Tips for Spring Barrel Tasting

Spring Barrel Tasting (Usually the last 2 Weekends of April) is a fun time of year in the Yakima Valley. One of the largest wine events in the state, it’s a celebration of spring, new wines and a peek at the warm summer months ahead. Winemakers and staff are on hand to mingle with guests, give tours and answer questions about their wines. Most open barrels of future vintages for sampling and plus there is live music, vendors, food and a festive mood.

With more than 50 wineries involved and large number of people you should plan out your trip. Here are a few tips to help make the event fun for all.

  • Plan ahead: Plan to stay at least one night and to reserve your lodging well in advance. For a listing of Yakima Valley hotels, B&Bs and inns click here.
  • Be responsible: Gather friends and get a limo or join an organized tour. If you do not hire a professional driver, designate a non-drinking driver. Treat the designated driver like a king or queen by buying their lunch and a bottle or two for them to enjoy at a later time. Note: Even if you have a designated driver, the tasting room staff is not allowed to serve you if you are impaired… it’s the law.
  • Get the scoop: Wineries and wine organizations have different offerings and fees (or no fees) during the event. Before you arrive, visit the wine associations for the details on their offerings.
  • Get oriented: When you arrive, stop at the Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center for maps, updates and local trip planning information (address and info listed below).
  • Consider the “pre-barrel” weekend: A number of wineries in the Rattlesnake Hills region and other locations also celebrate what is locally known as Pre-Barrel, this year on April 18-19, 2015. It’s the weekend before the big event, but is low key in style and less crowded. If you want time with the wine makes and staff, this is a great option.
  • Bring your own wine glass: With the crowds expected the wineries can’t supply everyone a glass so bring one for each person. Some will offer glasses for sale.
  • Timing is everything: Friday and Sunday of the main weekend tend to be quieter so visit on those days.
  • Do it differently: Go to wineries early and in the opposite direction as everyone else. Many folks start at one end of the Yakima Valley and head to the other so consider starting with wineries in the middle of the Valley. Check our Craft Beverage Map for those wineries.
  • Be realistic: It’s not a marathon. Visit no more than five wineries per day. More than that and your taste pallet will grow numb.
  • Be prepared: Bring a cooler filled with bottled water and snacks. Pack a picnic, as many of the wineries have picnic grounds or plan on eating lunch at one of the wineries that serve food. Food helps you to regain your palate and provides a needed break. Also, if it is warm, consider a cooler for your purchased wines. Heat is bad for wine.
  • Try something new: Tasting from the barrel is very different than trying a finished product out of a bottle. Talk to the winemaker and staff. Ask about the flavor, process and how the wine will taste when finished. It’s a great time to gain a greater appreciation of the wine making process.
  • Be Patient: The weekend draws a lot of people and staff at the wineries are working as fast as they can.
  • Be Respectful…of other tasters and the staff. Try not to get too pushy or grouchy. Everyone is having fun and there can be a lot of people.
  • Be aware: When it is busy in the tasting room, please step up to the bar and receive your taste, then step back and take your time smelling and tasting the wine. This allows others to access the bar to get a taste. In other words, don’t monopolize the bar space in front of others who are trying to participate.
  • Don’t wear it: 70 to 80% of our ability to perceive flavor comes from our sense of smell. So please do not wear perfume, cologne, aftershave or any other fragrance, as it interferes with everyone’s ability to smell, and hence taste the wines. You should also refrain from chewing gum and breath mints.
  • Spitting and dumping is good: Just because wine is in your glass doesn’t mean you should drink it all. You will enjoy it more if you don’t drink every drop. Your mouth won’t fatigue, you won’t become as intoxicated, and you’ll have more fun. Dumping excess wine into the provided bucket is okay.
  • Leave it outside: Consuming alcohol from outside the winery being visited is not permitted. This means beer, wine, mixed drinks, etc. The wineries can actually lose their license if there is alcohol brought on to their properties.
  • Have pets? Kids? Children are welcome at the wineries, but the crowds and focus of the event may not be suited to them. And while many wineries are dog friendly, it’s best to leave the pups at home on this busy weekend. For a complete resource on Yakima Valley dog friendly businesses visit WineDoggies.com
  • Buy-buy! No that is not a typo, it’s an encouragement to buy wine during the event. The wineries spend a lot of time and money to stage a great event. Show your gratitude by buying wine for another day. They’ll appreciate the business, and you’ll take home some premium wines, many of which are only available at the winery itself

Follow these tips and everyone will have a great time during the Yakima Valley Spring Barrel weekends. Enjoy your visit and see you soon!

Resources to plan your trip:
Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center
101 North Fair Avenue, Yakima, WA 98901

Hours: Monday – Saturday 9-5, Sunday 10-4
(509) 573-3388 or 800-221-0751

Click here for Yakima Valley Tourism’s Spring Barrel Tasting Website. For a handy map of the wineries and other craft beverage options like breweries, cidery and distilleries click here.

Special thanks to the winemakers, tasting room managers, wine fans and others who contributed to this article.

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