The Vancouver Waterfront, a New Destination for Wine Lovers

by | Dec 13, 2022

Tasting rooms featuring Pacific Northwest wines are splashing upon the banks of the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington. That’s great news for wine lovers interested in sampling bold reds or crisp whites from Washington and Oregon along the city’s sparkling new waterfront development. But that isn’t all. A short walk away, the downtown area offers less-traveled spots with equally appealing wine-tasting options.

Most of the tasting rooms feature wineries that hail from Washington state, particularly the Columbia Valley and its more than 50,000 acres of vineyards representing the majority of Washington wine country. 

Oregon wineries are getting in on the action, too. Recently, Willamette Valley Vineyards opened an opulent tasting room allowing visitors to sip wine from this renown Oregon wine region.

Wine Tasting on the Waterfront

The waterfront wineries sit in small clusters. The most desirable spots (Maryhill Winery and Willamette Valley Vineyards) rest right on the Columbia River. 

(Left) Maryhill Tasting Room (Right) Willamette Valley Vineyards Tasting Room

Maryhill Winery opened the first tasting room on Vancouver’s waterfront in 2019, claiming the largest spot and best location. Craig and Vicki Leuthold started Maryhill Winery in 1999 in the Columbia River Gorge in Goldendale, Wash., producing 80,000 cases a year. The Seattle Wine Awards named them MVP (most valuable producer) for Washington State Wine in 2022. Wine tastings are available at the bar or in the seated area at the back. A short menu of charcuterie boards, soup and salad, small plates like salmon cakes, sandwiches, and chef’s specials like shrimp linguine and steak tartare are offered to pair with the wine. 

Willamette Valley Vineyards recently opened a tasting room in a prime location on the Columbia River above Maryhill. Jim Bernau, a native Oregonian who believed in the winemaking potential of the region, founded WVV in 1983. Over the years, the vineyards have expanded from the Willamette Valley AVA to Tualatin Hills, Eola-Amity Hills and Dundee Hills. The spacious and elegant tasting room has an outdoor patio on which to sip wine, but the highlight is the three-course tasting menu with wine pairings. There are also a la carte items like salads, roasted chicken, salmon and charcuterie. Willamette Valley Vineyards is the best option for those seeking a variety of food options to nibble with their wine pours.

Nearby, Airfield Estates Winery offers partial river views. The Miller family, who still own and run the winery in Washington’s Yakima Valley, started growing grapes like Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1968. The winery was founded in 2005 using 100% estate grown fruit. Their airplane-themed tasting room has indoor seating and fire pits on the patio. Along with wine tasting and summertime frosés, Airfield offers a charcuterie plate as well as a sweet and salty plate with things like brie and honey, prosciutto and dried fruit.

Brian Carter Cellars is known for European-style blends made from Columbia Valley grapes. Carter has received many awards over his decades long winemaking career including the Grand Vin Award from the Washington Winegrowers Association in 2020. In true continental fashion, the tasting room offers food like bruschetta, garlic shrimp and a variety of flatbreads to pair with their wines. This stylish spot provides partial river views and an outdoor dog-friendly patio.

The last few wineries sit on the backside of the other buildings. Visitors can’t gaze at the water, but these quieter intimate spaces typically have room for walk-ins during sunny days and weekends when the other tasting rooms require reservations or long wait times.

Barnard Griffin was founded in 1983 by Rob Griffin (head winemaker) and his wife Deborah Barnard (co-owner) in Columbia Valley. This tasting room opened in 2020 in a bright corner space with seasonal outdoor seating, and a vending machine filled with charcuterie makings that are assembled and plated at the colorful glass-encased bar. Guests can order Detroit-style pizza from nearby Crust Collective. Barnard Griffin is working with the AC Hotel lounge to create a few more dishes to offer in the tasting room. On warmer days, the outdoor space on the side gives river views.

Valo Cellars sources Bordeaux- and Rhone-style grapes as well as Burgundian-style Chardonnays from Lawrence Vineyards in the Columbia Valley, Royal Slope and Wahluke Slope AVAs. Valo’s dark brooding space is perfect for a late afternoon or early evening rendezvous for flights and small bites.

Amavi Cellars and PepperBridge Winery share owners and a winemaker. Amavi offers younger Syrah-driven wines and PepperBridge makes barrel-aged and esteemed vintages. Wine tastings include pours from both wineries as well as small bites like goat cheese and fig jam, herb marinated olives, or a cheese plate.

Wine Tasting in Downtown Vancouver

Downtown Vancouver often gets overlooked by tourists, but locals know that most of the best food and drink exist in this part of the city. The draw for wine lovers is that these two tasting rooms are typically less crowded, offer easy and inexpensive parking, and are in close proximity to downtown Vancouver’s unique boutiques, bars and restaurants.

Co-founders Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe of the Walla Walla winery SuLei Cellars have recently opened a new tasting room that offers wine flights, as well as glasses or bottles. Consider the crisp, peachy 2020 Albariño, as well as blends like their 2016 Dena Rae, a Tuscan mix of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon that is inspired by and dedicated to Tanya Woodley’s mother. (Her 1950s modeling photo appears on the label.) The new space is open and bright, with a kitchen that offers wine-friendly bites like a hummus or charcuterie plate. A more expansive food menu will be available as they grow into the space.

Burnt Bridge Cellars has been producing wine in downtown Vancouver since 2010. Winemaker Ben Stuart sources grapes from eastern Washington to create minimalist blends like the 2019 Vantuscan with dark berry notes peppered with vanilla and florals, and the velvety 2019 Malbec aged for 22 months in French oak. Burnt Bridge’s cozy tasting room features wine flights and bites like charcuterie plates and seasonal flatbreads.

Make it a Wine tasting Getaway: Accommodations

(Left) The AC Hotel by Marriott (Right) Hotel Indigo

For those looking to stay overnight, two new opulent hotels are a short walk from the tasting rooms. 

The AC Hotel Vancouver Waterfront offers luxury rooms and suites on the waterfront for those seeking a wine tasting getaway. Amenities include a full bar, a chic lounge area with indoor and outdoor seating, a fitness center, and a robot that delivers food and drink to your room.The lounge serves a breakfast buffet as well as an all day menu that begins at noon with a la carte items like shrimp and pesto toast, melon salad with prosciutto and mascarpone in a honey mint dressing, and entrees like 48-day aged New York strip served with apple bacon risotto and charred broccolini as well as craft cocktails. 

Hotel Indigo is a recently opened boutique hotel on the waterfront that features two iconic Seattle restaurants, El Gaucho Vancouver and 13 Coins downstairs. Guests can order room service from both restaurants during operating hours. Moreover, Evoke Winery is scheduled to open in January in Kirkland Tower which houses the hotel and restaurants.   

Vancouver Waterfront Image courtesy of Visit Vancouver

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