Over the last ten years, Washington State has blossomed as a wine region with the number of wineries growing more than four-fold. Along the way the state has also become a significant wine-touring destination, with people from inside and outside Washington traveling to wine country to see what all the fuss is about.

While the number of wineries in Washington has grown, wine touring infrastructure has struggled to keep pace. As recently as May of this year, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates CEO Ted Baseler lamented the slow growth of dining and lodging options in Washington wine country. In addition to the slow growth of travel amenities, information on what is out there is scant, making it somewhat challenging for the interested traveler.

Enter Washington Wine 9. Washington Wine 9 is a new company focusing on wine country trip planning services. Friend and founder Carrie Simon says the goal of the company is to help visitors to Washington wine country maximize their travel experience. Simon plans to do this by providing insider information about lodgings, restaurants, and non-wine related things to do when traveling to wine country.

Simon, a Washington native, first got the idea for Washington Wine 9 after asking herself why she had never traveled to Washington wine country. Simon, who has traveled to twenty countries and thirty-two of the United States, prides herself on planning her own trips. When she considered traveling to Washington wine country, however, she found the information somewhat opaque. Most of what was available – such as this space – was devoted to the wines and wineries rather than the overall travel experience. Figuring out where to stay and what to do besides drink wine required a decent amount of work for what amounts to a weekend trip for most people.

Simon set out to change this. To do so, she researched places to stay, eat, and things to do. She did it the old fashioned way – by going there. Simon has spent one to two weeks a month for the last six months traveling to eastern Washington to do research. She has focused her efforts on the heart of Washington wine country – an area that encompasses nine of Washington’s viticultural areas (the ‘9’ in Washington Wine 9) and spans from the Yakima Valley to the Columbia Gorge to the Walla Walla Valley.

Along the way Simon has visited numerous hotels, bed and breakfasts, and, yes, even teepees. She has frequented the area’s restaurants and participated in numerous tourist activities to determine which ones she can recommend – and which ones she can’t. Simon hopes to pass this information along to travelers by providing customized itineraries designed to meet people’s specific needs.

While Washington Wine 9 will focus on the travel experience around visiting wine country, the wine is still, obviously, critical. Simon, who is a wine lover, will list on her website a monthly list of nine wineries to visit – what she refers to as a ‘winetinerary.’ These will be written by various guest authors from the wine industry (see the first month’s list written by yours truly here) and are intended to be food for thought for those wine country-bound, a place to begin the conversation with prospective clients. To compliment the advice of the “wine experts” Simon will overlay her own experiences visiting the wineries and meeting the winemakers and owners to be able to match clients with wineries; she will also help clients arrange private wine tasting appointments.

The distinguishing factor of Washington Wine 9 is that Simon plans to create an experience best suited to people’s specific travel plans, and tailored to their likes and dislikes. She intends to do this by learning about her customers and by connecting this with the information she has learned from her travels. The ultimate product from Washington Wine 9 will be a custom itinerary based on a person’s specific interests. This may also include scheduling private tasting appointments at specific wineries if people so wish.

While initially targeting westsiders, Simon hopes to expand the service to people nationally and beyond. Washington Wine 9 will focus on individuals, couples, and small groups. The cost of the services will be $90 per hour with a one-hour minimum.

Why now? Simon, who has spent the last twenty years living outside of Washington, says that the recent increase in accolades and attention for Washington wine means more people are visiting Washington wine country than ever before. And even more people are wanting to do so but are wondering what to do.

Like she was, Simon believes that people who travel to eastern Washington will be surprised by what they find. “Before I went I knew that there was going to be great wine, but what I have learned is how many other great reasons there are to travel to eastern Washington, from great artist communities like Tieton to seasonal fruit picking to rafting down the Yakima River to visiting delicious creameries. There is so much to do out there, but it does take a fair amount of effort to uncover many of these things,” she says.

Simon believes that while Washington’s wine country is unique from California, it can be every bit as charming. She says, “If you go with the expectation that this will resemble Napa and that you will have any number of white table cloth restaurants to dine in and high end spa resorts to visit, you will be disappointed. You will find a few. But what’s most fun is discovering the hidden gems that aren’t as obvious. There is a lot to be discovered.”

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Pictures courtesy of Washington Wine 9.