With its historic brick buildings, downtown is slowly becoming gentrified, giving way to small wineries, restaurants and complementary businesses.

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EVEN THOUGH SPOKANE is Washington’s second-largest city, it has lagged behind in developing as a wine region.

While such wineries as Arbor Crest and Latah Creek have been around for more than three decades, a few other producers have come and mostly gone, even as regions such as the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley and Woodinville have developed into bustling wine destinations.

Fortunately, Spokane is evolving into a true wine-and-culinary destination, thanks to artisan producers such as Barrister Winery, Robert Karl Cellars and Nodland Cellars. With its historic brick buildings, downtown Spokane is slowly becoming gentrified, giving way to small wineries, locally owned restaurants and complementary businesses.

Three to try

Barrister Winery 2012 cabernet franc, Columbia Valley, $29: Barrister’s most famous wine offers beautiful aromas and flavors of red fruit, sage and cocoa powder. It is an elegant wine with mild, approachable tannins.

Robert Karl Cellars 2012 Claret, Horse Heaven Hills, $22: This has long been Robert Karl’s flagship wine, and this vintage is as delicious as ever, thanks to rich, smooth aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry pipe tobacco and red currant.

Avansino 2012 Grand Reserve cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $28: Arbor Crest Wine Cellars’ upper-tier twist on a Super Tuscan (it has 25 percent sangiovese) is a luscious yet sturdy wine with notes of strawberry, mocha and ripe blackberry with rich tannins.

Barrister, a winery launched in 2001 by two lawyers, has made the most of its opportunity. Greg Lipsker and Michael White have gained as close to cult status as any winery in this corner of the state, thanks to tremendous success with red wines. In particular, Barrister’s cabernet franc has earned the pair the status of elite winemakers. Their first three vintages of the Bordeaux variety earned best-of-show honors at regional and international competitions up and down the West Coast.

Not a lot of grapevines are grown in Spokane, but this old vine from Sagemoor Vineyards in the Columbia Valley serves as an ornament at Barrister Winery. (Andy Perdue)
Not a lot of grapevines are grown in Spokane, but this old vine from Sagemoor Vineyards in the Columbia Valley serves as an ornament at Barrister Winery. (Andy Perdue)

The two have brought on Tyler Walters as partner and co-winemaker, and their prowess with such grapes as malbec, syrah and sangiovese keeps their legions of fans growing.

Now there is a movement to fill the downtown region with tasting rooms, not unlike what has happened in downtown Walla Walla. Cougar Crest Estate Winery, Patit Creek Cellars and Whitestone Winery already have opened tasting rooms near the magnificent Davenport Hotel, and it is easy to see this continuing to grow as downtown convention space expands.

About 15 minutes from downtown, Arbor Crest has been producing wines from its cliff-top location for the better part of 30 years. Today, the husband-wife team of Jim and Kristina van Löben Sels is helping to make Arbor Crest even more successful, with Jim running the operation and Kristina crafting the wine.

Thanks to remarkable views, a welcoming tasting room and an aggressive concert schedule, Arbor Crest is attracting more than 30,000 visitors per year, making it easily the most popular winery in Spokane.

Momentum is building in the Inland Northwest. Expect 30 to 50 wineries and tasting rooms to take advantage of the region in the next half-decade.