HOW PURPLE IS YOUR VALLEY?
About a two-hour drive away from Spokane, the Tri-Cities may not be a wild vacation hotspot, but the region certainly knows wine. It turns out the area has the same latitude as the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France and features stellar soil conditions and temperatures for winemaking. Today, there are more than 200 wineries within a 50-mile radius, many of them award-winning. There's no way you can see all of the Tri-Cities wineries in a day, but for a weekend stay, along with your favorite crew, you could do some damage to your checklist.
It's easy to get intimidated during a wine tasting. Everyone else seems to know exactly what they're doing, and there's all of that sniffing and swirling of the glass. Perhaps you're a beer person. That's OK. No one cares if you can catch a faint note of strawberries in one sip or a hint of oak in the next. The point of a tasting is to find something you like, that you'd like to drink again at home with friends and good food and laughter. Making that process easier for you is the Visit Tri-Cities wine trail, which includes 49 wineries throughout Kennewick, Richland, Pasco and beyond. (Be sure to check out Tagaris Winery for some especially tasty patio music.)
For folks who want to do things the classy way (or have no plans to drive), multiple charter companies are more than happy to shuttle you around. You could travel in a limo (Aspen Limo & Tours) or trolley (Fruit of the Vine Tours) or even a short bus (Wineries Express).
For those who like to mix their alcohol with knowledge, the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Washington State University Wine Science Center, which opened just last year, can help you understand the process of making wine. For tours of the building, be sure to call ahead at 372-7223.
The Tri-Cities also has brewery and distillery options, so it wouldn't have to be all wine, all weekend. The point is that you explore a new region with a glass in hand and sun on your face.
PICNIC AND A SONG
At the Festival at Sandpoint, held every summer at War Memorial Field, you can certainly purchase alcohol, but unlike most other music festivals, you can also actually bring in your own adult beverages — as long as you're 21 or over. The outdoor community festival, Aug. 4-14, continues to bring top-tier talent to the small North Idaho lakeside town. This year's lineup includes Ben Harper and Emmylou Harris, as well as classical and family concerts. Prices range from $6 to $70 per ticket depending on the show. Remember, you can pack in a large picnic basket full of items to eat and drink. A box of wine is superb for this event; it's less messy on a blanket spread when paired with the grapes, bread, cheese and popcorn you packed along.
If you're looking for a new recipe to share with friends, we suggest gin in a can. Start with an old coffee can or canning jar. Muddle some mint at the bottom of the container, fill it about half full with ice, then dump in two frozen lemonade concentrate cans and two concentrate containers full of gin. Sprinkle the ice with powdered sugar, place a lid on the container and shake for 15 minutes (this is great for your arms). All of this can be done prior to arrival at the festival. Once there, simply pour the beverage into plastic cups to share, or pass the can around.
STAMP IT GOOD
Every time we turn around, it seems there's a new brewery opening in the Inland Northwest. It's up to you to decide which are the best by testing them all, and the Inland Northwest Ale Trail is a great way to take that job seriously. First, pick up a map at any of the local breweries and plot your course. You only need to get 12 stamps to receive a 32-oz. mini growler. But why stop there? You have all summer. There are many recommendations here, you can bike from spot to spot throughout downtown Spokane (where many breweries are clustered), or bike from Coeur d'Alene to Spokane if you're especially wild. But we recommend taking your time. Take a lazy car ride every Sunday to a new spot. Start with North Idaho and work your way down to the Pullman/Moscow area. Beer is far more enjoyable when sipped and savored. Be sure to get a stamp on your map from each location; by the end of the summer, be able to say you've tasted them tall.
WITH A PUFF OF SMOKE
Sometimes you just want to feel like an old man — specifically one who smokes cigars and sips a mean scotch. And with the Scotch & Cigars event at Prohibition Gastropub on North Monroe going down every Thursday, that feeling is just a sip and a puff away. Show up in your best smoking jacket (optional) for a flight of whiskey, scotch or bourbon, as selected by you, paired with a recommended cigar from Cigar Train. No, there isn't any smoking inside, but luckily the patio is heated. Price ranges from $15 to $25 and the event goes from 6-10 pm.
BEERFOOT IN THE PARK
Liberty Lake's Pavillion Park does its best impression of Germany this summer for the Barefoot in the Park celebration, Aug. 5-7. Hosted by the Liberty Lake Kiwanis, this year's event, for only the second time, includes a beer garden, which will feature beers from the local English Setter and Bellwether Breweries. While the beer garden, hosted at the park tennis courts, is 21 and over, the event is all-ages and includes the Barefoot 3v3 Soccer Tournament & Festival, as well as a car show (open to all cars) Friday night, and even live music from local cover acts like the Ryan Larsen Band. The beer garden is open from 4-7 pm Friday and Saturday.
FITTING SAMPLE SIZE
Touting itself as Spokane's largest wine and food event, Vintage Spokane is the place for people who like to eat and drink small samples while looking good in their summer casual attire. Held at the Spokane Convention Center's Centennial Ballroom on July 24, the annual event features drink samples from more than 50 of the region's wineries, along with gourmet bites from local catering companies, restaurants and even an ice cream shop. VIP access tickets ($55) get you in at 4 pm, while general admission opens at 5 pm ($50). The event closes at 8 pm. A portion of the event proceeds benefit the Spokane Youth Sports Association.
CRUISIN' FOR A BOOZIN'
Yes, more wine tasting, but this time you're on a boat at sunset. With Savor Idaho North, passengers cruise around Lake Coeur d'Alene while tasting Idaho wines. Put on by the Idaho Grape Growers & Wine Producers Commission, and an offshoot of the Boise-based Savor Idaho event, the inaugural cruise kicks off at 5:30 pm at the Coeur d'Alene Resort docks on Aug. 18. The boat leaves at 6 pm, so don't be late, and will get you back by 9 pm all for $50 per person. Singer Douglas Cameron will also be aboard for the evening's entertainment. Call 208-332-1538 for more information. ♦