One of the state's most significant wine events flows into Spokane's Davenport Hotel this Sunday. Taste Washington Spokane features more than 100 Washington wineries and 30 restaurants, offering samples, wine education and nearly unlimited wine and food pairing options.
Just two years ago, this Washington Wine Commission-sponsored event featured 50 wineries and about a dozen restaurants. Washington state is quickly becoming a big player in the wine industry -- second in the nation in wine production. It also, according to the WWC, brings in an estimated $2.5 billion in tourism spending related to wineries.
"The Spokane region is one of the largest markets in the state, especially when you add northern Idaho and western Montana" says Jamie Peha, director of Taste Washington. "We've watched as the interest continues to grow and responded as more wineries want to be involved with selling their products in that region."
Last year, the WWC limited the Taste Washington wineries to 65 participants, and winemakers who didn't get their paperwork in time to the commission were told they would be placed on a waiting list.
"Boy, were folks upset when they couldn't get a place in Taste Washington last year," recalls Greg Lipsker, co-owner of Barrister Winery in Spokane. "This region is on people's radar now. There is this growing awareness and emergence of the Washington wine industry, and consumers want to know more."
Lipsker says an indication of the growing interest was last month's spring barrel tasting. Winemakers from all 10 Spokane wineries reported a record-breaking number of people attending the three-day event.
"We had maybe 600 to 700 people come to the winery last year during all three days," Lipsker says. "We estimated 1,000 people came through on a Saturday alone this year. It was just unbelievable."
Jeanna Hofmeister, vice president and director with the Spokane Regional Convention & amp; Visitors Bureau for destination marketing, says she is not surprised to see rapid growth of the wine industry in the Spokane region.
"This is simply indicative of good wineries, more wine tasting and the culinary/wine combinations -- it's all on the upswing," Hofmeister says. "It is a nationwide trend, and we're in the middle of it.
"This area has gone from a traditionally meat-and-potatoes town to one where people want to learn more about wine and what to serve with dinner."
Hofmeister helps to market Spokane wine around the world. She's worked with Taste Washington organizers to make certain other regions in the state are familiar with wines produced in and around Spokane.
Part of the proceeds of Taste Washington Spokane are earmarked for the Washington State University Viticultural and Enology program, and WSU's School of Hospitality and Business Management. Kaarin Appel, WSU communications manager, says that as the wine industry skyrockets in the state, the WSU program supports the industry with education, training, personnel and research. The Davenport Arts District will also receive some funding from the event.
"This is an event that also grows tourism to our region," Appel says. "WSU's Hospitality and Business Management program supports the hospitality industry -- the restaurants that follow when tourism increases in a region."
New Features for 2005
Along with many new wineries and restaurants making their debut in Spokane, Anthony's Homeport at Spokane Falls will feature a seafood bar to pair shellfish with some of the state's best white wines. WWC organizers are calling the experience the "Great Washington White Out."
Want to try something other than a Chardonnay with oysters? This is the perfect opportunity to pop one of those exotic, briny oysters in your mouth and slurp it down with a lean, austere, fresh Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc that has enough minerality or flintiness and acidity to create bliss in the mouth. Be sure and taste Hedges Fume Chardonnay with the oysters -- it's a harmony that sings in the mouth, like the Beach Boys and surfing.
With the delicate flavors of some shellfish, be careful of oak aging and too much sweetness in wines: I have yet to taste a red wine that loves an oyster.
Frankie Dietz, Anthony's general manager, says they will have a room at the Davenport for the seafood bar paired with 20 different wines to taste with oysters in the half-shell, crab legs and ginger marinated mussels. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, Dietz suggests trying a nice Riesling or sparkling wine at Taste Washington's seafood bar.
In addition to Anthony's, other participating local restaurants include ella's Supper Club, the Latah Bistro, Moxie, Catacombs Pub and even the Marcus Whitman Hotel from Walla Walla. Yoke's Fresh Market will host a cheese and antipasto bar with wine offerings. Wine and cheese is not always the easiest to match, depending on the type of cheese (strong, mild, soft or smoked). Generally white wines work better with cheese, but now's the chance to try some recommended cheese and wine pairing. I'm a blue cheese, Cabernet Sauvignon fan.
In addition to some of the award-winning Spokane wineries, participants can sample wines from Walla Walla (Woodward Canyon, L'Ecole, Northstar, Spring Valley and Seven Hills), Lake Chelan and Leavenworth (Boudreaux Cellars, Vin du Lac Winery), Woodinville (Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia, DeLille Cellars), the Columbia Gorge (Maryhill Winery and Cave B), Tri Cities (Gordon Brothers, Preston), Yakima (Sagelands Winery, Apex and Wineglass Cellars), the Olympic Peninsula (Hurricane Ridge Winery) and the South Puget Sound area (McCrea Cellars). There are enough wineries to make your head spin.
Preventing Head Spin
There is an art to attending a function of this size, and the first rule is not to swallow every single wine sample offered. By the fifth winery, the only thing you'll be able to taste is whether it's red or white wine. All the wonderful nuances and interesting characteristics of the wine will be lost if you try to consume every wine. Plus, you won't really remember most what you taste. This is a tasting opportunity for your future purchases.
Spitting is the correct method to sample wines without staggering from winery to winery. The WWC encourages the taste-and-spit method with the slogan, "It's Hip to Spit." The idea is to pick the wineries with offerings you want to sample, then spit and take notes. Return to the wineries you want to sample with food later in the evening. Of course, you can sample the food all evening long.
Even with the spitting method, it is still impossible to try every wine at Taste Washington. You can either go to Taste Washington's Web site (www.tastewashington.org) and select wineries ahead of time, or determine early at the event which wines look interesting, preferably wines you haven't tried, and make your choices. Don't overlook the new wineries or the lesser-known wineries -- they will often have terrific wines that don't get the same attention as the better-known establishments because they don't have large marketing budgets.
As wine becomes less lofty and more of a simple beverage choice with the dinner menu, Taste Washington and other events like it are the perfect opportunity to find out what you like, and what you prefer with food. It's also the ideal event to talk with winemakers, get on winery mailing lists and share opinions with other wine enthusiasts who are looking to learn the mysteries and pleasures in a glass.