This issue's cover story is dedicated to Wine Press Northwest's home base: the Tri-Cities.
We've often kicked around the idea of doing our annual Wine Lovers Guide on this region in south-central Washington that is in the heart of the state's wine country, but until the past year or so, we weren't so sure our hometown was up for the challenge.
The Tri-Cities is a funny place. First of all, you won't find it on a conventional map because there is no city here called "Tri-Cities" (there should, but that's a discussion for a different time and another publication).
In fact, it's not even really three cities anymore, as the name would imply. Sure, the majority of the population lives in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, the three cities along the mighty Columbia River. But then there's West Richland, a city of 10,000 whose residents are integral to our community. Several of them, in fact, have taken to calling the area the Quad Cities, something the rest of us actively ignore.
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Even more confusing is a fifth city, which to the wine lover might be the most important, and that's Benton City, the community that sits just below the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area.
So that's five cities now, but we're still the Tri-Cities. Another movement has been afoot to try to rename the area "Three Rivers" because this is where the Columbia, Yakima and Snake rivers converge and head toward the Pacific Ocean. Our beautiful new convention center is called "Three Rivers," and the name seems to be sort of catching on.
After spending my first 24 years growing up on the Kitsap Peninsula and going to college in Bellingham, employment brought me east of the Cascades. Like everyone else who lands here from the outside, I figured I would put in two years and head back home. I grew up amid trees and mountains and surrounded by water. I don't think I quite understood just how beautiful the Olympic Mountains were until I didn't see them every day. This place seemed more like the moon, and the summer heat was unbearable. (And let me tell you right now: It doesn't matter if it's a "dry heat" if it's 110!)
But then a funny thing happened on the way back toward Seattle. I started to like the place. What once seemed like barren hills started to become charming. As I learned that bread actually comes from wheat and not from the store, I began to appreciate the agricultural aspect of the Columbia Basin. It also didn't hurt that I fell in love and got married, and even though my wife, Melissa, is from Portland and also had a "two-year plan," she began to like the place, too. So here we are, probably for good.
An interesting thing about the Tri-Cities is that, unlike Eastern Washington communities like Spokane or Walla Walla, you don't have to be here for generations to be "from" here. I figure that the first time you become offended by a "glow-in-the-dark" joke from a west-sider, you're officially a Tri-Citian.
During the 17 years I've now lived here, I have occasionally taken part in the local sport of decrying our lack of things to do. (One joke that makes the rounds here goes like this: What is the difference between yogurt and the Tri-Cities? Yogurt has culture.)
Certainly, there are things we Tri-Citians miss about the big city: concerts, arts, sports, restaurants. But as the population closes in on a quarter-million people, these amenities are starting to become more prevalent, enough so that we want to share them with you.
We're also starting to get less-desirable aspects of a big city: occasional traffic, constant construction, etc. But our idea of a traffic snarl is a little different than Seattle's or Portland's. We might be inconvenienced by as much as 10 minutes because we need to take a different bridge across the Columbia. We do like the fact that we can get to the state's third-busiest airport from anywhere around town in less than 15 minutes, even during "rush hour" (which really are rush minutes).
Places to eat here come and go, but there are enough restaurants with a track record that we can no longer complain with much validity. We have a half-dozen wine bars, all of which are really fun, laid back and often accompanied by live jazz.
This town also has a lot of underlying vibrancy. It doesn't have so much history that we can't still mold the Tri-Cities into what we want, whether it's a new ballfield, a museum or a waterfront recreation area. Those who are able to make it past those first two years come to love most things - and tolerate the rest. We aren't interested in becoming too big of a town just yet because we love the wide-open spaces, the constantly blue skies, the beautiful rivers and the vineyard-covered hills. We have one of the Northwest's biggest outdoor farmers markets, as well as a bunch of smaller ones. Purchasing food and wine straight from the producers is wonderfully appealing, and enjoying them with friends and neighbors is a joy found in few other regions around the state.
I've discovered through the years that life - and where you live it - is only as good as you want to make it. Here in the Tri-Cities, we're making the most of a good thing.
So welcome to our town. We think you'll enjoy your stay.