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Vintage Spokane returns to celebrate a big boom in Washington wines

click to enlarge TIMOTHY PHILLIPS
  • Timothy Phillips

You could call it a comeback. After a year on hiatus, Vintage Spokane — the city's largest summer wine and food event — is back this weekend at the Spokane Convention Center.

The new-look festival keeps its eye on fine wine and cuisine, but with a more approachable, less exclusive outlook, allowing more of the public to celebrate the region's booming wine industry.

Kirk Tourtillotte, vice president of Varsity Communications, the company behind the event, says that Vintage Spokane presents the same high quality with a more attractive price tag ($45 general admission; $60 VIP admission), in part due to the location. Taste Washington had always been held at the Davenport Hotel, making it "a little more exclusive."

"We moved it intentionally to be able to appeal to a wider bandwidth of attendees, and make it really a showcase event in the summertime for Spokane," he says. This year, Tourtillotte says they're expecting more than 800 attendees..

They'll have the opportunity to taste wine from more than 50 wineries, primarily featuring Washington wines, with a few representations from Oregon and Idaho.

The Washington wine industry has seen tremendous growth over the past several years, and 2014 was no exception. In a record harvest, the state produced 227,000 tons of grapes, compared to 210,000 in 2013 and 188,000 in 2012.

Since 2013, the number of Washington wineries has jumped from 800 to 850. That number has more than doubled in the past 10 years. One area of immense growth has been Walla Walla. Jay Tucker, partner and manager of Reininger Winery in Walla Walla, says he regularly sees new wineries opening in the area.

"I think it's definitely increasing, not in an alarming rate, but I think it's a very steady rate that's going up ever since the [recent] recession. That did hit the industry pretty hard. It's recovering like any other industry," says Tucker.

Michaela Baltasar, communications director for the Washington State Wine Commission, has noticed an increasing number of small wineries popping up across the state. "There are a lot of people who have full-time jobs, and they have a small winery as their second jobs, and it becomes a labor of love for them," she says.

It's not just Washington residents who are devoting their time and money to Washington wines. "We're also seeing a lot of outside investment from people from other countries, and other states, purchasing property in Washington," says Baltasar.

As the Washington wine market grows, wineries are looking increasingly to Spokane as a promising marketplace. Yvonne Swanberg, owner and operator of San Juan Vineyards, predicts that five years from now, the Washington wine market will be even more competitive with California than ever before.

"There are some excellent, excellent, excellent wineries," she says of the region.

Swanberg is preparing to showcase her two estate wines, Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrbe. She's no stranger to the Spokane wine market, having participated in Vintage Spokane all four years and in Taste Washington before that. Swanberg says that people come to Vintage Spokane and seek out her varietals, which are also carried by several local restaurants and grocery stores — the Sapphire Lounge, Huckleberry's and Main Street Market, to name three.

Over the past five years, Swanberg says she's seen huge growth in Spokane's level of food and wine enjoyment, as a "nice, small community with a lot of sophistication."

During the course of the event, wandering attendees can visit the pods of wineries, snack on some local bites and check out demonstrations at the main stage. Several Spokane household names, including Masselow's and Le Catering, will provide food to enjoy alongside the wine.

One new addition to this year's event is the wine store.

"We're really excited... you can actually purchase the bottle you tasted," says Tony Dellino, marketing and event manager for Varsity Communications. Attendees can stop and purchase their favorite bottles, with proceeds benefiting the Spokane Youth Sports Association. Dellino says that SYSA was a natural fit, as Varsity Communications also serves as a sports marketing group. ♦

Vintage Spokane • Sun, July 19, at 5 pm • $45/general admission, $60/VIP • Spokane Convention Center • 344 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • Tickets available at vintagespokane.com, Nectar Tasting Room, Nectar Wine & Beer in Kendall Yards or at the door

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