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Wine 101 - Visit Washington Wineries a Beginners Guide

Two Mountain Winery is a fun place to visit in Zillah, Washington.

a.k.a. The Best Day to go Wine Tasting

Today I want to share some information with those new to visiting Washington wineries and tasting rooms. Consider it a Wine 101 FAQ. My original intent was to focus on the best day to go wine tasting. As I began to write, I realized I needed to expand on the topic. As I continued to write, the more I wanted to share. It is difficult for me to write short posts lacking depth.

Wine bar at Walter Clore Center, Prosser, Washington.

This is part of an evolving series on visiting Washington wine country.

Now that I am pouring wine again on a semi-regular basis at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center, I am enjoying the many customer conversations about Washington wine and wine in general. The list of wines I pour from at the Clore Center changes monthly. And each day I pour, the wines I pour will change throughout the day. I relish working in a dynamic environment that exposes me to new Washington wineries and diverse styles of winemaking. Every day is different.

There are a couple of regulars I now recognize. Most visitors I meet are there for the first time. My weekend wine customer interactions have brought to mind several topics I want to share with my readers and the reason for this post.

Visiting Dunham Cellars, Walla Walla, Washington.

What is the Best Day to go Wine Tasting?

Naturally, I encourage you to come to Washington wine country and visit our local and regional wineries. I will always pour Washington wine with a smile and treat you with courtesy. My intent today is to assist those new to visiting Washington wine country. Consider this an outline to help you make plans for a visit.

Research - Do your research before visiting wine country. Smaller wineries do not have the staff to accommodate visitors all week long. Boutique wineries may only be open on weekends or require advance notice to arrange a private tasting. Research the region you plan on visiting, make a list of the wineries you want to visit and check the days and hours they are open.

Confirm - Also, check the winery website to see which time of year they are open. Smaller wineries may close their tasting room during the winter months. Plan ahead and confirm the wineries you want to visit will be open.

A visit to Lauren Ashton Cellars Woodinville, Washington.

Sunday - Sunday is the best day to visit a winery tasting room. If you are like me and want to engage in conversation and take the wine tasting slow, then visit on Sunday and avoid the crowds. On Sunday you often have the luxury of not sharing the wine bar with others and the opportunity to have a conversation with whomever is pouring. My speed.
*Note: Monday is the second best day to go wine tasting. If the winery or tasting room is open on Monday. The people I meet on Mondays are typically heading home after a weekend of wine country travel. Lower energy, but still curious about wine. 

Barrel sample at Southard Winery with Scott Southard.

Winery vs Tasting Room

Difference - It's important to me to point out the difference between visiting a winery and visiting a tasting room. Wine is made at a winery. Wine is poured and sold at a tasting room. Not all wineries have tasting rooms at the winery. A tasting room may be located at the winery, down the street from the winery, or even a couple of hundred miles from where the wine was made.

Dunham Cellars fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon.

Distinction - The distinction between winery and tasting room is important to me because sometimes I want to visit a production winery. I love visiting wineries because I love the smell of wine aging in barrel and the possible barrel tasting. It is also the only chance to actually meet the winemaker. Visiting a winery is especially rewarding during harvest when the smell of fermentation fills the winery. If you have never smelled fermentation at a winery, you MUST (no pun intended) plan a visit during harvest. For me, there is no better smell than the smell of fermentation.

Visiting L'Ecole No. 41 winery with a friend.
Go Solo or in a Group?

Solo – If you are visiting wine country alone or as a couple, you are likely driving your own car. Nothing wrong with that. It is up to you to plan your visit, arrange accommodations, decide where to eat and how to fill in any unplanned time for exercise and sightseeing. And a good reason to read this blog, because I'm talking to people like you. Make your visit an adventure and take advantage of your time in wine country to learn about the region and people. My speed.

Group -  If you are traveling through wine country as a group, most likely you are not doing the driving. You may be traveling on a bus, van or a limo. If you are traveling with a large group on a chartered bus, then you will likely have little input about which wineries you will visit. You will also be on a tight schedule, limiting your time at each venue.

Wine tasting in Lake Chelan via limo.
If you are in a van with a smaller group, you may have the opportunity to discuss and decide in advance which wineries to visit and how much time to spend at each. If you have rented a limo, then your focus may be more entertainment related.

What to Wear

Shoes - Wear comfortable shoes. Wineries and tasting rooms often have hard floors. If you are on a winery tour and checking out the production area, then you will be standing on concrete. If the winery you visit has estate vineyards, you may have the opportunity to walk through the vineyards (ask for permission first). You don't want to walk through dusty vineyards in heels or sued shoes.

My Stacy Adams boots have explored wineries and vineyards.

Clothes – Dress for the season. And plan to spill wine on your shirt. Where I live in SE Washington, we cool down at night (one of the many reasons why our grapes are so wonderful). A warm sunny day may be perfect shorts and polo shirt weather, but once the sun sets, the temperature can drop 20 – 40 degrees. Bring a jacket or sweater with you if you plan on night time activities. And plan on accidentally spilling wine on your shirt. It happens. I recommend wearing dark color clothing when visiting tasting rooms. Don't ruin your favorite silk blouse or white shirt.

Lunch at Kestrel Winery, Prosser, Washington.

What Else to Bring?

You've planned where to go, researched who to visit when, and dressed for comfort and accidental spills. What else do you need?

Water – Water is essential to wine tasting. Stay hydrated. We want you to have a positive and rewarding wine tasting experience. Drink water before you go tasting and after you taste. If you forgot to bring water with you, ask the winery for a glass of water or see if they sell water by the bottle.

Food - Bring some munchies. Protein is best to help keep you going and minimize the effects of alcohol. Plan to have lunch at a winery and enjoy your time in wine country. 

Camera – You don't have to document your visit, but many of us would enjoy seeing pictures of where you visited. If you don't want to lug around a camera, at least make sure your cellphone is fully charged for quick photos. I often photograph the wine bottles I like best to jog my memory later. If you read this blog often, then you know I almost always have a camera with me.

Custom notes, I wrote all over this paper.

Notes – Take notes, take notes, take notes. If you go to the effort to plan a visit to wine country, then please take some notes once you get there. You don't have to start a wine blog, though you could, but taking notes about your favorite wine experiences will be useful later. I've seen some customers with actual paper notebooks who log each wine they taste. Others will ask for paper tasting notes from the winery and scribble on those. I've used my cellphone “Notes” app and also my iPad for typing notes at wineries. Figure out what works best for you. You may want to purchase those wines again when you get home.

Lake Chelan is home to over 20 wineries.

How Many Wineries Can You Realistically Visit in a Day?

This is a little tricky to answer. It depends...

Arranged Wine Tour/Group Media Visit – This is my preferred way to learn about a wine region. It is focused, structured, educational and the wine tastings are scheduled with stops for food. It may also be the most expensive way to visit wine country. If you are interested in an arranged wine country tour, please check with my friends at Zephyr Adventures and their Taste Vacations - it is what they do best. Highly Recommended.

Group media visit in Prosser wine country.

Solo Media Visit – When I visit a winery with the intent of writing about the winery, winemaker, wines and history of the winery, I visit only the one winery. It helps me focus and find inspiration.

Solo/Couple – If you are visiting wine country on a vacation or on a weekend, take it easy and don't be over ambitious. You can always return. My advice is to limit your winery visits to three per day. Try to arrange your winery visits with allowance for a lunch break. Some wineries have restaurants or bistros which are perfect for a fun stop to enjoy wine and food. Other wineries have outdoor areas perfect for a picnic. Pack a lunch, buy a bottle of your favorite wine and enjoy a picnic at the winery. Three is the perfect number for a relaxed and enjoyable wine country visit.

Solo wine tasting and a repeat visitor.

Small Group – If you have a small group of friends, renting a van or small bus with a driver is a fun and safer way to visit more wineries in a day. As far as I'm concerned, it is the only way to visit wine country on an event weekend like Spring Barrel or Catch the Crush weekends. I've done this with friends.
Group tasting in a small bus with driver.

A few years ago, a group of us hired a bus driver for Spring Barrel Weekend. The driver had a cooler of water for us and we brought food to eat throughout the day. He tagged along and took our purchased wine back to the bus for us too. And he dropped us off at home. My speed. As I recall, we managed to visit eight wineries that day.

Know Your Limits

You know when you are thirsty, so drink water and stay hydrated. You know when you are hungry, so stop and eat a good meal with some protein. Don't overdue the wine. Be safe, enjoy and ask plenty of questions. We want you to come back and discover more great places to visit in wine country.

Hike Badger Mountain in Richland, Washington.

It's Okay to be a Tourist

Hike - It's not just about the wine. We have some wonderful hiking trails out in the desert of Eastern Washington. Start your day with a rewarding hike.

Howard Amon Park along the Columbia River, Richland, WA.

River Fun - The Columbia River is a major landmark where I live. You can boat, kayak and splash around the river. Make a day or an afternoon of it on the river.

Local Cuisine - Wine country is also about exceptional cuisine. Ask the winery you are visiting for recommendations for lunch and dinner. The locals always know.

Lunch at Wine O'Clock in Prosser.

Washington Wine Country Places I Visit 

Following are a few of the articles I've written about my wine country visits in Washington. These wine adventures were filled with wonderful wines, food and conversations. I honestly learned something each time. I hope you have the opportunity to visit and discover the treasures of Washington wine country. You are invited.


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