Spring is all kinds of sprung and, as the robins fatten up on worms, the early birds of wine are preening their cellars in anticipation of this weekend's Spring Release. In Washington's wine capital, Walla Walla, an entire weekend is devoted to the introduction of mouth-watering nectars ranging from jeweled Syrahs to woodsy Chardonnays. With more than 100 area wineries, it can be difficult to chart a tasting course — especially one you can actually make it through standing upright. The advice from experts? Take it slow, eat food, and DON'T overdo it — Spring Release is best enjoyed when not curled up, hungover, on a dog bed in the back of the car.
To help whittle down the choices, minimize the indecision, and most importantly, maximize the fun, we turn to writer (and one of Walla Walla's latest Seattle transplants) Zibby Wilder for a ranked guide to W2's most liveliest and non-judgmental tasting rooms.
11. Amavi Cellars: Sometimes nothing is more entertaining than a good view, and Amavi has one of the best in the valley. The modern hilltop shed-style building allows for a long, lazy gaze across the whole of Walla Walla's south side valley — across acres of vineyards and wheat fields to the cloud-dotted Blue Mountains. Grab a glass, a chair on the deck, and prepare for the kind of show nature does best.[Photo Credit]
10. Basel Cellars: There's nothing particularly "exciting" about the tasting room at Basel Cellars other than it's big and it has a lovely outdoor area. How you could make it really exciting though, is to rent the adjacent Estate House for you and your fellow winos. The giant log cabin lacks for nothing, with multiple living areas, state of the art movie theatre, bar (with stage!), indoor hot tub and incredible outdoor pool and water slide. Basel Cellars' tasting room might be the only one you end up visiting because you'll have no reason to leave.[Photo Credit]
9. Va Piano: Tucked among rolling acres of vines, winemaker Justin Wylie's Italian-inspired tasting room transports visitors to another place and time — it can be seriously hard to believe you're in southeast Washington. Adding to the experience, if you're lucky enough to meet him, is the legendary Father Bruno, a mouthy Jesuit with a passion for painting, philanthropy and off-color jokes. On quieter days, this is a lovely spot to settle down in a rocking chair and enjoy a glass around the firepit.[Photo Credit]
8. Charles Smith: It wouldn't be going out on a limb to say that Charles Smith's downtown Walla Walla tasting room is the sexiest in town. Knotted wood, seasoned metal and rustic concrete set the stage for a truly modern tasting experience. Play your cards right and you may be in town to catch an evening show — in addition to seasonal Blue & BBQ Thursdays, this slick space has also hosted greats from rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson to chamber music "rock stars" Sybarite 5.[Photo Credit]
7. Woodward Canyon: Most people want to stop here for both gustational and historical reasons; Founded in 1981, Woodward Canyon is one of Walla Walla's oldest, and most respected, wineries. But during late Spring and Summer there's a third reason to stop, and that's the food! Straight from Darcey Small's garden, the folks at Woodward Canyon whip up tasty lunch dishes celebrating Walla Walla's agricultural heritage. It's a treat to enjoy these amidst the lush gardens behind the tasting room. There's also the seasonal Lazy S Arrow market, where you can purchase all kinds of goodies — from fresh produce to locally-made charcuterie — that'll leave you feeling like you just visited your favorite Aunt who loaded you up with homemade provisions for your weekend in paradise.[Photo Credit]
6. Mansion Creek Cellars: There isn't anything overtly lively about this tiny shared tasting room in downtown Walla Walla, until you meet owner Julia Russell. The diminutive Spaniard, known and loved locally as "Mama Julia (pronounced HOO-lee-uh)", has a personality bigger than her home country. If she's wo-manning the tasting bar, you will know. She packs in the crowds with her spark, entertains with her wit, and will send you packing with a box of wine and some new Flamenco moves. If you could get a PhD in charm, Mama Julia might well be the world's foremost expert.[Photo Credit]
5. Balboa: This family-run winery is a great stop for folks wine tasting with the whole brood. There are dogs to play with, golf on the flat screens, lively art pieces and plenty of room to run amok. Winemaker Tom Glase and his wife Amy, whose artwork graces the walls, welcome guests with the open arms of folks you'd think you had known for years. Think of it as a Walla Walla home away away from home, just with a way better wine selection.[Photo Credit]
4. Long Shadows: Among Washington's most high falutin winery concepts, Long Shadows brings together the best winemakers in the world to make wine from the best grapes (if us Washingtonians do say so, ourselves) in the world. This tasting room was built for entertaining and nary an object was scrimped on here — from the outdoor firepit to the festive curls of Chihuly glass that frame a gorgeous hilltop Palouse view. Seasonal Friday night "happy hours" give visitors a chance to enjoy the view and perhaps even hobnob with charismatic, and well-accented, winemaker Gilles Nicault.[Photo Credit]
3. Mace Mead Works: A bit off the beaten path, both in location and tastes, Reggie Mace's modern saloon of mead is like the Wild West of tasting rooms. Along with different types of mead for the tasting, from dry to sweet, visitors to his downtown Dayton sweet spot can also belly up to the bar for an adventurous Mead cocktail or two — likely the only type of Bee Sting you'll ever enjoy. Mace also crafts a collection of intriguing reds under his Mortal Vintner label. Rumors abound a Walla Walla tasting room may be in the works![Photo Credit]
2. El Corazon: Don't let the faux Bavarian exterior of the building that houses El Corazon fool you. It's a veritable frat house of fun inside. There's ping pong and foosball for the guys, and good music and handsome mens for the ladies. Winemaker Spencer Sievers and his tasting room staff are quick with the smiles and have a way of making every visitor to this unexpected tasting room feel special.[Photo Credit]
1. Sleight of Hand Cellars: "Colorful" is an apt adjective to describe both winemaker Trey Busch and his southside tasting room. Comic book primary colors, magical wines like "The Spellbinder" and "The Conjurer" (which has a big fan in NPH), and an awe-worthy collection of vinyl make this tasting room a must on your list. Feel free to make a music request or start an impromptu dance party but remember, hands off the turntable.[Photo Credit]
— Zibby Wilder