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I recently left Washington State, the Columbia Valley, with a new appreciation for the area's wine. The region is rather large at over 11 million acres and includes Walla Walla, Yakima, Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Chelan, Columbia Cascade, Ancient Lakes, Naches Heights, Snipes Mountain, Benton City and the coveted Red Mountain. The Columbia Valley grows 99 percent of all Washington state grapes and they grow the varietals of Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carménère, and Syrah.

The Columbia Valley is producing some amazing wines and the price point is much less than their cousins to the south in Sonoma and Napa Valley. When most people think of Washington they might picture large pine trees and rolling green hills. It's green around the west coastal region of the state, but beyond the mountains is a desert region that grows apples, grapes and a hops. The growing season for grapes is between 180 and 200 days with rainfall at about 6 to 8 inches annually. They rely heavily on irrigation and suppling exactly the water amount needed for the grapes. This leads to little variation in vintages and consistently high quality wines being produced.

I like to do the most travel in the first day and started in Walla Walla. The drive from Seattle takes about 4 ½ hours and I visited 14 wineries over two days. While difficult to choose from the huge list of wineries, I did some research prior to our trip, asked some winemakers what their favorites are and started there. Don't rely on social media sites for this information.

Walla Walla has many by the old military airfield where many of the tasting rooms are in old airplane buildings. This is very convenient for tasting because of the close proximity — you to taste many places in a short amount of time. There are small tasting fees that are usually waived if you purchase a specified quantity of wine. Downtown Walla Walla is also home to many tasting rooms and cute shops.

Some of my favorites are: Adamant Cellars, Buty, Browne Family Vineyards, Dunham Cellars, Five Star Cellars, L'Ecole No 41, Mark Ryan Winery, Revelry Vitners, Tamarak Cellars, and Waterbrook Winery.

Buty, Dunham Cellars, L'Eocle, Revelry, and Waterbrook are all available in Pennsylvania either online or at your premium Fine Wine and Good Spirits Store.

One of my favorites is Dunham Cellars 2012 trutina. It has aromas of strawberries and plums with tasting notes of cherry and graphite with a soft and smooth tannins. It is a Bordeaux style blend using Syrah instead of Cabernet Franc and will only become better over the next few years. Cost is $29 per bottle and has receive 91 points from both Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast.

Upon leaving Walla Walla, I drove back toward Seattle about 2 hours and spent 2 nights in Yakima. Here you will notice a little more green as you are closer to the edge of the Cascade Mountains. One place everyone in Walla Walla told me to visit was Cooper Wine Company. They did not disappoint. This is definitely one of the top wineries on our visit located in Benton City.

My favorites in this area are: Airfield Estates, Cooper Wine Company, Cultura, Dineen Family Vineyards, Two Mountain Winery, Owen Roe, and Treveri Cellers.

Owen Roe and Treveri Cellars both are available in Pennsylvania. Treveri makes great sparkling wines and Owen Roe has some amazing red wines. One of my favorites was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas of blackberry, cedar and vanilla with flavors of plumb and hints of cinnamon, allspice and black licorice. This wine has a nice finish and lingering tannins.

Now is the time to visit this area. The Columbia Valley is definitely up and coming and if you wait too long, I predict it will be filled with long lines at tasting counters and more expensive pricing.

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