November is the stormiest month in the Pacific Northwest. Turbulent air masses sweep in from the cold Alaskan seas and churn up the atmosphere, whip the water into chop, and rip the leaves off trees. The foliage sheds its colorful cloak, a flutter of fiery oranges, ambers and reds swirling against the stormy skies. The Cascade mountains loom in the distance, a marbled tableau of purple and violet, a dusting of early snow glistening across the craggy peaks.
November is the month when the sun and moon are cloaked under a curtain of clouds. It’s time to rake up leaves, pull fir needles out of the well-used gutters and batten down the house against the ceaseless winter rains. Hardy locals, having paired socks with sandals to extend the seasonal wear of their summer attire, finally succumb to rain boots, umbrellas and Gortex. “I’m not pale,” a born-and-bred resident informs me. “I’m pasty. It’s a sign of a true Pacific Northwesterner!” I peer closely at the pallid hue of his skin tone and feel compelled to agree.
So, with the weather taking such a nasty turn for the wetter, what do people in the Pacific Northwest do in November? Drink wine, of course.
Washington State is now the 2nd largest premium wine producer in the United States, after California, fermenting 12 million cases and generating over $600 million in sales. The number of wine growers and wineries has doubled in the last five years. Once sleepy agricultural towns like Walla Walla and Yakima now offer full-service wine tasting tours. Boutique wine shops, tasting rooms, wine bars and wine-centric restaurants have sprouted up on every corner. But it’s not just about quantity. The quality of Washington wines is garnering world-renown recognition. Recently eleven local wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, Pepper Bridge, and Leonetti Cellar, made the 2011 Top 100 list.
Tasting rooms are a warm and welcoming respite from the stormy weather, boasting cozy wood-burning fires, plush leather seating and tasteful decor. A single tasting ($5 – $20) will represent a series in the winery’s selection, offering 2oz pours of up to eight wines. Most wine connoisseurs recommend starting with the light fruity whites and ending with the bold hearty reds. Restaurants, like Purple Café, offer flights of wine within the same grape family, enabling a close comparison of a variety of wineries. Food pairings are often included, or suggested, featuring artisan cheeses, specialty meats and decadent sweets to enhance the tasting experience.
So, why whine about the weather when the wine is so delightful? Next time you are in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s raining, be sure to add time on your itinerary to swirl, smell and sip some great Washington wines!
For more information on wineries, vineyards and events go to http://www.washingtonwine.org/.
Best wine shop: http://www.peteswineshop.com/
Best café and wine bar: http://www.purplecafe.com/