For years, the Pacific Northwest's premier wine tasting event has been a showcase for the staple wines of Washington state - syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon - and shined a light on up-and-coming wineries and new wines.
For years, the Pacific Northwest’s premier wine tasting event has been a showcase for the staple wines of Washington state – syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon – and shined a light on up-and-coming wineries and new wines.
Now in its 15th year, Taste Washington itself is growing into a weekend destination, expanding to two days and offering ticket packages to entice more people from outside the Seattle metropolitan area to the event.
Industry insiders hope the move sparks more interest in the Washington wine industry and ultimately boosts sales of wines that are increasingly gaining national acclaim.
“The new format keeps the spotlight on Washington wines,” said Ryan Pennington, spokesman for the Washington Wine Commission, a promotional group funded by member fees from wineries and growers. “But by expanding to two days, we make this a high-profile, destination event on a national level.”
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Washington’s $3 billion wine industry still ranks second behind California, which has more than 10 times the acreage and four times the number of wineries. But the industry is growing: Washington now boasts more than 700 wineries, and its wines are earning top scores from wine writers across the country.
Taste Washington, an annual food and wine tasting event managed by the Wine Commission, has served as the annual celebration of the industry. Some 3,500 people attend each year, feasting on tapas and appetizers from some of Seattle’s best-known restaurants and sampling wines from 200 wineries.
Fifty-plus restaurants, including Anthony’s Pier 66 and Salty’s Seafood Grills, have signed on for the 2012 event the weekend of March 31, offering an array of mouthwatering treats.
Artisan cheeses and chocolates. Red wine poached figs on cheese crostini. Kalua Mahi nachos. Lamb curry. Alder smoked, pepper crusted salmon. Homemade ice cream by Molly Moon’s and chocolate port and sangria milkshakes from The Lucky Diner.
Then, of course, there are the wines, which range from inexpensive and moderately priced red and white blends to a Boudreaux Cellars reserve cabernet sauvignon that retails for $100 per bottle.
The success of the expansion remains to be seen. It could prove to be a hardship for small, Eastern Washington wineries that need to stay in Seattle longer, said Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery in Walla Walla, an established winery that has attended the event most years.
“That said, I still think it’s a good effort,” he said. “It keeps a lot of people in town longer. They’re going to go out to restaurants in Seattle, and they’re going to drink more Washington wine when they do – and of course, that’s the point.”
This year, Woodward Canyon will be pouring a 2009 merlot and a 2009 “artist series” cabernet sauvignon.
Newcomer Eight Bells Winery of Seattle, meanwhile, will pour its 2010 chardonnay and a syrah and cabernet sauvignon, both from 2009. The winery is already grabbing attention, in part because the wines are produced from grapes grown in noteworthy vineyards east of Washington’s Cascade Range.
An event that goes two days instead of one is “just a bonus,” Eight Bells’ Frank Michiels said.
“We’re a small, urban winery. We’re really concentrating on more direct, local marketing,” he said. “On the other hand, we’re definitely invested in the idea of getting Washington wine marketed on a broader basis.”
The Washington Wine Commission and the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau have signed a partnership agreement where the bureau manages and recruits sponsors for the event. The commission, meanwhile, retains the rights to the Taste Washington brand – including similar tasting events that have been held in other cities, such as Chicago, Denver, Phoenix and Tampa, to feature Washington wines.
Dave Blandford, bureau spokesman, knows of no studies that have been done examining the economic impact of Taste Washington for Seattle. But the event already draws visitors from the city’s primary tourist markets, Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, and can only expand, he said.
“Our goal is to continue to build on this brand as the nation’s largest single-region wine event,” Blandford said, “and continue to build on something that has been a very successful model so far.”
If you go:
SAMPLE: Taste Washington, the Pacific Northwest’s premier wine and food event, with more than 50 restaurants and 200 wineries. March 31-June 1. CenturyLink Field Event Center, 800 Occidental Ave South, Seattle. Grand tasting event tickets start at $75 and include all wine and food samplings. Hotel packages are available.
LEARN: The Washington Wine Commission offers educational wine seminars featuring top national wine personalities and sommeliers. Topics include wine and food pairing demonstrations by renowned local chefs and wine-tasting explorations of noted Washington vineyards. Tickets start at $45.
ENJOY: Some 50 exhibitors will have information and wares on display, highlighting various wine regions and products. Visit www.tastewashington.org for more information.