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Observations for a new year: Washington wine regions I’m thinking about in 2013

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If you know me, you know this – I’m a huge fan of the wine scene in Walla Walla. The valley has been our go-to wine region in Washington State ever since Mary Sue and I took our first trip there in 2002. We now make the trip at least two times a year, as much to spend time visiting with friends and enjoying golf, cycling and other activities as we do visiting the 100+ wineries. It’s a seductive place – so much so that we’ve often fantasized about making a permanent move to Walla Walla from Bainbridge Island. (Can you say ‘aspirational goal?’)

But just as man cannot live on bread alone, the true lover of Washington wine can’t live on one region within our fair state. With that in mind, here are three Washington wine regions that I’m keen on following in 2013. Think of them as regions to watch.

Yakima & Zillah

Sure, Yakima and Zillah don’t have the sex appeal of Walla Walla, but the area seems to be gaining some new energy as a wine destination. Some new places to stay and dine are popping up in and around Yakima, and you can be there in a couple of hours from downtown Seattle, which makes for a doable day trip as long as you remember to bring along a DD.

 

The tasting room at Two Mountain Winery: This is how they roll.

There’s plenty of cool stuff happening at individual wineries. Big Phil Cline of Naches Heights Vineyards opened a new destination tasting room late last year and Southard, located in Selah, has generated some incredible buzz for a new winery. Dinnen, Cultura, Ramseyer and Two Mountain have become ‘must-stops’ in Zillah, but there are plenty of wineries located on that same exit of I-82.

Yakima Valley is celebrating its 30th year as a wine region, and there’s likely to be all kinds of fun stuff this year associated with the anniversary. Wine Yakima Valley, the region’s marketing organization, is a great resource for events and activities.

Woodinville

Ask some of your casual wine pals if they’ve ever visited Woodinville for a wine getaway and you’ll be surprised how many of them have never made the trip.

But there’s a sense of revitalization in the air in 2013 and it’s emanating from the region’s marketing organization, Woodinville Wine Country.  Jamie Peha, Washington wine’s energizer bunny, has stepped in as the group’s interim director and is driving a new marketing plan designed by Steve Burns, the godfather of Washington wine promotion. They’re busy retooling the events – St. Nick’s featured a totally new format last December and Passport, the spring event, likely will be reinvented. It’s going to be fun to watch this year.

Woodinville now has so many wineries – nearly 100 – that you truly need a couple of days to visit the distinct areas. We spend a lot of time around the Hollywood Schoolhouse round-about at JBookwalter, Ross Andrew and Pepper Bridge, and Gorman, Zerba Cellars and Otis Kenyon across the street. Or we head down the road to the warehouse district, where we’re particularly fond of Obelisco Estate, Bunnell and Robert Ramsay. And no trip to the ‘Ville is complete without a stop at Ste. Michelle, the state’s flagship winery.

Will Woodinville replace Walla Walla as Washington State’s premier wine destination? The potential is there, and 2013 might be the year.

Bainbridge Island

Okay, stop smirking and consider the fact. Bainbridge currently has eight wineries, and five of them have tasting rooms within walking distance of the ferry. Island scuttlebutt suggests that several new ones could open later this year.

Perhaps more importantly, the island has become a foodie’s paradise, with four top-notch fine dining restaurants (Four Swallows, Marche, Hitchcock and Café Nola) and some great local spots like San Carlos, Treehouse Café and Harbor House Pub. Toss in a handful of killer bakery/coffee houses, one world-class ice cream shop, and a couple of excellent small inns within walking distance of the ferries, the food and the wine, and you’ve created a very compelling destination.

But wait, there’s more. Thousands of tourists visit Seattle each year who might like to add a little wine tasting to their itinerary, but don’t have the time to head east, even to Woodinville. Washington’s ferry system, annually one of the state’s top tourist attractions, delivers thousands of these visitors to the island for day trips. With some clever marketing and positioning, Bainbridge Island could easily build a reputation as western Washington’s top wine destination.

Which wine regions are you visiting this year in Washington State? I’d love to hear.

Coming soon: Washington State wine trends I’ll be following in 2013.