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Sip, Swirl, and Discover: Wine Road Tripping through Woodinville, Yakima Valley, and Spokane

Want to explore Washington wines? Dr. Patricia Butterfield takes us on a metaphysical journey to some of Washington’s most popular wine regions and shares what makes each region unique. Plus, learn about fun events and learning opportunities in each wine region below.

Wine. Road Trip. Well, you had me at ‘wine,’ so ‘road trip’ is just icing on the cake.  So let’s head out for some enological exploration. Better yet, let’s start on the West side of the state, you know, the wet side.  Let’s start there.  

However, before we head out on our journey around the West side of Washington, it’s time to review the one mission-critical rule of wine trips. Here it comes: put an insulated cooler in the back of your car before you leave home! And maybe a couple of cold packs as well. Why is that? Wine is easily ruined by heat. Bulging corks, vinegar-y or prune-y tastes; that’s what happens to overheated wine.  

Treat your wine just as you would ice cream, cut flowers, or a furry dog; don’t let them overheat.  Prevent wine spoilage by getting your cooler (or two or three) in the car before you leave home; that way, you’ll be ready to protect your precious wine purchases from the get-go.

If you have leftover wine, you can always repurpose it into a delicious wine cocktail!

Now we’re finally on the road! Since we can pick our own journey, let’s start in Woodinville.  Home to 130+ wineries across four winemaking districts, Woodinville provides a perfect opportunity to quickly cover a lot of ground.  

Start by downloading the Woodinville Wine County app and charting your plan. This is truly the place where our wine tour begins.  Woodinville offers an array of “day pass” options for guests who want to drill into a particular style of wine or vibe.  

Options include a: 1) Bodacious Bordeaux pass ($45), 2) Rose all May pass ($45), 3) Women Winemakers pass ($45), and a 4) Wine and Dine ($50) pass.  Like anything, it’s good to read the fine print to know what passes can be used on specific days, etc.  

And if you really want to amp it up, time your visit with one of the concerts at Chateau Ste. Michelle.  This year’s summer line-up includes Rodrigo y Gabriela (definitely my top choice), Elvis Costello, and Kelsea Ballerini. Woodinville has definitely got it all.

And now for something completely different, our next stop takes us to the Yakima Valley.  Why there, you ask? Forty years ago, the Yakima Valley became the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the Pacific Northwest. That’s a big deal! 

In this country, AVAs are used to denote unique geographic or climatic features that define wine.  What you taste in every bottle of wine is really an expression of its AVA. That’s why a bottle of Washington Grenache differs so gloriously from a bottle of French Grenache (they can both be amazing, by the way).  

Anyway, back to the Yakima Valley and all it has waiting for you.  Get your bearings by downloading the Washington State AVA map. As opposed to Woodinville, you’ll need to cover more territory between each winery. 

Keep your eyes open because Central Washington is really where the action is in regard to grape production. Depending on the time of year, you may see workers pruning vines, the year’s growth emerging, or vines laden with fruit. It’s definitely the circle of life out here. Wineries in this neck of the woods range from family-run estate wineries to some of Washington’s (and this country’s) largest producers.  Pick a few places, then sip and take home bottles or cases of your favorites. This is where Washington wine began, and, lucky you, it’s been there waiting for you all along.

Our final wine stop begins with a song, and how can it be anything but “we always find our way back home.” That chorus is such an earworm.  Spokane pulls its weight and more in the Washington wine world, so any day is good for getting out and tasting wine. The Spokane Winery Association website has the latest on local winery hours and events. Whether you’re heading downtown to visit a few tasting rooms or out further to check out one of our production wineries, rest assured knowing that premier Washington wines are right around the corner. 

Sipping local means you will have an opportunity to learn about specific wines over time.  With each visit, you have to learn about particular wines deeply. Loved that 2019 Malbec? Well, let’s see what the characteristics of the next vintage will be. It will reflect all the temporal vibes of the following year and the year after that. That’s the thing about the wine universe. It’s always changing, teaching us new ways to think and be.

Dr. Patricia Butterfield

Patricia Butterfield, PhD, RN, is a public health scientist and recovering dean. She and her husband Phil own Winescape, a production winery and tasting room on Spokane’s South Hill. Winescape was selected as the 2023 Washington Winery to Watch by Great NW Wine Magazine critics.


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