If you follow grapefriend on Twitter or Instagram, you saw all the wine fun we had in Washington state a few weeks ago. I love heading to wine regions I’ve never been to, learning about their whole deal and – obvs – tasting a ton of wine. Washington state had been on my list since they’re the third largest wine-producing state in the US (after California and New York), and also because I’ve had some pretty good wines from there lately. Here’s other fun stuff I learned.
1 the reds are bold like Napa, but a lot cheaper
The first vineyards were planted in the early 70s, only a few years after Napa. So it’s basically been around as long as Napa but has way less recognition. Maybe it’s because many of the wines are more bulk and value focused, maybe it’s because billionaires didn’t come in and jack up the prices. Either way, some good values and a way more chill scene can be found here.
Lots of Cabernet is grown, but Merlot and Syrah were my favorites grapes there in general. Everyone always tells me it’s hard to sell Syrah, maybe because people are less familiar with it. Total shame, it’s amazing.
We had lunch at Col Solare, which is a partnership between Tuscany’s Antinori wines and Washington’s Chateau Ste Michelle. They make really elegant, delicious Bordeaux blends that would easily be $150+ in Napa. On Red Mountain, they go for $75.
2 grape growers are the rock stars
Usually in the wine world, you meet the winemakers or the winery owner. Every once in a while you meet a vineyard manager (and if it’s at harvest time, they’re probably fighting with the winemaker about when to pick the grapes – winery fun!). But in Washington, the grape growers are the revered and powerful people. We went to dinner with three guys who’ve been growing grapes for decades. They owned vineyards that sell grapes to multiple wineries (which doesn’t always happen, and when it does it’s not always touted). They work with the winemakers to figure out how they want to train the vines or when to pick the grapes, but they know the vineyard the best so are basically the shot callers.
3 Walla Walla is fun to say
Walla Walla is one of the more bustling AVAs in Washington where a large chunk of the good wine is being made. Walla Walla is a Native American term that means “place of many waters.” Now it could be “place of many wines” with over 100 wineries nearby.
It also has a super cute town that was founded in the early 1800s. Our hotel, the Marcus Whitman, had these awesome old school mailboxes at reception. Not that I got any mail. But I did take a pic.
4 basalt has no taste
I know, I know you’re probably like “WHAT??? Basalt has no taste???” and feeling like your world has been turned upside down. Well, it’s true.
We spent one morning with Dr. Kevin Pogue, a geology professor at Whitman College, who taught us all about the soil in Washington winemaking areas. It’s some loess and a lot of basalt, which comes from volcanic rock. Soil has a lot of effect on grapes which is why the same grape grown in a different area can make such different wines. Anyway, Kevin dissed that wine writers say wine tastes like the soil it was grown in – slate, chalk, basalt – because none of these things actually has a taste. He even licked a basalt rock to prove it (I guess I should’ve too, for grapefriendy journalistic purposes, but I refrained. We hadn’t even had lunch yet.)
5 Woodinville is the new Vegas
Sick of doing bachelor/bachelorette parties in Vegas? Head to Woodinville instead, a half hour north of Seattle.
There are tons of winery tasting rooms all packed together in clusters throughout the town, so you can go from sip to sip with less crowding and less puke. Some are in warehouse-type lots and as one guy said, “A lot of romance is lost in the parking lot.” But the bonus is that you can meet winemakers and have a ton of wine and fun, easily jumping to a few tasting rooms.
I was only there for a few hours so didn’t get the full experience, but apparently you can stay at the Willows Lodge which has a full spa too. And, no jackpot bells!
Tomorrow I’ll run through my favorite bottles. Oh, the anticipation!