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Wine Touring in the Columbia Cascades Region
Mention "wine country" and most people imagine California's Napa Valley with its noble estates, graciously sloping vineyards, and tony shopping districts. But in less-renowned terrain some 700 miles north of Napa, Washington State's wine country is quietly producing some of the world's best vintages.
Washington's largest and most diverse grape growing area is Columbia Valley, stretching from the Cascade Mountains in the west to semi-arid hills on the Idaho border in the east. Here, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes flourish in the region's dry climate.
Known as a "macro" American Viticultural Area (AVA), the valley contains six other AVAs within its borders and covers one-third of Washington's landmass. Most visitors will find the entire AVA too vast to visit in one trip; concentrating on the rapidly growing Columbia Cascade region offers plenty for outdoors lovers and wine lovers alike.
Rugged and rough, the Cascade mountains provide a perfect starting point; here you can hike, mountain bike, or ride horses on trails that wind through conifer forests and along windswept ridgelines. Anglers can cast for trout in crystal-clear streams.
To explore the Columbia Cascade wine region, begin at Cave B, a must-see estate winery located near Quincy (about 160 miles east of Seattle). Opened in 2005, Cave B Inn at Sagecliff is the Pacific Northwest's first destination wine resort. Poised 900 feet above the Columbia gorge, the resort overlooks a majestic sweep of the river.
The lobby sports high-beamed ceilings over red-colored wood floors made from 100-year-old Burmese railroad ties. A fine-dining restaurant, Tendrils at SageCliffe, boasts a James Beard-award-winning chef who serves regional fare made from ingredients grown in on-site organic gardens.
Visitors can overnight in the 30-room stone inn and 15 deluxe cabins, called "cliff houses," which are built of native basalt stone. Each room and cabin features floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of the vineyards and valley.
Within walking distance, the 30,000-seat Gorge Amphitheater hosts rock and country acts (Dave Mathews and Pearl Jam played recently). Other nearby attractions include the petrified remains of prehistoric forests and early Indian petroglyphs.
From this area, you can travel to the Wenatchee, Leavenworth, and Lake Chelan region (30 miles northwest of Quincy). In Wenatchee, both Saint Laurent Winery and Chateau Faire Le Pont are worth a visit. Named after the patron saint of vintners, Saint Laurent is framed by the Cascade Mountains and the foothills of the Wenatchee Valley. Take time to stroll through the winery's extensively landscaped gardens. Nearby, Chateau Faire Le Point occupies a restored 1920s-era brick warehouse.
About 22 miles northwest of Wenatchee, you'll discover Leavenworth, which bills itself as "Washington's Bavarian Village." The town's eight tasting rooms offer wines from around the state, and shops sell gift and specialty items. Visitors also can feast on German foods such as Schweinshax'n (rotisserie-broiled pork hock) at King Ludwig's Restaurant.
Next, visit Lake Chelan, where you can find some of the state's best wineries, including Tsillan Cellars, Chelan Estate Vineyards & Winery, Tildio Winery, and Vin du Lac. A grand Tuscan-style building houses Tsillan Cellars, which also has manicured grounds with three cascading waterfalls and stone bridges. Vin du Lac boasts numerous award-winning wines. Try its Barrel Select Syrah -- a wine with big dark fruit and a meaty palate.
For a break from wine touring, board a ferry for a one- to four-hour trip up Lake Chelan to Stehekin. Accessible only by water, this quiet town of about 100 residents is a magnet for local artisans specializing in woodworking, fabric art, and block prints.
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