A Traveler’s Guide to Wine Country Washington

With long, sun-drenched days and more than 200 wineries within a two-hour drive, Washington’s Wine Country Region offers a stunning natural setting for sipping award-winning wines straight from the source.

Located in south-central Washington, the region is home to some of the country’s best syrahs, merlots, cabernet sauvignons, and chardonnays. East of the Cascades, hilltop wineries overlook pristine lakes, dormant volcanoes stand tall over lush vineyards, and acres of vines rise from mineral-rich soils. Washington’s Wine Country covers multiple AVAs, including the Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, and Naches Heights. While Washington wines have garnered international attention, the Wine Country Region remains friendly and unpretentious, dotted with charming small towns and budding metropolitan areas with their own art and dining scenes. Whether you base yourself in Yakima, Tri-Cities, or Walla Walla, you’ll be perfectly positioned to discover the region’s many attractions. With 300 days of sunshine, recreational opportunities abound. Visitors can take to the Columbia, Snake and Yakima rivers and find myriad spots to bike, hike, hunt, and fish. Due in part to the climate, golf is one of the area’s most popular sports. Wine Valley Golf Club in Walla Walla was designed by architect Dan Hixson in the shadow of the Blue Mountains and tops many golfers’ bucket lists. When it comes to beverages, wine isn’t the only star of the show. In the Yakima Valley, which is responsible for about 75 percent of the hops grown in the country, visitors will find an emphasis on craft beer. An easy way to responsibly sample some of the area’s brews is through a hop-on-hop-off shuttle.

The Culture

Though a world away from California’s Wine Country, the legacy is continued. Washington’s far more than foggy afternoons and wind-blown coastlines—a diversity of climate, geography, and passion have established this state as one of the most popular new winemaking regions, with a laid-back lifestyle that rivals that of the neighbors to the south. Each of the small towns dotted throughout the wine country region are home to knowledgeable locals willing to guide you to their favorite spots. Diversity is a part of the culture – the wine industry ties creative people from different backgrounds and several countries around the world. Home to global giants Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco and Amazon, Washington State is a place of tremendous vision and drive. Our wine industry reflects this. The innovative growers and winemakers broke ground in a vast, wild territory where conventional wisdom said they could not. And they have expanded that work to create America’s second-largest wine region, with more than 50,000 acres of vines and more than 900 wineries. The winemakers and grape growers live and work in small towns where old homes, beautiful barns, and converted mills reflect the American west. They are active in their communities, connected to the land and eager to share their stories. When stopped in a tasting room, the person you see walking in the vineyard, driving a forklift, or opening bottles behind the counter is often the owner or winemaker.

The Scenery

With its dark-as-steel Puget Sound and snow capped mountains, Washington may not look much like wine country at first. But stay in one of the state’s quintessential wine towns and you’ll quickly discover that some of the country’s best syrahs, merlots, and chardonnays are being produced here. Tucked into the nation’s far northwest corner, Washington wine country is special—and its grape-growing regions unique—because of an exceptional range of growing conditions. The Cascade Mountains bisect the state, a concrete curtain between the maritime climate of the Puget Sound area and the semi-arid, blue-skied continental climate well-suited to large-scale grape growing, to the east. Cross eastward from Seattle over those mountains and you’ll find some 300 days of annual sunshine, miles of fruit orchards, and near-desert landscapes that roll down from mountain plateaus, until they drop into cliffs above the massive Columbia River. There, in Washington’s east, are hilltop wineries overlooking glacial lakes, vineyards abutting dormant volcanoes, and acres of vines covering rock-strewn soils shaped by the Ice Age.

The Weather

In Wine Country, the summers are short, hot, dry, and mostly clear and the winters are very cold, snowy, and mostly cloudy. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 30°F to 93°F and is rarely below 17°F or above 102°F. The hot season lasts for 2.7 months, from June 19 to September 10, with an average daily high temperature above 82°F. The cold season lasts for 3.2 months, from November 15 to February 22, with an average daily high temperature below 50°F.

Small Towns Worth Visiting

Benton City—This city of 3,400 became a green spot in the desert with the arrival of irrigation in the middle of the last century. Wedged in a bend in the Yakima River, it’s a known spot for hooking bass and salmon. If you’re looking for adventures of the Old West sort, visit any of the area’s nearby horse-roping arenas.

Naches— Located at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Naches has its roots in agriculture and logging. Members of a wagon train settled in the area in the 1850s rather than crossing the Cascades. Today, the area serves as a great base for exploring the orchards and fruit stands of the Yakima Valley. Visit in mid-September to experience Sportsman’s Days, where you’ll find apple-bin races, a fishing derby, and more.

Prosser— Homesteaded by a Union colonel in 1882, Prosser is now surrounded by wineries and has grown into a riverside destination. During September, the town hosts multiple festivals, including the Great Prosser Balloon Rally, the Harvest & Street Painting Festival, and National Alpaca Farm Days.

Toppenish— Located just across the Yakima River from Zillah, Toppenish boasts the American Hop Museum, which is fitting seeing as the Yakima Valley produces more than 70 percent of the hops in the country. The town is also home to The Northern Pacific Railway Museum.

Zillah— The town of Zillah is home to quirky sights, 20-plus wineries, farm stands, and plenty of dining options. One interesting attraction is the Teapot Dome Historical Site, which was built to commemorate an oil reserve debacle that started during the administration of President Warren Harding.

The Attractions

Sip Award Winning Wines at L’Ecole No. 41– Located on the outskirts of Walla Walla, L’Ecole No. 41 is housed in the 1915 historic schoolhouse. L’Ecole has been honored 15 times by “Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries” and was also named “Best Tasting Room” by Seattle magazine. In 2011, its “Ferguson” was called “the best Bordeaux wine in the world” in its first international competition. There is also a tasting room Heritage By L’Ecole Wine Bar in downtown Walla Walla.

Taste Award Winning Wines At Woodward Canyon Winery— Woodward Canyon Winery was the second winery in Walla Walla and the first Washington winery to be award-winning in Wine Spectator’s “Top 10 List”. It has set the tone for high-end wines, producing quality cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Tastings are held in a restored 1870’s farmhouse with lovely gardens and an outside picnic area. Annual tasting events are held in both Portland, Oregon, and Seattle.

Stroll Downtown Walla Walla— Enjoy the beautiful downtown Walla Walla area. Stop at unique shops like Bright’s Candies, a staple since 1934, producing fine chocolates and candies. After drooling at all the goodies, take time to view the production through the large viewing windows. For a mom-and-pop toy store, visit Inland Octopus. Antique buffs will enjoy searching for treasures at Tre Vigne. Stroll through Heritage Square Park and study the art installation titled Windows On The Past. Saturdays, you can visit the Downtown Farmer’s Market for local produce and unique crafts. There are also numerous tasting rooms downtown.

Visit the Yakima Area Arboretum and Botanical Garden— Yakima Area Arboretum and Botanical Garden spans 46 acres throughout the city of Yakima along the Yakima River’s riparian habitat, originally developed in the 20th century as a chicken and vegetable farm site. In 1967, the arboretum was officially established by the Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs and has been in continual development since, showcasing more than 1,000 native and exotic plant species throughout its landscaped gardens. 

Rasa Vineyards— Rasa Vineyards is run by the Naravane brothers, Billo and Pinto, who ditched their high-tech jobs to pursue their true passion of winemaking. Located in Walla Walla, Washington, the winery focuses on producing ultra-premium wine specific to Eastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon. The locals recommend the Creative Impulse Red on the high end and, on the lower end, their Bordeaux-style blend QED and red Rhône-style Convergence.

Valdemar Estates— Valdemar Estates was founded by a fifth-generation winemaker from Rioja, Spain. Their state-of-the-art facility in Walla Walla opened in 2019 and is a must-visit destination for wine lovers in the area. Stay a while at their tasting room with incredible views and a restaurant to keep you fueled. They serve wine from both their Washington and Spanish vineyards. Try one of their Washington Syrahs or their Spanish Conde Valdemar Reserva.

If you’re dying to explore the Wine Country Region of Washington to see for yourself how good the wine is, Pamela’s List can get you a top paying contract and have you out there in no time!

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