Spring is in the air, the grapes are growing, the sap is flowing, and at tasting rooms across the state, so are the wines. Wineries typically release new wines this time of year, and many take advantage of regional events to introduce them—and the dozens of others already on shelves—to patrons.
While many wineries are open for tastings year round, spring-release weekends and barrel-tasting weekends guarantee visitors a chance to sample at a winery, discover what’s new, and sometimes even taste yet-to-be-released wines directly from the barrel. You can also expect hundreds of other people to be doing the same. Here’s a roundup of some forthcoming spring events:
Passport to Woodinville
It’s been a weekend. It’s been a month. Now it seems Passport is back to being one weekend long.
In days of yore, it seemed virtually every Woodinville winery (of which there are now about 80) threw open its doors and nixed its tasting fees (the $65-or-so "passport" got you a free sample at every participating winery) for the month/weekend. These days the Passport list officially features 35 wineries. While fewer of the boutique and high-end wineries seem to be participating this year, it’s hard to imagine any of them will have doors closed for the weekend.
The event has become more of a booze cruise for wines, where it’s no shock to see a bachelorette party tottering around in stilettos and wine-stained veils. Still, there are reasons to go. You want to see and be seen, for example, or, you want to check out some of the newest tasting rooms, such as Bunnell Family Cellars, which opens this weekend.
Go If: You like pub crawls, but with wine.
When: April 21 & 22
Get There: By car, approximately 20 miles northeast of Seattle.
Cost: $75 Saturday, $65 Sunday
Yakima Spring Barrel Tasting
A full one-third of the state’s grapes are grown in the Yakima Valley, so it’s no shock that the area is hosting its own Spring Barrel Tasting weekend, during which 40 wineries let visitors sample what’s new and what’s still in barrel. And, if tasting isn’t enough, while you’re in town you can swing over to Los Hernandez in Union Gap, where they make what is perhaps the nation’s finest tamale, and where by late April, the owners also hope to have their world-famous asparagus tamale, Mother Nature willing.
Go If: You’ve never visited the new Naches Heights appellation, or a Yakima winery.
When: April 27–29
Get There: By car, approximately 2.5 hours east of Seattle. Take I-90 to I-82.
Cost: $40 for a premier pass that gets you a free tastings at 40 wineries, plus special tours and bites at various places
Walla Walla Spring Release Weekend
One of my most memorable Walla Walla spring release weekends happened years ago when, while standing outside Beresan and Balboa, winemaker Tom Glase came by and dragged my group back into Beresan and began barrel tasting us on a carmenere he was exceptionally proud of. That was the same weekend Jean-Francois Pellet ended up giving tours of the caves at Pepperbridge, too. Spring Release attracts enough of a crowd these days to make those moments less likely, but there’s still a lot of random fun to be had.
At some wineries—such as Abeja and Leonetti—being on the list is the only way to score a visit. But others, such as Tranche Cellars, will actually be open to the public. Chris Figgins, still winemaker for the family winery Leonetti, will sample and give a sneak peak of his new Figgins tasting room downtown, set to open later this summer; Bunchgrass will be open all weekend (versus just Saturday) and Long Shadows will be pouring library wines. There will be winemaker dinners from Waters and others, a grand opening for Canoe Ridge (which was purchased by Precept in 2011), a Friday night hot air balloon display at Waterbrook, and wine club members-only parties at a variety of wineries, including Dunham.
What else can you expect? Rock music to be blaring at K Vintners, food trucks to be dishing it up outside various wineries, and the chance to check out wines just being released to the public in general.
Go If: You want to be relatively certain you’ll get to explore a winery that might not always be open, but not if you’re looking for one-on-one time with your favorite winemaker.
When: May 4–6
Get There: By car, approximately 4.5 hours east of Seattle. Take I-90 to I-82 to Hwy 12. Fly Alaska Airlines and your boarding pass gets you free tastings at 70 wineries, and your first case of wine is checked for free.
Cost: Some wineries charge a tasting fee, always refundable with purchase.