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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Taste wine country off the beaten path

Sleeping Dog Wines. Kiona Vineyards Winery. Fidelitas Winery. Terra Blanca Winery. Most Washington wine nerds have heard of at least one of these places, but may not be aware that they are all conveniently located within short distances on Red Mountain, just west of the Tri-Cities.

Yes, that’s correct, the Tri-Cities. Located at the far eastern end of the Columbia Valley wine region this relatively small and fairly new AVA – American Viticultural Area – is easy to find and access and produces a great variety of wine among the more than 20 vineries located there.

From Spokane, it’s an easy 2 ½-hour drive – about 150 miles – straight to the Tri-Cities and then west on Interstate 82. Serious wine drinkers may want to spend the night in the Tri-Cities, where accommodations are available at many price levels. Venture into Pasco for authentic and awesome Mexican food at small restaurants like Mexico Lindo (1819 W. Court Street) or head out to Richland for more generic choices such as Applebee’s and IHOP.

Yet it’s the wine that’s the main attraction, and it’s been grown on Red Mountain since the 1970s when people like John Williams of Kiona Vineyards and Jim Holmes, first with Kiona and then with Ciel du Cheval, began to grow and produce wines there. It was Lorne Jacobson of Hedges Family Estates who began pushing for the area’s own AVA status in the ’90s. It was granted in 2001 as the wineries on Red Mountain continued to blossom and gain fans near and far.

Today, Kiona features a beautiful modern tasting room with a patio from where all you can see is wine. There’s no tasting fee at the Kiona and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. Expect a lemberger that’s gained many fans, exceptional cabernet sauvignons and some unusual wines, like the Big Kiona Zinfandel which the winery describes as “a large alcohol fruit bomb.” It’s actually not that far from port – just begging for a piece of cheese to come around.

At this time of the year many of the wineries and vineyards feature beautiful perennial gardens full of roses, lavender and perennials.

One winery with stunning grounds is Terra Blanca, one of the first wineries to join the AVA when it was granted in 2001. The tasting room is beautiful and the covered stone patio offers views reminiscent of Italy. There’s a $5 tasting fee here, and like at most other Red Mountain wineries it’s refunded with purchase of wine. Expect spicy syrahs – do taste the 2003 Estate Reserve Block 8 Syrah – and smooth merlots. Don’t miss the 2005 Onyx, winemaker Keith Pilgrim’s signature blend. For the white wine fans, Terra Blanca produces a classic sauvignon blanc that’s perfect for a summer dinner.

Hedges Cellars is another of the original Red Mountain pioneers and the vinery is simply gorgeous. It really is like a little piece of Provence transplanted to Washington state. Make sure you have some time to sit on the terrace here, surrounded by lavender hedges full of punch-drunk bees. The CMS Red by Hedges is a blend that has been produced since 1987 and this smooth drinkable red has won many fans over the years. The 2008 Descendants Liegeois Dupont – or DLD – is 100 percent syrah, and as expected it is robust, spicy and flavorful, yet with a wonderful balance and layer after layer of flavor. That alone is worth the $5 tasting fee.

Now, wine tasting is a subjective experience. Always remember: there is no right or wrong answer. Wine is like perfume, you like what you like, and that’s just how it is.

After three wineries you may have tasted more than 15 different wines, and that’s usually enough – or slightly too much – for even the most dedicated wine enthusiast. No, you won’t be drunk, but after that many wines everything begins to taste the same, and that really takes the fun out of it.

A perfect ending of a day of wine tasting on Red Mountain is to head up to Col Solare not just for the wonderful wine, but for the amazing view of almost all of Red Mountain – it’s truly stunning. On some evenings, this beautiful and state-of-the-art winery is open for dinner service – small plates on the patio – just perfect for watching the sunset.

Col Solare, which is Italian for ‘shining hill,’ is a collaboration between Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italian winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori. The winery on Red Mountain opened in 2007 and now serves two lines of wine: Red Mountain-based Col Solare and Shining Hill, which is produced from grapes grown throughout the Columbia Valley. It’s the perfect place to end the day.