10 Great Things to do in Northwest Wine Country

Wine Press NorthwestSeptember 2, 2013 

Traditionally and unofficially, Labor Day weekend marks the end of a Washington state winemaker’s summer.

Harvest typically begins soon after, but the 2013 vintage has many winemakers in the Pacific Northwest revising — sometimes canceling — any vacation plans they had for early September. That means events such as the Yakima Valley’s Catch the Crush should not be lacking for activity Oct. 12-13.

1. Life is filled with the unexpected, but one of the Pacific Northwest’s wine industry’s longest traditions is the Wine Auction in Walla Walla, Wash.

On Nov. 1, the remarkably restored Marcus Whitman Hotel plays host to the 32nd annual Walla Walla Valley Wild Wines of the West Tasting and Auction. It marks the final of this year’s three wine-related events supporting Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.

Last year’s theme was “Speak Out, Speak Easy,” yet the auction will stick to a tasting from Walla Walla Valley wineries, the chance to bid on unique wine packages and the enjoyment of the delicious work by past Match Maker chef Antonio Campolio — who performed at the James Beard House in 2012.

This dude can vouch that Planned Parenthood provides affordable exams and services to men and women. (Thanks, Dr. Jack). Sadly, many in the wine industry — particularly the indispensable field workers — struggle to find health care providers.

Those looking to support Planned Parenthood’s efforts should consider attending Vinifera, its Central Washington event held Sept. 20 at the Fourth Street Theatre in Yakima or Spokane’s In Vino Veritas, launched in May. Go to thewallawallawineauction.com.

2. Save that wine. Most wine lovers have at least one wine preservation gadget, but the Savino immediately became the favorite wine preservation system in this household for many reasons. It lives up to its slogan of “Today’s wine tomorrow.”

This glassware is effective, rather sleek, reusable, easy to clean and simple to use. In some cases, the Savino takes up less space on the kitchen counter than the growler (if you live in Oregon) or bottle your wine came in. And the Savino needs much less space than many decanters.

The Savino’s key feature is a simple, taste-free and odorless plastic float that gently sits on top of the wine and keeps air from reaching the juice until you tip the carafe to pour. And after pouring, the bobber almost magically returns above the meniscus.

The wine community’s search for the holy grail of an effective and simple preservation item explains why the Kickstarter campaign for the Bay Area proprietor lapped its goal last year. And the only time Savino isn’t sitting on my kitchen counter is when it’s on the dining table. At $59.95, which includes shipping, it may be the last wine preservation method you’ll buy. Start saving at savino.com.

3. Running through Idaho vines. Ste. Chapelle sees more foot traffic than any winery in the Snake River Valley, and Sept. 29 the state’s oldest and largest wine producer is set to play host to the second annual Idaho Wine Run.

“We had 400 runners/walkers sign up last year and are expecting at least 700 to 800 this year,” said race organizer Wayne Ebenroth, who operates Final Kick Events.

Road racing is something that Ste. Chapelle continues to support, according to Emily Tipton, the winery’s events and wedding manager, who offered the Sunny Slope venue and vineyard to three fun runs this year. Stretch first at stechapelle.com.

4. Wine worth its salt. One of the many amenities in store for you at Hotel Vintage Plaza in downtown Portland is learning about Wine Salt — a remarkable product that you can make at home. A vial made its way to my winery-themed suite, and it came courtesy of Pazzo Ristorante, the Kimpton hotel’s Italian restaurant partner that embraces Northwest wines.

Wine Salt is the creation of Pazzo executive chef John Eisenhart. He sought to find a way to use wine in a dry form to help tenderize and flavor meat while also creating the crust that comes with grilling with a rub. The New York Times recently profiled Eisenhart’s work and shared his recipe.

It’s ridiculously easy, and the process starts with boiling two cups of wine down to two tablespoons. My bride grilled a slab of beef rubbed with Sangiovese salt, and the results were molto bene. Eisenhart prefers Pinot Gris because it doesn’t turn his meat purple.

Shake over to pazzo.com.

5. Go ZINO. Want to rub elbows — hopefully sans spilling — with some of the Washington wine industry’s mover and shakers?

Apply to join the ZINO Society. Membership comes with privileges, but the ultimate goal is using the culture surrounding wine to bring new business to life through angel investments.

ZINO Society counts more than 300 members, and it holds events that provide access to winemakers and chefs at some rather cool venues. This summer, it met at the Columbia Tower — the tallest building in the Northwest. Its board includes Tom Hedges, Greg Lill and Stacy Lill of DeLille Cellars and Hope Moore of Heaven’s Cave. The group founded by Cathi Hatch, the woman behind former KIRO broadcasting CEO Ken Hatch, is proud to report more than $28 million of angel financing and mentoring more than 600 companies during its eight-year history. By the looks of the photos, these good folks also have a good time creating goodwill. And they often have a wine glass in one hand while doing it.

Their Travel & Technology Conference is Oct. 1 at the Bell Harbor Center in Seattle. Apply to join at zinosociety.com.

6. Thunder in wine country. Few regions in the Pacific Northwest wine industry seem to work as well together from a promotional standpoint as Lake Chelan, and the fourth annual Mahogany and Merlot is a juicy example.

Longtime fans of unlimited hydroplane racing know Washington’s deepest lake has a long tradition with thunderboats, and event manager Jon Courtright works with the Seattle-based Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum to run more than 20 vintage boats on the lake.

“Lake Chelan held the Apple Cup from 1957 to 1961, and some of the boats we’ll have are the old round-nose hulls with the driver behind the engine, powered by Rolls-Royce and Allison engines,” Courtright said.

The festival runs Oct. 4-6 so the 21 surrounding wineries will be buzzing with harvest. Their wines will be poured along the shore at Don Morse Park, where vintage boats and classic cars will be on display.

Among those lending support are Mark and Mitch Evans, who grew up in Chelan and went on to careers as unlimited hydroplane drivers and owners.

Get on board at mahoganyandmerlot.com.

7. Join the Vinolution. Rotarians around the world pride themselves on their slogan “Service above self,” and West Seattle Rotary is collaborating with the young Vinolution group Oct. 11 for its third annual Wine & Chocolate Gala Auction.

Vinolution describes itself as being edgy and looks to attract those who “don’t fit in with the swirl, sip and spit set.” The group, led by Mercer Island promoter Suzanne Hight, also blends Washington wineries with local chefs, local food and humanitarian causes. They are raising funds for the 42nd Annual Children’s Holiday Shopping Spree.

The Wine & Chocolate Gala will be at The Sanctuary at Admiral, just north of Hiawatha Park. A ticket costs $95. General admission and the casino feature is $115. The Hedges family is a major supporter, and among the wineries scheduled to join them are a Maurice, Charles Smith Wines, Dunham, Dusted Valley, Mark Ryan, Sleight of Hand and Whidbey Island Winery. It runs 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., leaving folks plenty of time to get their money’s worth. Grab a vine at vinolution.org.

8. So you want to be a winemaker? The Rawn brothers serve as a charming example of multi-generation farming in the Yakima Valley. Matt makes the wines. Patrick manages the vineyard for their award-winning Two Mountain Winery in Zillah.

One day each year, they give the public a chance to experience winemaking in the Rattlesnake Hills. It involves harvest, crush, learning to work a hydrometer and monitoring fermentations. They’ll be happy to have you help with punch-downs, too, during the two-hour seminar on Oct. 19. Cost is $40, and it is limited to the first 30 folks. The program it fills up quickly.

Strike now at twomountainwinery.com.

9. Northwest Food & Wine Festival. On Nov. 16, this eighth annual celebration of our region is being held the same day, time and the location — the Doubletree Hotel at Lloyd Center, as the Great American Wine Festival.

The Great American Wine Festival comes on the heels of the third annual Wine Tourism Conference, which this year is being held in Portland on Nov. 13-15. Last year, it was in Sonoma.

This figures to be fun but confusing. The GAWF begins at 4 p.m. and features wines throughout the U.S. The NFWF starts at 5 p.m., and continues its Northwest focus. They are separate events, but winesters can purchase a combined ticket for $102. A combo VIP pass, which brings early entry, is $123. You will leave with two souvenir glasses — one from each event. Make your choice at nwwinefestival.com.

10. St. Nick returns to Woodinville. Many wine associations in the Northwest roll out the red carpet for the last time each year around Thanksgiving, but Woodinville throws its doors open in early December.

This year, the 13th annual Saint Nick’s Winery Open House Weekend runs Dec. 6-8 and about 60 wineries are expected to participate at least one day.

It starts Friday night – with 40 wineries pouring wines under one roof. The winery open houses are Saturday and Sunday, and wearing hideous Christmas sweaters is encouraged.

Tickets go on sale Oct. 7. Start your Christmas shopping at woodinvillewinecountry.com.

Eric Degerman is co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. Go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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