The Taste of Washington (TOW) is Washington’s premier wine event. Split over two days – Saturday April 4th and Sunday April 5th – the event features a series of seminars on Saturday and the Grand Tasting on Sunday.

The seminars are a series of educational events. This year’s seminars include a focus on Red Mountain’s Klipsun Vineyard. Panelists for this seminar include Paul Gregutt, author of Washington Wines and Wineries, and Mike Januik, owner and winemaker of Januik Winery, among others. The wines to be sampled include Januik, JM Cellars, and DeLille Cellars. Another seminar focuses on wines from 1999, with panelists including Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery, Tom Hedges of Hedges Family Estate, and Rick Small of Woodward Canyon, among others. Wines to be sampled include the 1999 and 2006 vintages of Betz Pere de Famille, Hedges Red Mountain Reserve, and Woodward Canyon’s Artist Series Cabernet. These seminars are an excellent way to learn more about wine in a relaxed environment. Prices for the seminars range from $40-$100.

The Grand Tasting on Sunday includes representatives from over 200 of Washington’s 600 wineries along with 60 area restaurants. General admission tickets, which allow entrance from 4-8pm, are $85 and VIP tickets, which allow entrance from 2-8pm, are $125. For first time attendees of the Grand Tasting, here are some tips.

First, the TOW is about as far from the intimate experience of visiting a winery tasting room as you can get. If this is what you are looking for, be forewarned. The event takes place in a large event hall at Qwest Field. Wineries are spread out – generally alphabetically – throughout the room. There are a very large number of people at this event. If you do not like large crowds or want a more intimate experience then this event may not be for you. That said you will put a lot of miles on your car trying to visit even a small fraction of these wineries, certainly more than $85 worth of gas. Here you have the opportunity to sample a large number of wines side by side, including many from wineries whose tasting rooms are either infrequently open or are far flung across the state.

Second, if you plan on attending the Grand Tasting, have a plan of the wineries you want to visit beforehand. The TOW’s website contains a list of not only the participating wineries, but also the wines that each will be pouring. Make a list of the wineries you definitely want to visit as well as wineries you would like to get to. Be assured that there is no way you will be able to get to all of the wineries on your list so choose carefully. When you arrive at the event (Note: Expect a line to get in) you will receive a tasting glass and a brochure that lists the locations of the wineries throughout the room. Now it’s time to put your plan in to action. Go to the top wineries on your list. I often like to start far from the entrance as people clump together there and then work my way in some direction. As the wineries are arranged alphabetically, it makes sense to visit in some variation of alphabetical order so that you don’t have to do too much zig zagging. In terms of where to go, there are too many exceptional wineries at this event for me to even begin to recommend any. Personally I try to visit wineries that I do not often see in stores, that have restricted tasting room hours, or that are in areas I generally have not had the occasion to travel to.

Third, many wineries have a limit on the amount of wine they are planning to pour at the event. One year, I made a beeline for DeLille Cellars at the very beginning of the event only to find that they had poured all of their wine to the VIP ticket holders and had packed up shop. To make sure people didn’t feel too disgruntled, DeLille left all of the bottles they had poured during the preceding two hours, a truly awesome site. The point is, don’t get your heart absolutely set on tasting wine from any particular winery as it may be broken. If it’s really important to you to sample from a certain winery, make it a priority to get there early.

Fourth, pace yourself. Do NOT go in with the intention of a) getting blotto or b) drinking your money’s worth. This is a wine tasting event. Even if you are not there to try to forget your stock values, four hours is a lot of time to drink wine and it’s easy to wind up as that person if you are not careful – the person who, when you visit the winery, you will not remember them but they will remember you. Use the spit buckets to spit and discard wine. The winery representatives will not be offended. Also, take advantage of the excellent food provided by the restaurants that are distributed throughout the hall. Please note if you are vegetarian, vegetarian fare can be somewhat scarce so I recommend bringing something to nibble on. Also, because of the abundance of excellent, irresistable wine at this event, I recommend taking a taxi or public transportation home from the event.

Fifth, as mentioned previously, there are an enormous number of people at this event. While it is perfectly acceptable to talk to the people pouring about the wine (Note: many winemakers will be in attendance) do not be what I call “a camper” – someone who, after receiving a glass of wine, camps out in front of the table with their nose sunk in the glass or blithely talks to their friends while an army amasses behind them. If you are not talking to the winery representatives, be respectful of others and move to the side. If you are talking to the winery representatives, be mindful of the fact that this is a very demanding, frenetic event for them and they may not be able to give you as much attention as you or they would like.

Sixth, this year the Grand Tasting features a vineyard tasting area called “Common Ground” where you can try wines from a single vineyard from a variety of different producers. This gives you a unique opportunity to get an in-depth taste of the “terroir” of a particular vineyard as well as the effect of the winemakers. This is an excellent way to learn more about wine and is a place you should make some time to stop by.

Finally, have fun. Despite the crowds, this is an extremely enjoyable event if you go in with the right attitude – knowing the crowds will be big, you might not get to try a favorite winery, you will have to wait in lines, and you may run in to some people who should have made more frequent use of the spit buckets. Each time I have attended this event I have discovered a number of new wines or wineries that have become favorites or reestablished relationships with old ones. And that is what it is all about.

Tickets for the both the seminars and the Grand Tasting can be found at the Taste of Washington’s website or at Cellar 46, Pete’s Bellevue, Arista Wine Cellars, Redmond Fine Wine & Cigars, and Pike and Western Wine Shop.