KENNEWICK -- Gather your wine loving friends, choose a designated driver and go out wine tasting this weekend.
It's Spring Barrel Tasting time and wineries in the Yakima Valley, Red Mountain and Richland areas will be pouring samples of their finest aged vintages, new releases and even some unfinished wines right from the barrel.
Nearly 50 wineries, some normally only open by appointment, will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday.
Many wineries also have delicious tidbits such as cheese, chocolates and breads to pair with a featured wine. Several will have live music and arts and crafts vendors on site and a few will have educational demonstrations.
For example, Kana Winery in Yakima will have a barrel-blending demonstration and tasting. Milbrandt Vineyards in Prosser will have acoustic guitarists with Blue Mountain Spanish Sounds playing on the patio from 2 to 5 p.m. today.
Oakwood Cellars in Benton City will have food available from Atomic Ale Brew Pub in Richland and offerings from Educated Cigar and Sagegold Soaps along with live jazz. Today Armandino Batali, owner of Seattle's renowned Salumi Salami and father of Iron Chef Mario Batali, will be sampling his products at Kestrel Vintners.
What to expect
Spring Barrel Tasting attracts a lot of people, which means a lot of traffic and crowds including busloads of tasters, many from the west side.
This weekend is one of the busiest for the wineries. Winemakers and cellar staff will be on hand to share insights and answer questions on the winemaking process.
Take a glass or be prepared to buy one at your first stop. There's no way the winery dishwashers will be able to keep up with the demand for glassware.
Many wineries will be charging a nominal tasting fee, usually refunded with a wine purchase.
For the best experience, discounts and tastings, purchase a Wine Yakima Valley Premier Pass (actually a wristband).
"Forty to 45 percent of the wineries in Yakima Valley charge a tasting fee, and if you have a Premier Pass most will waive the fee. Plus you'll also get extra discounts on purchases, extra tastings and, in some cases, food samples too. It's your pass to everything to make your Barrel Tasting weekend experience more enjoyable," said Barbara Glover of Wine Yakima Valley. Wine Yakima Valley is a promotional organization representing more than 50 wineries and growers.
"The reason we started the Premier Pass is on Barrel Tasting weekend there's a lot of hustle and bustle in the tasting rooms. We wanted to create an opportunity for people to slow down and be able to talk to the winemakers and winery owners, to really learn about the wines and to enjoy the specialty food and wine pairings," she said.
The wristbands are good only at participating Yakima Valley wineries. Some, but not all, of the wineries in the greater Tri-City area are members of Wine Yakima Valley. A couple of wineries are open only for Premier Pass holders.
Premier Passes come with a tasting glass and cost $35. They are available on Barrel Tasting weekend at 13 wineries scattered throughout the Yakima Valley from Yakima to Richland.
You can see the list of wineries selling the passes, plus more information on specials at individual wineries and get directions, by going to www.wineyakimavalley.org and clicking on "Spring Barrel Tasting."
Or call 509-965-5201.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; email@example.com