Washington Wine Country
The eastern part of Washington State is bursting with delicious vino and gorgeous views
by Darcie Duttweiler
Washington wine country is absolutely nothing like Seattle. The Emerald City receives approximately 30 inches more rain than the land east of the Cascade Mountains each year. And, like Austin, eastern Washington sees roughly 250 sunny days per year and garners more hours of daylight during its growing season than Napa Valley, which helps to produce incredibly diverse wines, including 70 varietals, ranging from Aglianico to Zinfandel.
As Côte Bonneville winemaker Kerry Shiels puts it, “No other wine tells you so much about the sense of place than Washington wine.”
This is clearly apparent in the glass. From bold, rich reds (don’t skip the Merlot here!) to supple and soft whites, the 14 AVAs (American viticultural areas) of Washington— meaning diverse wine-growing regions based on terroir, climate and elevation —produce unique flavors. Roughly 50 years old, the Washington wine industry is still relatively young, but it’s grown exponentially over the past decade. The state boasts almost 1,000 wineries, with four opening every month, so there’s a lot of vino to sip for those seeking a new wine destination.
Getting to eastern Washington requires planning. Assuming you’re flying into Seattle, you will either need to make the four-hour drive to Walla Walla or book an Alaskan Airlines 65-minute hopper from the city and rent a car. Once you arrive in the charming town of Walla Walla (population 30,000), you will be instantly transported to a slower pace.
Besides wine — there are 32 tasting rooms in the downtown area and 100-plus wineries throughout the AVA — there’s plenty to see, do and eat. Start your day with baked goods and lattes at Colville Street Patisserie, or stay a spell at the airy Bacon & Eggs for traditional breakfast fare. Spend some time strolling along the picturesque central hub, where you’ll see one of the most gorgeous Macy’s stores ever — the Liberty Theatre, built in 1917, was converted to house the retailer. Swing by Bright’s Candies, an adorable candy store operating since 1934; the delightful toy shop Inland Octopus; and Heritage Park, with a wall mural that rivals Austin’s most Instagrammable street art.
Sample wines in the city center near North Second Avenue with a jam-packed lineup of Maison Bleue, Trust Cellars and Mark Ryan Winery. Then, pop into Sleight of Hand Cellars, where visitors are encouraged to spin one of hundreds of vinyl records. In a renovated 1870s farmhouse just outside of town, Woodward Canyon Winery is not to be missed. Neither is L’Ecole No. 41’s tasting room in a quaint 1915 schoolhouse.
With gigantic sandwiches on pillowy bread, Olive Marketplace & Café makes for a tasty refueling stop. Or enjoy a relaxing midday break at French bistro Brasserie Four for a filling croque-monsieur.
For such a small town, the number of enticing restaurants is impressive. Nosh a delectable dinner at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen (don’t skip the octopus), opt for lively Italian fare with inventive cocktails at Passatempo Taverna, or go classic with fine dining at Whitehouse-Crawford.
Settle into the historic Marcus Whitman hotel in the heart of downtown and sip free samples at the 90-year-old hotel’s four onsite tasting rooms. Or, for sweeping views and a private lake, head 10 minutes outside the city to Eritage Resort, where the 10 rooms and 10 private bungalows boast breathtaking scenery from patios or balconies and guests can enjoy a heated saltwater pool, a manmade lake perfect for paddle-boarding, massive soaking tubs, and fireplaces overlooking inviting beds.
On your way out of town, pick up something to nibble on at Andrae’s Kitchen. Chef Andrae Bopp has a high-caliber pedigree (including a stint at Le Bernardin), and his gas station outpost is more charming kitsch than grubby dive.
About an hour northwest of Walla Walla, the off-the-beaten path Red Mountain AVA consistently produces some of the highest-rated wines in the state. Because of the area’s higher elevation, many wineries flaunt gorgeous views of the Yakima Valley below, so plan to stay a while.
Planted on Red Mountain since 1989, the Hedges Family Estate is a gorgeous château seemingly plucked out of the French countryside. It’s no wonder, as founder Anne-Marie Hedges originally hails from Champagne. The industrial and modern Fidelitas is a stark contrast to the old-school Hedges estate. Head to Col Solare for a 45-minute tour of the vineyard and a snack. Hightower Cellars and Kiona Vineyards, the first vineyard on Red Mountain, are also pleasant stops.
Looking to ditch the car? Red Mountain Trails offers guided horseback tours, allowing you to commune with nature between wineries.
In the evening, head into Richland and dine at classic Northwest eatery Anthony’s for fresh local seafood or at the modern tavern LULU Craft Bar + Kitchen, both of which overlook Columbia Point Marina.
Stay at the Lodge at Columbia Point, directly on the mighty Columbia River, and relish the fire pits, onsite tasting room, spa and water activities, including kayaking and windsurfing.
Horse Heaven Hills
For something truly unique, drive south to the outskirts of Prosser in the heart of Horse Heaven Hills to Alexandria Nicole Cellars and its cluster of tiny homes. Featured on HGTV, the five houses are nestled directly adjacent to the vineyard and are a stone’s throw from the tasting room.
Furnished with the amenities of home, including a kitchen, a fire pit and a barbecue grill, these tiny houses are perfect for those wanting some peace and quiet. From rustic to sleek, there’s a rental for everyone, but the Jet Black Syrah home is by far the hippest, complete with a roll-up garage door and a wine barrel wall.
Simply enjoy your time relaxing on this breathtaking vineyard in your home away from home, or head into town to sample from more than 30 wineries, stroll through the historic downtown and peruse art and antiques.
With more than 60 wineries and 40 varietals, flavors are vast in the Yakima Valley, and there’s a lot of area to cover in this AVA. Stop at Côte Bonneville’s charming tasting room in a converted train depot in Sunnyside. In Zillah, the rustic Two Mountain Winery offers striking views of the mountains. Just south of Yakima, Owen Roe is a must-stop before visiting Treveri Cellars, the state’s sole bubbles-only winery.
In the small town of Union Gap, stop in at Los Hernández Tamales, which won a James Beard America’s Classics award in 2018 for its handmade specialty. Or snag a table on the spacious patio at Provisions Restaurant + Market for made-from-scratch fare. Rest your head at Hotel Maison, an elegant 100-year-old former Freemason lodge that was once the tallest structure between Seattle to Spokane.
Make your way west through the mountains and head toward Seattle. Just 30 minutes northeast is Woodinville, where the famous Chateau Ste. Michelle makes its home and produces 8 million bottles of Riesling a year. Washington’s oldest winery also hosts a large summer concert series, including the likes of ATX’s own Gary Clark Jr., on its gorgeous grounds.
Tired of wine? Cleanse your palate at Woodinville Whiskey Co., which offers four variations of the spirit in a sleek setting.
Cozy up at Willows Lodge, a rustic but modern retreat perfect for snuggling with your sweetie by your room’s fireplace or in the massive tub. Pick from the eight-option pillow menu for an optimal night’s sleep. In the same complex lies both Barking Frog and the Herbfarm Restaurant, two superb eateries focusing on local ingredients that are perfect for lunch or dinner.
For a little livelier dinner option, head down the road to Teatro ZinZanni for an evening of food, acrobatics, comedy, music and more.
Once you’ve finished exploring Woodinville, make the short trek to Seattle and hitch a nonstop flight home. Word of wisdom: Once you return to Austin, it may prove quite difficult to acquire some of the bottles you came to love, so plan to pack a few before your departure or sign up for a wine club!