Andy Perdue

The next Hood River?

A decade or so ago, I was chatting with some winemakers about where "the next Woodinville" would be.

The thinking was this: Woodinville and its 130 current wineries and tasting rooms happened by accident: Ste. Michelle built there on a whim because a company executive wanted to live near Seattle. The rest moved in to take advantage of the chateau's 300,000 annual visitors.

Why not? It's smart marketing.

These winemakers mentioned Hood River as the place to go. They liked the town's proximity to Portland, and the touristy vibe.

Chelan is kind of like that. One winery owner decided to build his winery there when he found out how many cars drove past his property daily. Sure, there was a history of agriculture there, but the vines didn't go in until the wineries did.

Woodinville has proved what we in Washington have known all along: The wineries don't have to be near the vines. The wineries can be anywhere, as long as there are customers nearby. A great example of this is Goose Ridge Estate Winery. Owner of the largest vineyard in the state (at around 2,000 acres near Richland), it operates tasting rooms in Walla Walla, Leavenworth and Woodinville.

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What probably kept Hood River from being overrun by satellite tasting rooms was the state line. For a Washington winery to open a tasting room in Oregon, it must also become an Oregon winery. By my count, three Washington wineries have done that so far. A few Oregon wineries have gone the other direction, opening tasting rooms in Washington.

Which begs the question: where is the next Woodinville — or Hood River?

Using the criteria we're working with here, it doesn't need to be near vineyards, nor does it need to have a tradition of winery operations. It just needs tourists willing to spend money.

With Olympia lawmakers now allowing wineries to operate three satellite tasting rooms, this will become a bigger issue. The more wine a winery can sell directly to you, the more money it puts in its pocket.

For example, it seems like a winery could do well in Seattle's Pike Place Market. Lots of tourists, and plenty of free publicity every time the Seahawks play a national game because the broadcaster seems obligated to show fish being thrown around. Even the Washington State Wine Commission used to have offices there.

Another obvious location would be Cannon Beach, on Oregon's northern coast. Westport Winery near Aberdeen opened a tasting room there last year with moderate success. The winery's coastal theme helped it fit in right away. They needed an Oregon license to operate there, so it's more complicated than merely finding real estate downtown.

Another town that's popping is Bend, Ore. Va Piano in Walla Walla opened a location there last year. The area known as the Old Mill district seems ripe for more tasting rooms.

Washington's two largest cities also seem primed for an explosion of tasting rooms.

Seattle seems underutilized. The smart money would be on Georgetown. Charles Smith created Jet City, and his legion of fans followed. It is kind of like being near Ste. Michelle. A lot of wineries already have located in the SODO/Georgetown area.

Spokane also seems primed to take off, as the historic Davenport Hotel draws a lot of convention business. Several tasting rooms already have moved in, including Cougar Crest, Helix by Reininger, Patit Creek, Tempus, Va Piano from Walla Walla, Terra Blanca from Red Mountain and soon Maryhill Winery from the Gorge.

Other destination towns might help a cluster of winery tasting rooms thrive. We see a bunch in Leavenworth, which is famous merely for looking like Bavaria, already a naked grab for tourist dollars.

How about Poulsbo in north Kitsap County? There are empty storefronts in downtown Bremerton. It’s no longer a tourist town since the Mighty Mo chugged off to Hawaii, but now it caters to Seattle professionals who can't afford to live in the city. The city formerly known as Winslow isn't a bad idea. There’s already a thriving wine culture on Bainbridge Island. Lots of charm, too.

My favorite: Port Townsend. Perhaps too far away from Seattle, but it has tourism already built in, and it has no shortage of charm. Towns such as Port Gamble and Port Ludlow might also fit the bill, but are a bit more remote.

I love downtown Bellingham, which also has the advantage of visitors from the Lower Mainland driving south every weekend from British Columbia to fill up on gas and milk.

I also like towns such as La Conner and maybe some pop-up tasting rooms in the Skagit Valley when tulips are blooming.

There's no shortage of charming sleepy towns in the Evergreen State that are ripe to be the next Woodinville or Hood River.

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