About four years ago, I became aware of Washington state’s growing wine industry. I won a $25 coupon to any winery in Thurston County. I didn’t even know the county had any wineries.
Since then, I’ve organized wine tours in Chelan, Woodinville, Cashmere-Monitor-Leavenworth, Walla Walla, Mount Vernon, Pullman, and Thurston County in Washington state and in Sonoma, Santa Cruz, Temecula, and Amador County in California. I've also organized wine tours in Spain.
I often go wine tasting with my sister, and we enjoy traveling along with the wine tasting. One of my daughters lives in California, so we go wine tasting when I visit there. A fabulous tour of Temecula occurred when I went to visit my niece in San Diego.
Here are my tips for organizing a wine tour:
Research what the specialties are for the area you’ll be going to.
My sister and I like sweet white wines, so when we went to Walla Walla, which is known for its red wines, I looked for wineries that offered white wines as well.
Research individual wineries in the region.
In a search engine, type in “reviews of wineries from [region],” excellent wines from [region], “top wines from [region],” and “award-winning wines from [region].”
Select about 10 wineries.
That’s about the maximum for two days of wine tasting. You’ll also want extra wineries on your list because some may fall off the list because they’re too far from others.
Pick both large and small wineries.
One of the first tours I organized was in Woodinville. It was a “passport” day, so we picked up our passports at Chateau St. Michelle, then went across the street to the Columbia Winery. We also visited smaller wineries – Airfield Estates Winery, Silver Lake Winery, J Bookwalter Tasting Studio, and DiStefano Winery.
Look at the winery websites to find the days and times they’re open and whether there’s a charge for wine tasting.
Some smaller wineries aren’t open every day or have limited hours. A few wineries require reservations and some don’t offer wine tastings.
Look for coupons for free or reduced wine tastings.
When my daughter and I went to Sonoma, we got lucky. We stayed at the Cinnamon Bear Bed and Breakfast. It belongs to a bed and breakfast association that offers a coupon book for wine tasting. The woman who runs the bed and breakfast gave me the list of wineries in the coupon book in advance, so I was able to make a route based on its offerings.
Make a route.
Take the 10 wineries you have selected and find them on a map. Most wineries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Some open at 11 a.m., and others close at 6 p.m. You can visit three to five wineries in an afternoon depending on how close they are.
When my sister and I went wine tasting in Chelan, Washington, we went on a Friday and visited two wineries on the south shore of Lake Chelan and one in the town of Chelan. We liked Tsillan Cellars, on the south shore, and went back another time for dinner at its fine dining restaurant. The last winery we visited that Friday, Vin du Lac Winery, French for “wine of the lake,” is one of our favorites. It offered a really nice wine tasting, and welcomed us despite the fact that it was nearly 6 p.m. when we arrived. It’s the largest winery in the region, producing about 6,000 cases of wine a year.
The next day, we visited wineries on the north shore of Lake Chelan – Atam Winery, Lake Chelan Winery, Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, Cairdeas Winery, and Four Lakes Winery. At the Lake Chelan Winery, an artisan cheese company offers cheese for sale.
We really enjoy tasting wine in the Chelan area where we grew up. Back then, there were no wineries. When apple prices declined about 15 years ago, orchardists in Chelan and other parts of Central and Eastern Washington began tearing out some of their apple orchards and planting vineyards.
Designate a driver who doesn’t join in the tastings, if possible.
When I go with my sister, I ask for small portions for tasting since I'm the driver. That has worked well most of the time.
Call ahead to make sure the wineries are open when you plan to visit, if you have time.
It’s usually not a problem as the websites are generally very accurate about the times they’re open. However, when my sister and I went wine tasting in Cashmere, the first winery we stopped at was closed. There was a note on the door saying they were unexpectedly closed that day.
Take snacks with you.
Some wineries offer crackers to eat with the wine tasting. Others have cheese or other items you can buy. Still others offer nothing. So, it’s good to be prepared. Have lunch before you start out or see if one of the wineries you’ll be visiting offers lunch. A few do. Always be prepared by bringing snacks. It’s not fun to taste wine on an empty stomach.
I always like to ask how long the winery has been in operation and how much it produces a year. I also take notes on the wines, including the ones I like best.
Buy wines you like.
Just because you do a wine tasting, you’re not obligated to buy wine.
Take lots of photos.
It’s fun to share them on Facebook and with family and friends. When you approach a winery, take a photo of the sign. When you go to four or five wineries in an afternoon, it’s easy to get mixed up if you only have photos of the interiors.
My next two articles will be on a recent wine tasting trip in Spain. My daughter and I visited the Penedes region near Barcelona, known for its sparkling wine or cava, as it's called in Spain. The first article will be on Pares Balta, a winery near Vilafranca del Penedes. The second will be on Codorniu and Gramona, wineries in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia.