by Susan Hamilton

Riding the crest of what is being called "the greatest wine boom in American history," Washington is now the second largest wine-producing state in the nation (second only to California). The Evergreen State's relatively young wine industry has more than doubled in size in the last decade.

The 160 wineries in Washington focus on high-quality wines -- the segment of the market that's growing the most rapidly worldwide. The quality, diversity and unique regional flavors achieved by Washington's winemakers are in demand around the world.

"Our wines win far more awards and competitions proportional to our production than any other wine region in the world," says Steve Burns, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission. "Few industries are more competitive than winemaking, and it is quality that drives this growth."

This weekend, the six wineries that comprise the Spokane Winery Association are hosting their Spring Barrel Tasting at each of the wineries. From 11 am-5 pm, Friday through Sunday, the wineries will open their doors for barrel sampling, meeting with vintners, gourmet food tasting and browsing through gift shops.

Arbor Crest Winery, which won best winery in our 2001 Best of the Inland Northwest poll, is known for premium cabernet sauvignon, among other wines, and its Florentine mansion with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Arbor Crest prides itself on producing oak-framed, solid varietal wines from Columbia Valley grapes made with a Sonoma influence.

"We're releasing a dark, full-bodied red Sangiovese wine at the barrel tasting," says Joe Algeo, marketing director at Arbor Crest. "The grapes are experimental in Washington, but very popular in Italy."

Recent and new releases from Arbor Crest's new winemaker, Kristina Meilke-van Lobel Sels, can also be sampled. On Friday, a foreign and domestic cheese bar is available. On Saturday and Sunday, a food bar will be provided by Mizuna. Live music and guided tours of Cliff House will take place as well.

Caterina Winery combines the best of Washington State with the tradition of fine winemaking begun generations ago by Luigi and Caterina Barbieri in the San Peitro Vara in northern Italy. Caterina wines have achieved national recognition and popularity, with careful attention to vineyard selection and practices and creative work in the cellar.

Vintner Mike Scott hails from Cambridgeshire, England, and has been crafting award-winning wines at Caterina for more than a decade. He'll be on hand this weekend to guide you in tasting the vineyard differences of Merlot.

The 1998 Columbia Valley Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon will be introduced at the barrel tasting. Special spring hors d'oeuvres from Catered Ambiance will complement the wines being tasted.

Knipprath Cellars strives to create wines with a harmonious profile and memorable experience. The winemaker, Henning Knipprath, was born in Germany, where he spent time as a student in the wine-growing regions near Kbolenz.

The entire Knipprath family is involved in the winemaking experience. The winery is housed in the former Parkwater Schoolhouse built in 1913.

For the barrel tasting, Knipprath Cellars will feature the newest release 1999 Lemberger as well as a sampling of vintage reds and whites. The outdoor tasting will take place in the tranquil setting of the schoolhouse courtyard. Special food pairings and recipes will be offered as well.

Latah Creek is an award-winning winery that has been heralded by Wine Spectator Magazine as one of the top producers of Merlot in Washington state. The small, family-owned winery is housed in a California Mission-style building that is one of the few that was built to be a winery.

"We use traditional winemaking principles and select exceptional fruit to create wines with natural varietal flavors," says owner and vintner Mike Conway. "Subjecting the wines to the least amount of processing and handling possible ensures that the flavors will remain intact from grape to bottle."

Latah Creek will feature its newly released 2000-vintage wines with tank samples of Lemberger, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon at this weekend's barrel tasting. You can even bottle and label your own 2000-vintage wine. Fondue and gourmet food sampling will also be available.

Mountain Dome Winery focuses on making sparkling wine in the French champenoise method. Made from high-end grapes from the Columbia River area and Walla Walla, the sparkling wines are known for their complexity and depth as well as a nutty, toasty character.

Winemaking began for the Manz family in September of 1984, with the first pressing of grapes in their kitchen. The family-owned and operated winery in the foothills of Mt. Spokane is now the second largest sparkling house in the state.

Demonstrations of wine disgorging (taking the yeast out and putting the cork in) will take place this weekend. Mountain Dome will offer 1995 vintage sparkling wines as well as new-release Pinot Noir, Rose and non-vintage Curvee Forte. Seasonal appetizers will accompany the tastings.

Wyvern Cellars began in 1980 as Worden Winery -- Spokane's first. The winery has gone from producing a few varietals to nearly 15 different wines. It is the largest private wine labeler in the Pacific Northwest.

The signature Bavarian log cabin tasting room is surrounded by an acre of lawn, flowerbeds, fountain, pond and gazebo.

At the barrel tasting, French winemaker Christophe LeGrandjacques will feature samplings of his first-time Syrah. Gourmet foods and imported Italian pastas will accompany the wine.

Maps of the tour are available at each winery: Arbor Crest Wine

Cellars, 4705 N. Fruithill Road (927-9894); Caterina Winery,

905 N. Washington (328-5069); Knipprath Cellars, 5634 E. Commerce (534-5121); Latah Creek Winery, 13030 E. Indiana (926-0164); Mountain Dome Winery, 16315 E. Temple Road (928-2788); and

Wyvern Winery, 7217 W. Westbow Blvd. (455-7835).

Virtual Valleyfest

Sat., Sept. 26
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