One of the beauties of the Pacific Northwest Wine Country is that you're in wine country regardless of where you are.
In California and in European regions, you can find vineyards reasonably close to the coast. Not so in the Northwest, though not for a lack of trying.
Let's take a journey up the coast of Oregon and Washington to explore the Northwest's version of coastal wine country.
A good starting point is the Northwest's favorite coastal village: Cannon Beach. Here you'll find two winery tasting rooms, a great collection of restaurants, wine shops and more.
In the heart of downtown on Hemlock Street is the Wine Shack, which has served residents and visitors since the early 1970s. It was purchased in 2012 by Steven Sinkler and his wife, Maryann. Steven had dabbled with home winemaking, so taking over the Wine Shack fulfilled his love of wine and his love for the Oregon Coast.
About 80 percent of his inventory is focused on Oregon and Washington, appropriately. Sprinkled in there are selections from California and a few bottles from Europe. Connected to the shop is a tasting room for Sinkler's own Puffin Wines, a lineup of eight reds and whites named for the puffin, a curious-looking bird that nests in the area and serves as an unofficial mascot for the town. Sinkler collaborates with a collection of consulting winemakers. The wines are serious efforts, consistently winning top awards at international wine competitions up and down the West Coast.
Cross Hemlock Street and walk a couple of blocks north to Laurel's Wine Shop, a longtime stop for wine lovers. Her eclectic shop is filled with Oregon wine selections, as well as an impressive collection of international wines that includes Europe and beyond. She owns a vineyard in Yamhill County and has made her own Oregon wine for decades. For wine lovers looking for the delight of discovery, wandering through Laurel's shop is a joy, akin to browsing a bookstore.
Up north in Seaside, across the street from Seaside Brewing Co., is the Oregon tasting room for Westport Winery. Based in Aberdeen, Wash., Westport has two tasting rooms, one on the Oregon coast, the other on the Washington coast.
The Seaside location on Broadway has the full lineup of wines, all of which are coastal-themed. In the same building they've opened a kite shop, and closer to the beach they’ve buit a new home called Westport Winery Seaside Retreat that offers overnight accommodations. In addition to the wines is a selection of oils and vinegars and a well-stocked tasting room and gift shop.
At the main winery between the towns of Westport and Aberdeen in Washington, the winery is an attraction that regularly draws crowds from Seattle and Portland, thanks to its extensive gardens, its plant nursery and fabulous on-site restaurant, the Sea Glass Grill. Last year, USA Today ranked it as the No. 2 winery restaurant in the country. The winery's distinctively maritime-themed architecture includes a lighthouse.
Among the myriad wines made by winemaker Dana Roberts, the most surprising treat is called Rapture of the Deep, a sparkling cranberry wine using fruit harvested along the nearby Cranberry Coast. It exudes purity of fruit and is the perfect foil for Thanksgiving dinner. In recent years, Roberts has gained access to grapes from some of Washington's top vineyards (including Red Willow, Discovery, Elephant Mountain and Klipsun), resulting in an uptick in quality.
When the family purchased 20 acres of land for their farm and winery in 1997, they even planted a small vineyard. It was optimistic, at best. While European wine grapes thrive under the perpetually sunny skies of Eastern Washington's Columbia Valley, they don't under the gloomy skies of Grays Harbor County, just eight miles from the beach. Of the original 12 acres planted, just 20 plants remain, with the rest giving way to delightful themed gardens.
Those looking for a unique coastal experience will be glad to make the 90-minute trek to Westport Winery.
A bit closer to home is Shallon Winery in downtown Astoria. This longtime winery is best described as diverse, thanks to owner/winemaker Paul van der Veldt, who crafts such unusual wines as whey/cranberry and a delicious orange/chocolate wine that sets him apart. Shallon is as unusual as it is extraordinary.
There are lots of great restaurants along the coast. One of my favorites is Bridgewater Bistro in Astoria run by Tony and Ann Kischner. Tony rose to fame running restaurant wine programs in Seattle before moving to the Washington coast to continue that success at the legendary Shoalwater Inn in Seaview, Wash. He launched Bridgewater 11 years ago, with the backbone being a great wine program that focuses on Northwest selections.
Andy Perdue is the wine columnist for The Seattle Times. He is the founding editor of Wine Press Northwest magazine and is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine, a Washington-based media company. The third-generation Northwest journalist has written or contributed to several books about food and wine and regularly serves as an international wine judge throughout the West Coast.