Fresh back from a trip to California including a day in Napa Valley where we visited Darioush, Chappellet, Duckhorn, and Heitz. Some quick thoughts….

Napa Valley has perfected the experience of visiting wine country. The wineries are generally in beautiful buildings in picturesque settings surrounded by vineyards. Amenities from restaurants to B&Bs and delis abound. In terms of experience, Washington is still in its infancy. Many wineries are located in modest buildings, such as Woodinville office parks or the airport region in Walla Walla. While many find this charming, it is no doubt somewhat jarring for people used to visiting other areas. A number of wineries, such as Januik and Cougar Crest for example, have been upscaling. This trend will certainly continue. Additionally, most wineries in Washington are quite removed from their vineyards, assuming they have them to begin with. There is something to be said for looking at the vineyards a wine comes from while drinking the wine. There is certainly a trend in Washington of moving toward estate vineyards, although these vineyards remain in many cases quite distant from the wineries themselves. In terms of amenities, there are a lot of, how shall we say, opportunities throughout Washington.

Tasting fees for the four wineries we visited ranged from $0 (Heitz) to $25 (Duckhorn, Darioush), although many wineries go considerably higher. This fee included a flight of wine and in some cases a tour of an hour or more (Chappellet). In Washington tasting fees are increasingly common with most about $5 and topping out at about $10. Unlike Napa wineries, most Washington wineries refund the tasting fee if you purchase wine. I did not see this in the wineries we visited.

Many Napa wineries, while open to the public, require reservations. This involves a good deal of advance planning as you need to think about how long you want to spend at a winery and the time required to get to the next winery. You may need to make sacrifices because reservations are not available for the dates or times you seek. This has become increasingly common over the last several years. In Washington, while a number of wineries require appointments if they are not open to the public, few if any at this time require appointments if they are open to the public.

In terms of its modern history, Napa Valley – which has about 400 wineries compared to Washington state’s 600 – has evolved over the last thirty or so years. I would expect Washington’s evolution to be considerably quicker given that Napa and others have provided the template. In this way, I would expect to see a lot of these differences diminish over the next ten to fifteen years.

More on the wineries themselves in subsequent posts.