Over three million people visited Washington wine country last year — so we’re putting a CG twist on one of the state’s most popular weekend getaways
As we looked back at our first 40 issues for our 10th Anniversary issue in June, we kept coming back to our initial foray down what we called the “Cascade Golfer Wine Trail,“ a journey that took us from Chelan, to Yakima and the Tri-Cities, and eventually to Walla Walla, sipping Washington’s finest wines and teeing it up at some of our state’s most scenic courses.
Outside of Northern California’s Napa Valley, there’s literally no other place in America where you can enjoy a similar experience — and if I’m being entirely honest, I think our golf courses are better.
What struck me most as I read the article, however, was how much the landscape has changed in just eight years. Rope Rider didn’t exist in 2009. Neither did Gamble Sands. Desert Canyon had yet to be revived by the ownership of Bear Mountain Ranch’s Don Barth. Wine Valley opened its doors just six weeks before the magazine hit the streets — well, opened its tee boxes would be more accurate; the “doors“ of the still-under-construction clubhouse wouldn’t officially open until later that summer.
On the wine side, the growth has been even more significant. In 2008, Washington boasted just over 600 wineries, producing roughly 12 million cases of wine per year — second only to California among U.S. states. In less than a decade, those numbers have grown to more than 900 wineries and over 16 million cases per year — were Washington a country and not a state, its premium wine production would rank sixth in the world, bettered only by the state of California and four entire countries (France, Italy, Australia, Chile).
Washington wines claimed six of the top-45 spots in Wine Spectator’s 2016 list of the world’s top-100 wines, with three of those priced at under $35 (and one, Charles Smith’s Kung Fu Girl Riesling, at just $12). Likewise, the seven Washington wines that made Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 top-100 list boast a median price of just $30.
This is the point where you pinch yourself and say, “Wait, I actually live here?“
You sure do. Nearly three million visitors flocked to Washington wine country last year, drawn by the promise of premium wine at an affordable rate, and — for some of them, no doubt — world-class golf at half the price of America’s more publicized golf destinations. Hit a pitching wedge anywhere along the path of the Columbia River from Brewster in the north down to Walla Walla, and you’re likely to land your ball on either a pristine playing surface, or among endless rows of Cabernet and Riesling.
That combination, of course, makes the Cascade Golfer Wine Trail an ideal vacation for golfers and non-golfers alike. Slip out early in the morning while the others in your party sleep off a fun night of dinner and dancing, or sip their coffee while watching the sun’s first rays dance across Lake Chelan or the Horse Heaven Hills. Then join up for an afternoon tasting the world’s most outstanding wines, before sitting down to a dinner made from locally-sourced produce. Then wash, rinse, repeat.
Given the significant changes in both industries over the past decade, we decided to take another trip down the Wine Trail this spring, mixing some of our favorite stops from 2009 with new obsessions we had yet to discover. On the following pages, you’ll travel with us to each of Washington’s three primary golf-and-wine destinations — Chelan, Walla Walla, and the Yakima Valley.
We’ll tee it up at some of the state’s top tracks, and drown every bad shot with some of the finest Syrahs and Merlots we’ve ever sipped. We’ll also throw in a few tips for planning your own Wine Trail getaway — (We’ve found, “Hey, honey, any interest in going wine tasting with me this summer?“ to have a nearly 100-percent success rate) — and help narrow down those 900 wineries and dozens of courses to the ones that we think are most worth your time.
If you took this trip when we recommended it eight years ago, then you know exactly why we wanted to go back. If you didn’t, that’s O.K. Because the golf and wine in Washington have both gotten better with age.