Talking Washington Wine with Sarah Wolcott
Q & A with Taste Vacations Founder, Allan Wright
Sarah Wolcott is Zephyr Adventures’ Marketing Manager for our conferences and events and a frequent guide on our Taste Vacations wine tours around the world. She grew up in SE Washington State, went to college in Walla Walla, and has strong experience in the Washington wine industry, all of which she used to create our new Washington Wine Tour.
Q: You are from West Richland, Washington. What was it like to grow up in the agriculturally driven east side of the Cascade mountains?
A: West Richland is part of the greater Tri-Cities area of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. The region is a major national producer of wheat, potatoes, corn, asparagus, apples, cherries and winegrapes. The other major economic driver in SE Washington is Hanford – the top-secret government site that produced plutonium in the 1940’s for use in WWII. Over 200,000 people make up the metropolitan area and its definitely a mix of proverbial small-town USA and a more mid-sized town. I grew up with farm kids and friends whose parents had PhDs in all disciplines of the sciences. My family grew Fuji apples and Bing cherries commercially. My first job was running cherry picking crews during harvest in June when I was 15 years old. When I could drive I sold apples and cherries at farmer’s markets in the Tri-Cities and Pike Place Market in Seattle. Growing up in SE Washington was awesome!
Q: How did you come to include Prosser in the new Washington Wine Tour?
A: My parents moved from West Richland to Prosser, WA about 10 years ago. It’s only 25 minutes NW of where I grew up. I have spent a lot of time in Prosser, getting to know the area and the wine industry and am part of the Prosser Wine Network, a group of wineries and wine businesses that have banded together to focus their collective efforts on the area.
Q: When did you first come in contact with the wine world and what made you decide to make this a career?
A: Growing up on a farm, I was naturally predisposed to the fundamentals of the wine world which is agriculture. I led a few wine tours in Walla Walla in the late 90’s when I was in college and when there were only 16 wineries in the area! There are well over 100 now. Wine is truly “farm to table”, or more accurately, “farm to bottle to mouth”. I am a social person by nature and am interested in what makes people tick….there are so many personalities in the wine industry and I just love getting to know the “schtick” behind the winegrape grower, vineyard manager, winemaker, tasting room staff, and sales people involved in getting a bottle of wine to market. Everyone has a different story to tell! It’s always fascinating, entertaining, and educational to seek out this information.
Q: In addition to Prosser, our Washington Wine Tour spends two nights in Walla Walla, where you went to school and now sort of the center of the Washington wine tourism industry. What is your take on Walla Walla?
A: Walla Walla is esthetically stunning and yes, definitely a hub of wine tourism in Washington state. It is naturally set up for the wine tourist: nestled in the Walla Walla Valley and with the backdrop of the Blue Mountains, summer evenings are beautiful…the temperatures are conducive to sitting outside and enjoying a glass of wine while taking in the beauty of the wheat fields and vineyards that dot the landscape below the rising mountain elevations. Walla Walla is an old and historic town. It was incorporated in the 1860’s, at one point was the largest town in the Territory (before it became a state) and has a robust Native American history. Downtown is charming and full of personality (and wine!). The entire valley is full of varied dining options, accommodations, bike trails, tasting rooms that each have a different take on wine tourism. I graduated from Whitman College, one of the three colleges in the area. Because of the college influence, there is a lot of other cultural influence in the form of art, theater, music that comes to Walla Walla. The WWCC has its own enology and viticulture program and teaching winery. Walla Walla is buzzing with activity in a very authentic Washington wine industry way.
A: What are your views of the wines coming out of Washington State?
I think you probably can already guess my answer to this question 🙂
Sure, it’s impossible for absolutely every single bottle of wine from any area to be amazing. But the quality to price ratio of Washington wines is proven to be outstanding. You can statistically obtain higher quality wines at lower prices in WA. More importantly, Washington state has the ability to produce a breadth and depth of wines that is outstanding. Because of Washington’s growing conditions, the state can grow so many different types of wines. Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne…the list goes on and on.
The vast majority of grapes grown in WA state are grown on the much warmer, arid climate east side of the Cascades. This is the opposite of Oregon where the majority (with the exception of parts of the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley dip into Oregon) of grapes are grown on the west side of the state where it is considered a cool climate growing area (with another exception…most parts of southern Oregon are warmer and more arid). Oregon has a (fabulous) connection and history with Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. I think it’s all about educating the current and future Washington wine consumer about Washington’s ability to produce a wide variety of many different types of wine really, really well. The Washington wine industry is just going to continue to be recognized for excellence. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the wine world!
Q: You live now in Bend, Oregon, only four hours from Prosser. How often do you get back to Washington state?
A: My parents now live in Prosser. I’m an only child (lucky me???!!) and I visit them and Prosser, every month for a minimum of 2 days and sometimes up to 2 weeks! My husband is a fly-fishing guide and operates a guide service based in Bend. Whenever he is on the river (which is ALL the time in the summer!) I typically head up to Prosser to spend time with my family which, of course, involves drinking Prosser wine every afternoon on the back patio!