Driving down I-90 we were surrounded by trees and mountains. As we passed through the Cascades the sun, and arid landscape welcomed us with open arms. Washington may be the Evergreen State, but eastern Washington is generally far from it. Maybe that’s why this is prime grape country and the perfect place for a little wine tasting girls getaway weekend.
On an early Friday morning I grabbed my two girlfriends Nicole and Jennifer, we dropped our kids with their babysitters, and hit the road in search of food, wine, and a bit of fun in the Tri-Cities of Washington. What are the Tri-Cities you ask? Well it’s just want it sounds like. The neighboring cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco make up this metropolitan area, hence the name Tri-Cities. There is no real downtown to any of them, but there is enough industry (and wine, did I mention the wine?) to keep this place going.
Being a semi-arid climate, we were hit with a blast of warm air when we arrived in Richland to check into the Courtyard Marriott. And when I say warm air, I mean it was going to be in the 90s all weekend in mid-August. For the rest of the country this may not seem like a big deal, but for those living in Seattle this was a true taste of summer. We don’t get out of the 70s and 80s much across the Cascades in the Puget Sound region.
We weren’t here for the heat though, we were hear for the grapes. With so many vineyards where would we begin? Barnard Griffin was to be the first winery on our stop. Nicole was familiar with their port, but we were all eager to see what else they had to offer. We were able to all enjoy a flight of 3 wines with our lunch in their cafe. The cheese plate got us started, while the pork flatbread and s’mores panini topped us off. Once our bellies were full we were ready to let our creative juices flow next door at db Gallery & Studio.
The studio, owned and run by Deborah Barnard of Barnard Griffin, welcomes visitors and students to try their hand at glass design. You won’t be blowing glass vases; you will be fusing colored glass onto sheets of glass to make pendants, Christmas ornaments, plates, bowels and platters. We decided to start small and were richly rewarded. We walked away with 3 gorgeous pendants each, for a very minimal class fee.
Next door to Barnard Griffin is J. Bookwalter where you can do a tasting, eat some food and play a riotous game of bocce ball. Taverna Tagaris is also along the same row of tasting room, which is where we ended our evening. We sipped, enjoyed a few small plates, and just chat without interruption from our kids, or having to worry about bath time and bedtime. To say we were all beginning to relax is an understatement.
Saturday morning started off with a favorite activity: shopping. The Country Mercantile is your one-stop shop for gourmet goods and local specialties. We loaded up on homemade tamales, handcrafted chocolates, salsas, mustard and cider. We savored the samples readily available to help us choose a few chocolate treats to keep us sugared up for the rest of the weekend. I’m going to tell you right now, the caramel-dipped, chocolate-covered pretzel rods are dangerous… and a must whenever you stop in.
We had more wine to taste and there was no better spot to start than at Terra Blanca on Red Mountain. The owner Keith took us on a tour of the vineyard and winery before we settled into a table on the patio for a picnic lunch. Keith masterfully picked out a few wines for us to taste. Thanks to him I may be giving Chardonnay another chance on my wine rack.
In order to keep with our wine-themed weekend we headed over to Kiona Vineyard and Winery. The wine tasting would have to wait a bit though; I had a horse named Suzzie to get to know. Red Mountain Trails regularly has a group of gorgeous horses hitched up next to the Kiona parking lot on the weekends for visitors to take for a ride through the vineyard. We slowly sauntered our way through the vines, seeing which would be turned into what wines. The sweeping vistas showed off hills of irrigated green mixed with a jumble of dusty brown, while the blue sky touched down to earth.
All too soon we were off our horses and in Kiona’s tasting room sampling the Cyclops red and some of the best dessert wines I’ve ever had. I’ll admit I like semi-sweet whites on a hot summer’s day, but even ice wine can be too sweet for me. Their Single Berry Select burst into my mouth like a freshly crushed berry. If it wasn’t for the price ($80!) I would have brought a bottle home.
The rest of our afternoon was filled with tastings at other area wineries and a dip in the pool back at our hotel. We were here on vacation after all and needed to relax a bit. A dip in the hot tub before dinner was just what the doctor ordered, and good thing too. We were going to get a work out in the morning.
Bright and early Kris from Columbia Kayak Adventures was ready to pick up and take us kayaking down the Columbia River. I’d never been kayaking so this was sure to be entertaining, and possibly a very sore drive home when we were done. Kris made it easy as he showed us how to use our core, not our arm muscles to make our way up and down the river. He pointed out local birds and where some cranky water creatures normally liked to hang out. We let the river current take us down stream and then battled (ok, it wasn’t that hard) back up stream before the current really took off farther south.
Our motley crew had a blast, but it was time for us to pack our bags and get back home to our husbands and kids. Mom’s weekend off could only last so long. Kids needed to be tucked in and Nicole had to get to work. We’d enjoyed our first taste of the Tri-Cities. Lucky for us we had a few bottles of wine coming home to remind us of our kid-free weekend adventure.
3-day Sample Itinerary
- Drive to Richland, WA
- Check into your hotel
- Lunch at Barnard Griffin
- Glass making class at db Gallery & Studio
- Wine tasting at area wineries
- Tapas and wine at Taverna Tagaris (sit outside if the weather is nice)
- Breakfast at your hotel
- Spa treatments at Nouveau Day Spa
- Shopping at the Country Mercantile
- Picnic lunch at Terra Blanca (or dine in on a Saturday afternoon)
- Tour the winery
- Horseback ride with Red Mountain Trails through the Kiona Vineyards
- Wine tasting at Kiona and other Red Mountain wineries including Fidelitas, Col Solare and Tapteil
- Dinner at J. Bookwalters or Anthony’s Home Port at Columbia Point
- Breakfast at your hotel
- Kayak tour down the Columbia River with Columbia Kayak Adventures
- Grab lunch at Frost Me Sweet Bistro & Bakery or Country Mercantile (great sandwiches and tamales)
- Drive home savoring your last hours of kid-free quiet in the car
Courtyard Richland Columbia Point Marriot, 480 Columbia Point Drive, Richland, WA.
The Tri-Cities of Washington aren’t known for their swank 4 star hotels or boutique hotels, but staff at the Courtyard Richland will make you feel like a treasured guest the moment you step through the doors. Our suite was comfortable, and quiet, with a view of the river. We were within an easy drive of all of our activities and more wineries than we could manage over the short weekend. The mini-fridge was quickly filled with wine as we toured around the area, and also held a bit of chocolate for midnight snacks.
Although breakfast is not included with the room, it was very reasonably priced and filling, even if you didn’t go for the hot items (eggs, bacon, etc.) Cereal, fruit, pastries, and yogurt were more than enough to start our day. The coffee wasn’t the best; I’d suggest you hit the closest Starbucks or coffee shop.
Don’t forget to take a dip in the pool and hot tub after you borrow one of the hotel bikes to ride along the Columbia River. Small perks like bikes for guests and large 1-bedroom suites are just two of the many reasons I would head back.
Barnard Griffin, 878 Tulip Lane, Richland, WA. This newly renovated tasting room and restaurant is the perfect spot to start your wine tasting adventure. Grab some lunch and a flight of wine to find your favorite. Favorite Bites: Cheese board, Pulled pork flatbread and S’mores Panini
J. BookWalter Winery, 894 Tulip Lane, Richland, WA. The wine may be so-so (bit sweet for my taste), but the food will have you coming back. Summer time welcomes outdoor musical entertainment and a few rounds of bocce ball as you dive into locally sourced cuisine.
Taverna Tagaris, 844 Tulip Lane, Richland, WA. Take a seat at the bar, or if it’s nice, on the outdoor patio to enjoy some music, good wine and a few small plates with your friends. Most of the menu is Mediterranean inspired and as much as possible is locally sourced, even from their own side yard garden. Bring your appetite and soak up all that wine you’ve tasted all afternoon. Favorite Bites: Risotto balls and caprese skewers
Country Mercantile, 232 Crestloch Road, Pasco, WA. Shop for culinary treats, watch truffles lovingly swathed in chocolate, or just order up a sandwich and tamales to go. You really can’t go wrong with just indulging in the caramel dipped chocolate covered pretzels though. No one will judge you if you buy a few pounds. Favorite bites: Avocado salsa, Turkey Club sandwich and chocolate covered pretzels
Anthony’s Home Port at Columbia Point, 550 Columbia Point Drive, Richland, WA. You should not discount this Pacific Northwest chain on your visit. The seafood is fresh, the outdoor patio has gorgeous views of the river, and the steaks are cooked to perfection. Favorite bites: Dungeness Crab Stack, the Double R Ranch Tenderloin Filet, and any fish special.
Barnard Griffin, 878 Tulip Lane, Richland, WA
- Favorite Red: 2007 Clone 21/10 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Reserve Chardonnay
- Favorite White: 2012 Fume Blanc & Rose of Sangiovese
Taverna Tagaris, 844 Tulip Lane, Richland, WA.
- Favorite Red: 2009 Sangiovese
- Favorite White: 2010 Gewurztraminer and 2011 Muscat Canelli
Terra Blanca & Wine Barrel Caves, 34715 Demoss Road, Benton City.
- Tours available: Vineyard Walk, and the Wine & Cheese Tour and Tasting,
- Dining: Cafe Orsa is open Fridays 5pm-10pm and Saturdays 12pm-5pm
- Favorite Red: Onyx and Arch Terrace Merlot (extra special: 2003 Reserve Merlot)
- Favorite White: 2009 Signature Series Block 5 Chardonnay
Kiona Vineyards and Winery, 44612 N. Sunset Road, Benton City, WA.
- Favorite Red: Cyclops Red
- Favorite White: Estate Red Mountain Dry Reisling
- Favorite Ice Wine: Single Berry Select – a botrytised Chenin Blanc ($80 splurge) or Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
Col Solare, 50207 Antinori Road, Benton City, WA.
- Favorite Red: 2009 Col Solare
Fidelitas, 51810 N Sunset Road, Benton City, WA.
- Favorite Red: Optu Red Mountain
- Favorite White: Optu White (check out the wine makers varietals and blends)
Wine buying tip: Never ever leave wine in your car. If you wouldn’t leave your child or your dog in the car, then you shouldn’t leave your wine.
db Gallery & Studio, 878 Tulip Lane, Richland, WA (at Barnard Griffin). Who loves a good arts and craft afternoon? You do? Me too. Especially when my girlfriends are involved. Deborah Barnard, of Barnard Griffin, offers glass making classes. You won’t be blowing glass, but you will get to fuse glass together to make pendants, Christmas ornaments, plates, etc. Check out what is being offered during your visit or book a private class.
Red Mountain Trails, 44612 N. Sunset Road, Bentin City, WA (meet in the Kiona Vineyard parking/hitching lot) Grab your cowgirl boots and take a relaxing trail ride through the vineyards on Red Mountain. If you are a bit nervous to get up on a horse ask to meet Suzzie. She is a gorgeous gal who has a nice walk and doesn’t have much interest in going past a trot, if that. Nevada and Yukon are equally beautiful and ready to take on slightly more experienced riders, but have no fear, even if all of your group has no horse experience, these equine friends will treat you right.
Columbia Kayak Adventures, 710-D George Washington Way, Richland, WA. Join co-owner Kris Vowels on a paddling adventure down the Columbia River. If kayaking is your thing, Kris sets a nice pace and teaches you how to preserve your arm strength and work that core. As you float down river, or paddle upstream Kris points out wildlife and can tell you tales of the area. If you’d rather try out paddle boarding Kris and his team are happy to get you up and paddling away.
WARNING: Please remember to have a designated driver or call a taxi whenever indulging in a wine-tasting weekend. You will always drink more than you think. Please drink responsibly.
Many thanks to Visit Tri-Cities for hosting me in this beautiful part of WA State. As always opinions are my own; when they aren’t you will be the first to know.