It’s no secret here at EWW that I love Washington wine. Now that we live east of the Cascades, Steve & I are a short drive from literally hundreds of wineries and the growing regions in which the grapes for nearly all Washington wines are grown.
If you are new to Washington wine, here’s a brief crash course. Washington is the second largest producer of premium wines in the United States. According to the Washington State Wine Commission, the first wine grapes in Washington were planted in 1825, though large-scale wine making did not begin until 1960’s. Since then, Washington has seen an explosion of commercial wine making that has continued to this day. Currently there are more than 740 wineries in the state, with more being opened all the time.
There are eight designated wine-growing regions in the state. We are lucky enough to live in one, and are within a two hours’ drive of four others…great for exploring! Here’s a nifty map of the various wine regions, if you’d like a handy visual.
Ok, so now that you have the background, here are my favorites of the eastern Washington wineries I’ve visited thus far. We still have hundreds to go, but we’re off to a good start!
Location: Walla Walla
Price Range: $12-52 per bottle
Steve & I discovered this winery by accident. My favorite chardonnay was out at the grocery store, so we took a chance on Waterbrook because it was on sale. What a pleasant surprise! Although inexpensive, the wine was very tasty: smooth with just a hint of butter. When we later visited the winery, we were also pleased to find a lot of delicious wines at very reasonable prices ($12-25). Waterbrook shares manufacturing and tasting room space with Three Rivers, a more premium brand ($14-52).
Their tasting room is very nice, spacious with a modern bar, large windows, slate floors, and a comfortable sitting area in one corner. Although the reds were not much to write home about, they were consistent and budget friendly. The whites are even better. If you are looking for really consistent wines that will give you a “bang for your buck,” Waterbrook/Three Rivers is a great bet.
Price Range: $10-48
You may remember I mentioned Arbor Crest in my posting Spokane Wine Weekend, where I tasted their sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, syrah, malbec and the Dionysus blend. All were delicious, but my favorite was the Dionysus. It is a delicious Bordeaux-style blend full of fruit and a scent that will knock your socks off. I have no trouble understanding why the winery named it after the Greek good of wine and merriment.
Arbor Crest’s main tasting room is also a winner for its stunning location. Sitting atop a hill east of the city, Arbor Crest looks over the Spokane River and has lovely views of the surrounding hillsides. It is a popular wedding venue in town, and also hosts a series of events throughout the summer. Even if you’re not interested at all in wine, it would be worth going for the view…and bring a picnic!
Price Range: $13-55
I have been to Milbrandt several times now. Its very convenient location in the Prosser Vinter’s Village makes it a great stop on your way to Walla Walla, or a short side trip from Yakima or the Tri Cities. Milbrandt has a large selection of wine, and their premier “Estate” series (running from between $20-30 per bottle) has some real stunners. During the Columbia Valley Passport Wine Weekend last year, I fell in love with their granache. I’ve also been a longtime fan of the Estate Chardonnay, very smooth and clean, with a little hint of banana. It sounds weird, but it is a fantastic back porch wine that also goes well with garlicky food. I’m even more partial to Milbrandt since we moved to Moses Lake, because the grapes for Milbrandt’s “Traditions” series are grown in nearby Quincy.
Location: Moses Lake
Price Range: $12-25
Camas Cove is another accidental discovery, and a new local favorite. While out on a walk in a friends’ neighborhood, we came across a sign pointing to nearby wine tasting. We followed the sign and found ourselves in Dennis and Nancy Rice Parr ‘s garage-come-tasting room. The Parrs are retired, and decided that they would like to try making wine in this stage of their lives. Well, they’ve proven quite good at it! The wine is delicious, and the location at their lakeside home is very charming. Steve and I are quite partial to the Thelma and Louise white blend (50% chardonnay, 50% roussanne) but we are also fans of the syrah and merlot. Plus, Dennis and Nancy are so nice and so excited about their wines, we always have a wonderful time when we visit!
Price Range: $15-30
We love Lost River so much we have visited twice within the past year. You cannot miss Lost River as you come into town from the west, as it is directly on US 20 (luckily, the part that’s still open year round). Any time of year, you can feel comfortable in the tasting room, with its log-cabin feel and friendly staff. Generally, the prices at Lost River are mid-range, from about $15-30 per bottle, depending on the wine and the vintage. My favorite is the Walla Walla syrah, but other scrumptious wines they feature are the 2008 Merlot (92% Merlot, 8 % Cabernet Franc) and the Cedarosa blend (45% Cabernet Franc 55% Merlot).
Price Range: $13-60
I love Kestrel not only for wine but also for the warm and welcoming atmosphere that the winery provides. The interior is nearly all done in light-colored, unembellished wood. A couple of small tables sit near the entrance, where patrons can enjoy wine samples away from the bar or sip on a granita made from Kestrel’s red table wine, Lady in Red, or their signature sweet white wine, Pure Platinum. The rest of the space is dominated by the large wraparound bar, backed with wooden wine racks.
Both times we’ve visited Kestrel, we enjoyed friendly and knowledgeable service from the tasting room staff and really enjoyed the wine. Although all the wines were consistent, well-balanced and flavorful, the real standout during our most recent trip was the Syrah port. It was a beautiful ruby red, and very flavorful without being too sweet. It’s the kind of wine I’d love to have for dessert in lieu of chocolate cake.
Price Range: $15-43
I love, love, love this winery, despite its unconventional location: It is a beautiful replica of a French villa smack dab in the middle of an industrial park. The winery makes the most of the space, though, with pretty gardens, ornamental grape vines and water features. Once inside, it is easy to forget the concrete and warehouses outside.
Although all their wines are stunning, I favor their big, juicy reds, such asTre Amore. The port at CFLP was excellent as well, the most fun part being the adorable little port glass we were given to better sip!
Location: Walla Walla
Price Range: $14-49
This winery is charming before you even step in the door. As you may have guessed from the name, the winery is housed in an old, converted school house. Available wine varieties are displayed on chalk boards in the tasting room, which also has large windows overlooking the gorgeous, surrounding hills. Although it’s been crowded every time I’ve visited L’Ecole 41, I’ve always been well taken care of once I found a place at the bar. In addition to being well-staffed, L’Ecole offers a long list of available wines to taste. The variety of available wine ensures they offer something for everyone.
Price Range: $20-43
This winery is a favorite of ours, and not just because Steve is a lawyer! Their bold, jammy red wines are phenomenal. They could be good with food, but we don’t know because we never wait for dinner before opening their Rough Justice blend or Cabernet Franc. The tasting room is definitely worth a visit…if you can find it! Don’t be afraid to ask for directions – it would be a shame to miss this opportunity because you didn’t know there were adjacent streets called “Railroad Ave” and “Railroad Alley!”
Location: Walla Walla
Price Range: $20-60
I am pretty sure that this winery is about as close to heaven as I’ve been. It’s one of the first wineries ever established in Washington, and their wines are out of this world. Located in what looks like a cute little cottage next to Highway 12 leading into Walla Walla, this unassuming little place will blow you away with every sip. The $10 tasting fee is totally worth it, as many of the wines are pricey. Someday we hope our budget will allow us to purchase more, but so far we’ve only been able to get their Non-vintage Red wine (which is delicious, of course) but many more are on our wish list. This winery must go on your “must see” list on your next trip to Walla Walla!
Have an opinion on Washington wine? Please feel free to leave a comment. Even better: do you know a winery that outshines any of these? Please share so I can go check it out!!