Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring Barrel Tasting in Yakima Valley WA

Spring Barrel Tasting is a celebratory time of year in Washington wine country. It’s the largest wine festival in Washington’s wine country, a celebration of spring, new wines and a peek at the warm summer months ahead. The winemakers and staff are on hand to mingle with visitors, conduct tours and answer questions. Most open a barrel or two of future vintages for sampling. Many wineries have live music, appetizers and just a festive mood of celebration.

As the event grows and more wineries come on line, a little pre-planning helps to best enjoy the festivities. Here are a few tips to help make the celebration fun for all.

  • It’s social so be social: Gather friends and get a limo or join an organized tour. It’s best to plan at least one night stay. For a listing of local hotels in the Yakima Valley click here.
  • Take responsibility: If you do not hire a professional driver, designate a non-drinking driver. And treat the designated driver like a king or queen by buying their lunch and a bottle or two to enjoy at a later time. Note: Even if you have a designated driver, the tasting room staff is not allowed to serve you if you are impaired… it’s the law.
  • Get the scoop: Wineries and wine organizations have different offerings and fees (or no fees) during the weekend. Before you arrive, visit the wine association websites for the details on their offerings and programs for the weekend. Visit Wine Yakima Valley and the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail websites for the details (see below for their contact information and websites).
  • Timing is everything: Friday and Sunday tend to be quieter so visit on those days.
  • Do it differently: Go to wineries early and in the opposite direction as everyone else is traveling. Many folks start at one end of the Yakima Valley and head to the other so consider starting with wineries in the middle of the map.
  • Be realistic: It’s not a marathon race. Visit no more than 5-6 wineries per day. Your taste pallet will grow numb.
  • Be prepared: Bring a cooler filled with bottled water and snacks. Pack a picnic, as many of the Yakima Valley wineries have picnic grounds or plan on eating lunch at one of the wineries that will be serving food. A good meal helps you to regain your palate and provides a needed break. Plus, bring a wine glass per person or be prepared to purchase one at a winery. Wine glasses are required at most wineries during event weekends. Also, if it is warm, consider a cooler for your purchased wines. Heat is bad for wine.
  • Try something new: Tasting from the barrel is very different then trying a finished product out of a bottle. Talk to the winemaker and staff. Ask about the flavor, process and how the wine will taste when finished. It’s a great time to gain a greater appreciation of the winemaking process.
  • Be Patient: The weekend draws a lot of people and staff at the wineries are working as fast as they can.
  • Be Respectful…of other tasters and the staff. Try not to get too pushy or grouchy. Everyone is having fun and there are just a lot of people.
  • Be aware: When it is busy in the tasting room, it’s important that you step up to the bar and receive your taste, then step back and take your time smelling and tasting the wine. This allows others up to the bar to get a taste. In other words, don't monopolize the bar space in front of others who are trying to participate.
  • Don’t wear it: 70 to 80% of our ability to perceive flavor comes from our sense of smell. So please do not wear perfume, cologne, aftershave or any other fragrance, as it interferes with everyone's ability to smell, and hence taste the wines. You should also refrain from chewing gum and breath mints.
  • Spitting and dumping is good: Just because wine is in your glass doesn’t mean you should drink it all. Believe it or not, you will enjoy it more if you don’t drink every drop. Your mouth won’t fatigue, you won’t become as intoxicated, and you will have more fun. Dumping excess wine into the provided bucket is okay. If you like the wine, buy a bottle or two.
  • Leave it outside: All alcohol from outside the winery being visited is not permitted. This means beer, bloody Mary’s, screwdrivers, mimosas, cosmos, etc. The wineries can actually lose their license if there is outside alcohol brought into their facilities.
  • Have pets? Kids? Children are always welcome at the wineries, but the crowds and focus of the event may not be suited to them. And while a few wineries are dog friendly, it’s best to leave the pups at home.
  • Buy-buy! No that is not a typo, it’s an encouragement to buy wine during the event. The wineries spend a lot of time and their resources to stage a great weekend. Show your gratitude by buying wine for another day. They’ll appreciate the business, and you’ll take home some premium wines, many of which are only available at the winery itself.

Follow these tips and everyone will have a great time during Yakima Valley Spring Barrel. Enjoy your visit and see you soon!

Resources to plan your trip:

Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center

101 North Fair Avenue, Yakima, WA 98901

Hours: Monday - Saturday 9-5, Sunday 10-4

(509) 573-3388 or 800-221-0751

Local map to Visitor Information Center

Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau

Click here for their Spring Barrel Tasting Website

For a handy map of the wineries in the Yakima Valley click here.

For details on the wineries and their offerings, visit the Yakima Valley’s two winery associations. Policies may vary from winery to winery.

Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail

509-965-4521 or 888-375-7498

Wine Yakima Valley


Special thanks to the winemakers, tasting room managers, wine fans and others who contributed to this article.

The Yakima Valley blog articles feature members of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. If you would like to receive information regarding membership, Click here, or to request a membership application, please contact Michele Hopkins at (509) 575-3010.

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