Did you know that Washington is the second-largest premium wine producer in the country? Or that Oregon has more than 600 wineries and more than 950 vine- yards? This summer, celebrate Northwest wine by explor- ing its wine countries with a group tasting tour or stocking your event bar with some of the region’s most acclaimed vintages. Cheers!
Wine Tasting 101
“The first thing to do when planning a wine-tasting event is to figure out the group’s interests,” says Amanda Lasher, sales and operations manager at Viva! Event and Destination Management in Portland, Oregon. “Are they here to socialize? Or is it all about the wine?” Lasher partners with meeting and event planners to organize wine tours and tastings for corporate groups and has extensive experience with wineries in Oregon.
After discovering the group's interests, Lasher then recommends planning a tour with no more than three wineries. For a group primarily interested in socializing that doesn’t want to dive as deep into wine information, Lasher often plans a simple wine tasting at one location, a behind-the-scenes tour at another and a winery tour and sit-down dinner at a third. For those groups more interested in the details of wine and wine production, Lasher organizes three different winery experiences: one on farming (a close look at the vines), one on production (what happens once the grapes are picked) and one that focuses on what the wine tastes like in the bottle (meeting with a winemaker and discussing tasting notes).
While many wineries prefer to work with smaller groups, Lasher has cre- atively organized larger tasting parties as well. She recently planned a wine tasting and winery tour for 150 guests, dividing them into three smaller groups, each with its own bus. The groups cycled through each of the winer- ies and then came together at a larger venue for music, appetizers and sam- plings of wines from five or six boutique vineyards. This allowed Lasher’s guests to experience established venues as well as smaller craft wineries.
Lasher advises planners to coordinate the type of information covered at each venue—otherwise the wineries may duplicate presentations. She also recommends against overscheduling—“three is the sweet spot,” she says. Participants will want time to listen to the presentation, taste the wine and purchase the product. Finally, she notes the best tasting experience may require consulting with a destination management company that has built strong relationships with the wine country you hope to tour.
Want to know which wineries to check out on a group wine tour? Here are some suggestions.
SOKOL BLOSSER, Dayton
sokolblosser.com | 503.864.2282
One of the first wineries in Oregon, Sokol Blosser played a key role in establishing the flourishing Oregon wine industry we know today. The winery offers customizable wine tasting and touring experiences, each with a unique space, food pairing and level of for- mality. Guests can tour the vineyard and see the pinot noir grapes on the vines. Or they can taste a flight of wines in the historic John Storrs Tasting Room. The winery organizes custom events, tastings and dinners for groups of up to 40 seated, 100-150 standing.
PENNER-ASH WINE CELLARS, Newberg
pennerash.com | 503.554.5545
Penner-Ash produces pinot noir, syrah, ries- ling and viognier. Both elegant and archi- tecturally interesting, the winery building itself is thoughtfully designed to enhance the winemaking process. Multiple levels allow for gravity to move the grapes from where they are crushed to fermentation tanks and then into barrels. Guests can par- ticipate in wine tastings, winery tours and vineyard walks, and spaces can be reserved for groups.
STOLLER FAMILY ESTATE, Dayton
stollerfamilyestate.com | 503.864.3404
Stoller is the largest contiguous vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills region and was also the first winery in the world to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. Its fruit is 100 percent estate grown, and the resulting wines are award winning. Its large tasting room features glass garage doors that fully open, and groups can host events and arrange for custom tastings. The property also offers three guesthouses for overnight rental.
DURANT VINEYARDS AT RED RIDGE, Dayton
redridgefarms.com | 503.864.8502
One of the originals in the Oregon wine industry, Durant Vineyards produces pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris that are always vineyard-designated and never blended. The winery is located on Red Ridge Farms, and a tasting can be followed by a sit- down dinner at the adjacent Oregon Olive Mill, which can seat 75 comfortably. The event facility is frequently used for corporate events and is fully furnished with supplies, Wi-Fi and A/V equipment.
beauxfreres.com | 503.537.1137
Beaux-Frères was founded in 1986 when co- owner Michael G. Etzel saw a pig farm for sale while vacationing from Colorado. He bought the property and through years of dedication built the boutique, destination winery that Beaux-Frères is today. Beaux-Frères offers tast- ings and tours of the vineyard for smaller groups of up to eight by appointment. Guests can learn about the vineyard’s history and viticultural methods.
JM CELLARS, Woodinville
jmcellars.com | 425.485.6508
Since 1998, family-owned JM Cellars has worked with a variety of Washington’s best vineyards. The winery offers a private wine- maker’s tour and tasting as well as private wine-blending classes. Laura LoPresti, a for- mer wine tour guide who has toured every wine country in Washington, praises JM Cellars’ beautiful grounds and the “homey and intimate” feeling of its inside spaces, not- ing that it has a large variety of red and white wines to please most people.
DELILLE CELLARS, Woodinville
delillecellars.com | 425.489.0544
For a more discerning crowd, the wines at DeLille Cellars have “rock-star status,” says LoPresti. DeLille's acclaimed winemaker, Chris Upchurch, attributes this to his pas- sion for making Washington wines uniquely expressive of their terroir. Guests can sample flights of his wines at the carriage house tast- ing room or reserve the chateau, an elegant and intimate venue for smaller parties.
CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE, Woodinville
ste-michelle.com | 425.488.1133
Washington's founding winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle has a long and rich local wine tradi- tion. LoPresti says it “[has] such a large vari- ety of wines, you can’t go wrong ... and the grounds are so beautiful and enjoyable.” The property is a hub of options and activities, with regular musical events as well as behind-the- scenes winemaking tours or smaller reserve tastings for more discerning guests. There are also event spaces that can be reserved for formal occasions.
EFESTE WINE, Woodinville
efeste.com | 425.398.7200
Winemakers at Woodinville’s Efeste take a minimalist approach, relying on wild fermen- tation rather than using commercial yeast, resulting in complex wines that have garnered a long list of awards from dozens of sources, including Wine Spectator. Efeste coordinates tastings and events for a variety of group sizes up to 350 and offers in-house catering, includ- ing pizza baked in a wood-fired oven.
NOVELTY HILL/JANUIK, Woodinville
noveltyhilljanuik.com | 425.481.5502
This Woodinville winery boasts the area’s most extensive tasting menu, and the dual labels mean there are two price points for the wine. LoPresti notes that the grounds and modern architecture of the facilities are stunning. The winery also makes use of its indoor and out- door spaces to cater specifically to corporate and private events in a variety of group sizes.
BEAR CREEK WINERY, Homer
bearcreekwinery.com | 907.235.8484
Located on the Kenai Peninsula about four hours from Anchorage, Bear Creek Winery is definitely a trek. But for those groups willing to make the drive (the tasting room can accom- modate up to 35), the winery is well worth the trip. Its award-winning fruit wines are made from locally grown berries.
ALASKA DENALI WINERY, Anchorage
denaliwinery.info | 907.563.9434
This Anchorage-based winery gives groups of four to 10 a unique opportunity to participate in the winemaking process. Groups can sample musts (unfermented grape juices), choose their favorite and then work with the winery to pro- cess the wine. Six to eight weeks later, they can return for the bottling process and are welcome to bring their own food and sample the wine they’ve just made.
CALONA VINEYARDS, Kelowna
calonavineyards.ca | 250.762.9144
As B.C.’s original winery, Calona Vineyards dates back to 1932. Located in the Okanagan Valley, it benefits from prime growing condi- tions for grapes and has received more than 100 awards for its wines in the past 10 years alone. The winery is located near Kelowna’s downtown area and has an updated tasting room that can accommodate small groups.
MISSION HILL WINERY, West Kelowna
missionhillwinery.com | 250.768.7611
An Okanagan Valley staple and a world-class winery and restaurant (Travel + Leisure named it one of the top five in the world), Mission Hill is a worthy destination for a variety of groups. Visitors can tour the vineyards and cellars and participate in a variety of custom tastings.
STE. CHAPELLE WINERY, Caldwell
stechapelle.com | 208.453.7840
Nestled in the Snake River Valley, Ste. Chapelle boasts a long list of recognitions and awards—fitting for the grandfather of Idaho wine and the state’s largest and oldest winery. Offering a classic winery experience, the tasting room is modeled after a medieval gothic chapel, and private events for groups can be booked in the banquet room and on the deck and scenic grounds.
SPLIT RAIL WINERY, Boise
splitrailwines.com | 208.490.0681
Wine, meet hipsters. Split Rail recently made news for being one of the first wineries to bottle wine in cans. Split Rail claims to create wine “spawned from whimsy, driven by the soil that you stand upon ... wine that makes you giggle and warms your heartache.” The winery is located in an urban-industrial space in Boise and offers wine tastings, winery tours, winemaking tutorials and catering options (such as food-and-wine pairings).