A program allowing visitors to check their first case of wine free on Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air flights is being expanded to the Tri-Cities Airport and the Yakima Air Terminal.
The "Taste and Tote" program will start Sept. 1 at the Pasco and Yakima airports, officials announced Friday.
The Walla Walla Regional Airport started the "Taste and Tote" program in December through a partnership with Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air and local wineries.
Alaska Air Group passengers flying on a round-trip ticket can get their tasting fees waived by showing that ticket at 130 participating wineries in the Tri-Cities, Yakima and Walla Walla, said John Cooper, Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau president and CEO.
One inbound boarding pass waives one tasting fee, and arrival must have been within 10 days.
They also can check their first case of wine at no charge to their ending destination, he said. One case includes up to 12 standard 750-milliliter bottles.
The wine must be packed in a protective shipping container, which many wineries offer.
Clint Ostler, Alaska Airlines' manager of retail advertising and sponsorships, said in a news release the airline is committed to making it easier for travelers to visit vineyards.
"The 'Taste and Tote' program has been a big success in Walla Walla, and we feel our expansion to the Pasco/Tri-Cities and Yakima airports shows our dedication to being Washington Wine Country's airline of choice," he said.
The program has shown itself as a hit at the Walla Walla Regional Airport, said Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. Tourism Walla Walla also has been involved in the program.
Since the program started, the airport has averaged more than 100 cases checked per month, even with just two flights, Wollmuth said. Before the program, the average was closer to 25.
A partnership with Enterprise Rent-A-Car has been added to "Taste and Tote."
With the program, a visitor can fly into one airport, rent a car, travel through Yakima, Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities, and drop the car off at another airport of the three airports without having to pay a drop-off fee, Cooper said. That's a savings of $75.
Having this program will help improve the experience for visitors, said Kim Gravenslund, tasting room manager for Barnard Griffin Winery.
The Richland winery is one of those participating in Taste and Tote.
Gravenslund said some visitors will not buy wine because they can't get it home. The winery ships to some states, but even that isn't available with extreme heat or cold.
Having the option to check a case of wine for free with Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air will make it easier for business travelers and tourists to get wine home, she said.
Wine represents an almost $2 billion impact for the Yakima, Tri-Cities and Walla Walla region, Wollmuth said. A large chunk of that comes from tourism.
The region offers an authentic wine country experience, with the chance for visitors to see vineyards and meet winemakers and grape growers, said Kris Watkins, Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau president and CEO.
Cooper, the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau president, said, "It's a tough economy, and there is a lot of competition for tourist dollars."
A cooperative program like this will help bring in visitors to the region and benefit the local economy, Cooper said.
"I know this program is going to be a winner," he said.
The program will help get visitors to Washington Wine Country, get them traveling throughout the area and make it easier for them buy wine to take back home, Wollmuth said.
The program will last at least two years. For more information, go to www.tasteandtote.com.