At some point, I know the summer's begun when I've switched to white wine for several bottles in a row. Of course, there are other changes as well. The Farmers' Market at First and Division opens. New leafy greens, pea sprouts, asparagus and scarlet-colored salmon start to find their way into meals. In a region where the winter can be brutal just by being long, the growing season of Eastern Washington always makes the start of summer feel like a culinary spring.
The other end of that is matched by the period when it seems as though the end of summer has been smeared into autumn. It's a time when the sun and season conspire to yield harvests that can rival any in the nation. And just as it's possible to sense the scale of the Rocky Mountains by standing alongside Spokane Falls during the springtime rush, a sample of the Inland Northwest's harvest can hold a record of the region.
We don't often speak of the "taste" of the landscape, but the quality of the earth and the scope of the season in any location defines everything that grows there. Winemakers have acknowledged this for centuries, and their term terroir -- like all wine terms, you pronounce it in as silly a manner as possible: "tehr-WAH" -- has always seemed to me best defined as the quality that a grape takes from the land and location in which it was grown. It's the cause of many of the subtle, wonderful differences between wines from the same area.
If you want to get to know those differences, start close to home. It won't be possible to sample grapes on the vine for a little while, but early summer offers a few chances to catch up on how things have been for the region's vines during the past few years.
Shops like Huckleberry's, the Rocket Market, and Vino! all have regular wine tastings, many of them featuring recent wines from local wineries. It's a chance not only to taste the product of local winemakers but also to meet the staff of the winery and ask questions. They usually love explaining anything, from the basics to the most intricate wine-snob questions.
Spokane foodies also get to enjoy A Taste of Washington. At the Davenport Hotel on June 13, wineries from across the state will match their wines with the best that local chefs and restaurants have to offer. Some of the state's big-name wineries will be participating, like L'Ecole No. 41 and Chateau Ste. Michelle, along with more local names.
If you take a liking to a particular wine that you've sampled, or if you just have some wanderlust, head out to local wineries. You can stay in downtown Spokane and visit Lone Canary Winery (109 S. Scott St.), visit Arbor Crest's beautiful grounds overlooking Spokane (online at arborcrest.com, 509-927-9463), or take a trip into the Mount Spokane foothills to find the region's premiere handcrafted bubbly at Mountain Dome (by appointment at 509-928-BRUT). There are more local wineries than we can list here. Fortunately, most wine shops have information about the area's wineries, and can help narrow down your choices quickly. The Washington Wine Commission can also supply information for more comprehensive wine tours around the state (at www.washingtonwine.org, click on "Trip Planner").
A wine trip should be a personal adventure. There is no single perfect wine tour, just as there is no single perfect wine. Your experience should complement your tastes and curiosity. If, while getting to know the region, you discover you love a specific grape (Merlot, Syrah), head back to your wine merchant and ask who else produces wines with it locally. Then call the winery, make a visit, and if you like what you find, buy a bottle. Then buy one more, and store it away. Months later you'll be able to open it and encounter this region -- its climate and landscape, along with the skills of its inhabitants -- and the summer will melt into the winter.