If you're a wine travel lover, Washington is an especially rewarding destination. Practically everywhere you turn, there's an interesting winery to discover, not to mention vibrant cities, natural wonders galore, and a pleasing four season climate.
In our estimation, many Washington wines are becoming as well known as California's. It's not surprising, as Washington is the second largest wine producing state in the country. To illustrate the importance of Washington's wine industry, over 500 Washington wineries add almost $3 billion to the state's economy, and employ more than 29,000.
There's so much to discover about Washington wine, so let's focus on Washington's eastern area, known as the Inland Empire, and in particular the strikingly beautiful city of Spokane.
One of the first things you'll notice about Spokane is how the great outdoors literally snuggle up to this friendly city. Bisected by the Spokane River, white water rafting, skiing, cycling tours, and hiking opportunities abound. And yet, the vibrant pulse of this high tech city is always on display, with live music and fantastic restaurants just steps away no matter where you turn.
The city itself is wonderfully walkable, interspersed with historic architectural gems that have been restored and reinvented. Our first evenings discovery was the Davenport Arts District, a lively arts and entertainment area.
The Davenport Arts District is really where you'll feel Spokane's pulse. Historic buildings house galleries, restaurants, and unique shops. This is an ideal late afternoon and early evening stroll, with extra time the next day to fully appreciate all the District has to offer.
Just a few of the shops we discovered were Simply Northwest, which features specialty foods, wines, and regional gifts, and the whimsically named Spokandy, a local candy making institution since 1913. Next, it was time for dinner at the Steam Plant Grill, housed in an historic handsome landmark former steam plant.
This was dinner as it should be. Steam Plant Grill focuses on local ingredients, hearty portions, and reasonable prices. Try the planked salmon, beer cheese soup, and the basil cream ravioli. Don't miss dessert ... the vanilla bourbon stout float is made with the onsite brewhouse's oh-so-delicious dark stout beer and creamy premium vanilla ice cream.
Twelve wineries call Spokane and the surrounding area home. Spokane itself is compact enough, so driving distances aren't burdening. Many of the wineries are clustered fairly near downtown, with others just slightly farther afield. Conveniently, 12 of the 14 are quite near the Spokane River, which bisects the Spokane area as it meanders east/west.
Wineries East Of Downtown
Arbor Crest Wine Cellars: Wine Spectator named Arbor Crest one of "50 Great Producers Every Wine Lover Should Know". It's located in the Cliff House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located high on a bluff overlooking the Spokane River, the view is almost better than the wine here. Look for award winning Cabernets in particular.
Knipprath Cellars: Located in a handsome old red brick schoolhouse, Knipprath boasts an impressive selection of Port wines, a favorite of ours. Have you ever tried a Vanilla Port or a Chocolate Port? You can here! We also loved the Moonstruck Merlot, with its notes of brown spice and plum.
Latah Creek Wine Cellars: If you like Rieslings as we do, you'll enjoy Latah Creek. The extensive gift shop here is one of the nicest we visited on this trip. Also be sure to try a Washington specialty, the Huckleberry d'Latah. This wine is a blend of huckleberries, a small blueberry-like fruit, with Riesling.
Nodland Cellars: What a wonderful small boutique winery this is. Just like many European estate wineries, Nodland produces only one red and one white wine. These wines are aged in French Oak barrels, adding to the smooth complexity of the finished product.
Wineries North Of Downtown
Mountain Dome Winery: Located in the foothills of Mt. Spokane, Mountain Dome is something of a change of pace, as they are Washington's premier sparkling winery. One of the key differences between production of sparkling wines vs. regular wines is the lengthy bottle aging, thereby producing a secondary fermentation. These wines are fun to drink, and add a new dimension to a wine lovers palate.
Townshend Cellar: This small winery north of Spokane offers small lots of quality wines, many of which have been praised by the wine press. The reds are the star here, especially the rich dark fruit taste of their Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wineries In And Near Downtown
Barrister Winery: We literally walked right into this winery, housed in a early 20th century brick building in the heart of the Davenport District. It's red wine heaven here. Barrister produces limited quantities of Bordeaux style reds and Syrahs.
Grande Ronde Cellars: Wine Specator loves Grande Ronde Cellars, having raved about their Cabernet and Merlot. The real star for us, though, was the creamy Chardonnay. The bouquet of apricot and peach truly was the forebearer of great things to come.
Lone Canary Winery: This was our personal winner of "best winery name" in the Spokane area. But Lone Canary is more than just a name, although the logo is eye catching and named after Washington's state bird, the wild canary. The wines here have great depth and complexity, from the deliciously fruity Cabernet Sauvignon to Bird House Red, a red blend.
Robert Karl Cellars: Located in the heart of Spokane's historic warehouse district, Robert Karl Cellars specializes in premium Cabernets. These wines are ideal to cellar for a time to bring out their true mature flavor. In particular, we recommend the rich red Syrah and the Claret.
Vintage Hill Cellars: This downtown Spokane winery is a very comfortable and pleasant place to stop and taste. We bought a few bottles of Vintage Hill's Sauvignon Blanc and the Riesling.
Of course, eastern Washington and Spokane are just a part of Washington's wine scene. In the meantime, don't overlook Spokane! This is an appealing destination whether you crave outdoor activities, historic architecture, city life, or all of the above!