10 Great Things to do in Northwest Wine Country

Wine Press NorthwestMarch 7, 2013 

Spring is the season that gives us reasons to be optimistic, even those of us who are fans of the Seattle Mariners.

The warm morning sunshine coaxes us out of bed earlier each day as it awakens grapevines from their dormancy. During March Madness, we grow more inclined to leave our bungalows to see what new experiences Pacific Northwest wineries have dreamed up to share with us as we enjoy their wines and hospitality.

And maybe the Mariners will still be playing after most of the 2013 vintages have been crushed.

1. Plant a vine or two. Three years ago, members of a Kiwanis club in Kennewick, Wash, approached grape grower Todd Newhouse about sharing his vineyard’s storied legacy.

His family owns and operates one of the most historic sites in the Pacific Northwest wine industry — Upland Vineyards on Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley town of Sunnyside. Newhouse did share some pieces of history, cuttings from an old Thompson Seedless vine planted by W.B. Bridgman before Prohibition, and they have sprung to life in the backyards of some Wine Press Northwest folks.

Earlier this winter, I pruned mine back a bit in preparation for its third leaf and look forward to monitoring bud break, flowering, fruit set, veraison and the ripening of a nice crop of table grapes.

My humble arbor is nothing like the small vineyards of Sangiovese at the estate of master facilitator Hank Sauer, who once allowed his vines to carry a crop load equivalent to 40 tons per acre.

That’s about 10 times more than a commercial winemaker would contract for.

Those grapes made a tasty Sangiovese jelly, though.

2. Take a beer break in Walla Walla. The Walla Walla Valley is home to more than 120 wineries, and among the bromides of the wine industry is that it takes a fair amount of good beer to make great wine. While a number of artisan ale houses have sprung up throughout Northwest wine country, strangely, there’s been barely a blip in the land of the Walla Walla sweet onion, although Laht Neppur Brewing Co. and Cellars is in nearby Waitsburg.

Last year, however, Adam Gregory launched Dragon’s Gate Brewery in Milton-Freewater, Ore., and it’s fascinating that he and his wife, Jennifer — GM/Headless Horseman at Ash Hollow Winery — rely on estate hops.

For our reviews, see GreatNorthwestWine.com.

The suds are available weekend afternoons and by appointment. Get directions at DragonsGateBrewery.com.

3. Taste Washington. The success of Washington wine has helped the Washington State Wine Commission grow Taste Washington into a two-day celebration in Seattle that’s now billed as the country’s largest single-region wine-and-food event.

This year, it’s March 23-24 — a week earlier than usual because of Easter — at the CenturyLink Field Event Center, and nearly every winery of much scale in the state will participate. More than 50 restaurants will be offering small plates to enjoy with pours from more than 225 wineries.

A single-day ticket for the three-hour entry is $80.

However, if you want to get into the wine tasting matinee an hour early each day, that VIP pass goes for $185.

Go to tastewashington.org.

4. A tasty Oregon Trail. One of the advantages that wine lovers in Portlandia enjoy over their Puget Sound counterparts is proximity to the vineyards.

Within an hour or so, you can be deeply immersed in wine country.

The North Willamette Vintners Group — which includes Elk Cove, Gresser, Kramer, Montinore and Ponzi — offers additional incentives during its Wine Trail Weekend on April 13-14.

Tickets cost $30 for Sunday or $45 for both days, and they include wine, food pairings, assorted forms of entertainment and a glass. There are 17 stops in all, but you pick which winery to begin at when you purchase the tickets online.

Cost is just $10 for your designated driver.

Wander to northwillamettevintners.org.

5. Drinking and working. Much to our dismay, it seems as if more of life for some of us is spent chained to a desk and working on a computer.

Unfortunately, I haven’t invested time to research how to drink, work and type while walking on a treadmill. I need to add that extra layer of multitasking to my life.

The DrinKlip portable cupholder offers a layer of solution. It’s promoted as “The smart extension of your space,” and one of the promotional images is a re-corked wine bottle sitting inside the DrinKlip.

A hock-style bottle, Reidel O glass, sake cup, beer bottle, standard commuter coffee mug or soft-drink can will slip nicely in the DrinKlip. These sturdy plastic desk attachments won’t harm your desk surface (the clips are rubberized) and come in a good color for wine lovers — red — and they are not limited to beverages. There’s a slit for USB cords or laptop power cords.

Perhaps the best reason to invest in a DrinKlip is prevention. It keeps the beverage off the desk and reduces the risk of a lovable klutz or a friendly cat spilling the drink across your keyboard or laptop.

Cost is $20.

Clip into DrinKlip.com or ThinkGeek.com for more information.

For art lovers, the best place to buy a DrinKlip might be through The Museum of Modern Art store at momastore.org.

That’s where Judy G from Scappoose, Ore., posted her five-star review.

6. Wine walks in Rainier’s foothills. Some may think the two towns nearest to Mount Rainier — Ashford and Enumclaw — cater only to those who prefer to pound a couple cans of PBRs on sunny or rainy day.

However, there’s a consistent stream of events geared to folks interested in Northwest wines.

On April 27, the Mount Rainier Visitors Association will hold its fourth annual Mount Rainier Spring Wine Festival at the historic Lions Grand Tasting Hall in Ashford.

Cost is $25, but if you book lodging at one of the area B&Bs, present your receipt and admission is free.

On May 11, city and business leaders will stage their third annual Enumclaw Summer Wine Walk.

Yeah, that’s right, in the heart of spring, but it’s all about branding, right? The downtown streets will be closed from 5 to 9 p.m. as patrons sip samples from 20 wineries and amble among 20 local businesses.

Go to enumclawchamber.com.

7. The Portland Indie Wine and Food Festival took time to cleanse its palate in 2012, but founder Lisa Donoughe publicly has committed to bring it back to life May 9-13.

The list of events for the eighth celebration of producers of less than 2,500 cases includes an interactive blind tasting showing how to be a wine judge; a craft beer vs. craft wine symposium featuring Ivy League product Katherine Cole, wine columnist for The Oregonian; winemaker dinners involving Metrovino, Nostrana and Toro Bravo; and a seminar on what it takes to be wine writer.

If the HoseMaster of Wine is on that panel, poodles beware.

Details developing at indiewinefestival.com.

8. A shining auction on Red Mountain. If any place can inspire winesters to act dignified while at a revelry, it’s probably Col Solare.

On May 25, the Revelry on Red Mountain will mark its fifth anniversary as the Eastern Washington fundraiser for the Auction of Washington Wines. The Memorial Day weekend event blends an A-list of the state’s top winemakers, grape growers and cuisine to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital and Washington State University’s wine program.

Cost is $95, and it starts at 6 p.m.

Raise your paddle for auctionofwashingtonwines.org/events/revelry.

9. A gem of a deal. Some of the best bargains in the Pacific Northwest took place in August during Washington Wine Month at the state-run liquor stores.

Alas, that ran dry with the passage of Initiative 1183.

In 2009, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter declared June to be Idaho Wine Month, which encourages residents of Idaho to support their local wineries by drinking Idaho wine. It’s probably a lost cause in Sun Valley, but several of Boise’s top restaurants jump on board in June, and so do a number of stores and wine shops by offering special promotions tied to Idaho wines.

And on June 9, the Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission will stage its fifth annual Savor Idaho in Boise at the Idaho Botanical Gardens.

Tickets for the food-and-wine event cost $45, and it sells out at 900.

Go to SavorIdaho.com.

10. There is wining in baseball. There may be no crying in baseball, according to Jimmy Dugan, but wine is increasing its presence with America's pastime.

And leave it to the folks in Walla Walla to serve up award-winning wines with ballpark fare while watching some of the West Coast’s top college players.

The Walla Walla Sweets play in the West Coast League, a summer, wood-bat league for elite Division I players. Some of these kids may be playing in on ESPN at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., one week and then in the WCL the next week.

Longtime broadcaster Ken Wilson, who has returned to the Seattle Mariners booth on occasion since the passing of Dave Niehaus, founded the league.

Among the WCL graduates are Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston Red Sox), Tommy Hanson (Atlanta Braves) and Nyjer Morgan (Washington Nationals).

Last year, Basel Cellars, Bergevin Lane and Va Piano wineries each was pitching two of its wines at Borleske Stadium. I’d like to make the call to see if these pairings are fair or foul — Basel 2007 Pheasants Run Cabernet Sauvignon with a cheeseburger, Bergevin Lane 2008 Calico White with Bright’s Cheese Corn and Va Piano Bruno’s Blend with a Sweet Lou Dog.

Extra onions, please.

The home opener is June 8. Swing into wallawallasweets.com.

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