Exploring beyond Seattle in the Evergreen State
By Alison Bailin Batz
Yeah, we know: Seattle rocks.
During the past 30 years, Seattle has made a name for itself as one of the country’s most innovative, exciting cities.
But here is the thing: Washington is a big state.
In fact, some of the coolest spots in the Evergreen State are outside of the Seattle city limits, including most of its wine country and several outdoor activities.
This month, we explore the eastern Washington regions of Red Mountain, Walla Walla and Yakima Valley, which is a quick flight into the Walla Walla Regional Airport, or gorgeous drive from the Seattle Airport.
Area accommodations range from bed and breakfasts to full-scale resorts—including one with its own lake. Located on 300 acres along Lake Sienna and tucked between vineyards and wheat fields with views of the Blue Mountains, Eritage Resort—opened in mid-2018—is the brainchild of fourth generation Walla Wallan Justin Wylie, owner of Va Piano Vineyards. His dream, now realized, was to create an upscale resort to showcase the best the area has to offer all in one picture-perfect package. From the view to the private bungalow suites to the OMG-worthy restaurant developed by James Beard-winning chef Jason Wilson onsite, he succeeded on all levels.
There is no better way to see the region than with a local. So, rather than Uber or hail a taxi when in Eastern Washington—especially when luxuriating in its wine country—opt for The Touring Co. Founded by a husband-and-wife team who knows history going back more than 100 years in the region, including the juicy stories you won’t find online, this is a best bet while visiting. They offer wine tours and more traditional shuttle service as well as customizable and group offerings, each made to feel intimate and clearly developed custom for each guest. The best part: the owners know pretty much everyone and everywhere you will want to go and will likely get you VIP status.
Beyond these touring options, don’t miss Frog Hollow Farm. The female-run farm provides produce to many of Seattle and Wine Country’s top restaurants and welcomes tours Monday through Friday. Outdoor adventure also abounds thanks to the region’s abundance of rivers, streams and lakes—notably Bennington Lake with 20 miles of trails teeming with wildlife.
With 950 wineries in the state, it’s hard to choose where to go and what to do on one’s first visit. Thankfully, we have some favorites:
If seeking a winery with a local connection, do not miss Red Mountain’s Hedges Family Estate. The owners of family-owned and female-led winery live part-time in the Scottsdale Airpark. In fact, they are active participants in several of its annual auto shows and charitable events. And while their wines are available throughout Scottsdale, there is something special about seeing and experiencing the actual estate first hand.
Like Hedges, Long Shadows Vintners is also a must-taste, not to mention a must-see thanks to its Chihuly Tasting Room. The winery’s owner has been friends with world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly for over 30 years. As a result, Chihuly installed several pieces in the tasting room—including a stunning chandelier—for guests to enjoy as they sample the ultra-premium wines.
As iconic is L’Ecole No 41. This Wine & Spirits Magazine “Top 100 Winery of the Year” 14 times over is located in what used to be a schoolhouse dating back to 1870. The tasting room itself it is located in one of the original classrooms, which has gorgeous modern touches as well as the original chalkboards, several fixtures and moldings.
Speaking of class, Northstar Winery offers a hands-on education in wine via its interactive blending experiences. After sampling varietals, guests use beakers, graduated cylinders and other winemaking equipment to make their own Northstar blend to take home.
Those seeking a “green” option in the Evergreen State need visit Pepper Bridge Winery, which is certified sustainable and was the first state-of-the-art, gravity-flow facility in Washington, complete with subterranean caves.
And finally, for those who want to try some wines that rock, don’t miss Sleight of Hand Cellars. Owned by a Pearl Jam fan and his partner, the tasting room is filled with vintage band posters, jukebox and even memorabilia from the band. It hits all the senses.
Beyond Eritage’s inspired offerings, Walla Walla is a playground for the palate. Like Eritage, Walla Walla Steak Co. and Crossbuck Brewing opened in 2018. And like Eritage’s restaurant, each are focused on transporting guests on a culinary journey through Walla Walla—doing so in an area literally known for transportation. Each space was developed in what was once the local train depot, which served for generations as Walla Walla’s “front door” for visitors. Keeping that tradition alive, each venue is warm and welcoming, but also delicious.
Another culinary highlight: Waterbrook Winery. There, chef de cuisine Karla Wilsey utilizes ingredients from the garden and surrounding farms to create incredible farm-to-table fare in true wine country tradition. It’s a treat not many get to experience.
For more, visit washingtonwine.org.