the oldest and Barrister, Robert Karl, Townshend and Whitestone as those that have emerged as some of the best in the past decade. Across the border in Idaho, Coeur d'Alene Cellars has impressed us for years, as has Pend d'Oreille Winery, which is halfway to the Canadian border from Coeur d'Alene.

How to get there: From Seattle, get on Interstate 90 and stay there until you arrive in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene. Head north on Highway 95 to get to Sandpoint.

Where to stay: The resurrected Davenport in Spokane hearkens to the glory days of the Inland Empire and is perhaps the finest hotel in Eastern Washington. The Resort at Coeur d'Alene is world famous for its accommodations, food and golf course. Near the Spokane airport is Northern Quest Resort & Casino. There are several B&Bs in Spokane, as well as an abundance of motels for budget-minded travelers

Where to eat: Anthony's offers great food, wine and a view of Spokane Falls. Latah Bistro and Wild Sage American Bistro provides delicious cuisine and local wines. In Idaho, Pend d'Oreille winery serves small plates, and the Wine Cellar Bistro in Coeur d'Alene is a great place to rest and eat.

Also of interest: Silverwood in Idaho is the Northwest's largest theme park, and there are plenty of golf courses throughout the region. In Spokane, visit Riverfront Park or the Japanese Gardens at Manito Park.

More Info

Spokane Winery Association: www.spokanewineries.net

Coeur d'Alene Visitors Bureau: www.coeurdalene.org

Snake River Valley

How to spend three days: Idaho's wine industry is young, so there's a pioneer spirit in southern Idaho. You have the choice of using the urban setting of Boise as your base or staying in the agricultural region near the vineyards. Near the cities of Caldwell and Nampa are the majority of Idaho's wineries, including Ste. Chapelle (the state's oldest and largest), Bitner, Fujishin, Hells Canyon, Indian Creek, Koenig (which also has a craft distillery), Sawtooth, Vale and Williamson. Expect to be treated graciously because this is one of the friendliest wine regions anywhere. In and around Boise, don't miss superb Cinder and Fraser, as well as Coiled, Snake River, Syringa, 3 Horse Ranch and Woodriver Cellars.

How to get there: Boise is accessible by interstate and is a full day's drive from Seattle or Portland (or a reasonable plane ride). From Boise, getting to the wineries around Caldwell and Nampa takes about 30 minutes.

Where to stay: Bitner Vineyards provides a B&B in its vineyard. In Boise, Hotel 43 is well appointed and conveniently close to the interstate. The Idaho Heritage Inn B&B is a cozy favorite.

Where to eat: When touring wineries near Caldwell and Nampa, the offerings are few. In downtown Nampa, don't miss Brick 29. The Orchard House near Ste. Chapelle is great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Boise offers many top restaurants, including Red Feather Lounge, the adjacent Bittercreek Alehouse, and Berryhill & Co. For breakfast, it's hard to beat Bacon or Goldy's.

Also of interest: The Boise River Greenbelt leads to the Boise Art Museum.

More Info

Idaho Wine Commission: www.idahowines.org

Idaho Department of Commerce: www.visitidaho.org

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