Prepare to picnic in Northwest wine country

By on January 25, 2016
The Picnic Backpack from Uncommon Goods.

The Picnic Backpack from Uncommon Goods is a perfect way to carry your lunch – and a bottle of wine – with you to wine country. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

While it feels like we’re still in the deepest part of winter, sunnier days are not too far ahead. And that’s why it’s time to start thinking about wine touring and the accoutrements that accompany such happy activities.

One way to turn a winery visit into a perfect outing is to plan for a picnic. While a picnic basket is a pleasant nostalgic memory, it’s not always the most practical means to transport everything you need.

Instead, consider the Picnic Backpack, a perfect accessory for carrying a pleasant and enjoyable lunch – along with a bottle or two of wine. The Picnic Backpack, sold by Uncommon Goods ($45), is an elegant accompaniment for wine touring.

The spacious main storage area will easily hold a bottle of wine, sandwiches, cheeses, bread and other items meant to be enjoyed on an outing. All of this is insulated, so it should help keep everything at a pleasant temperature until lunch arrives (no guarantees for too much later in the day – especially if you are venturing into Eastern Washington’s arid Columbia Valley during the summer). Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to toss in an ice pack for extra insurance that everything stays cool.

The zip-open outside pouch contains everything you might want for an intimate picnic for two: two plates, two sets of good-quality metal silverware, two plastic wine glasses, two napkins and even a solidly made corkscrew. There’s also an outside pocket for carrying a bottle of wine that is easy to access.

Everything zips up nicely and is easy to carry with the single adjustable strap.

Where to picnic while wine touring

Northstar Winery provides a patio where customers may enjoy a picnic lunch.

Many wineries – including Northstar in the Walla Walla Valley – encourage patrons to enjoy a picnic lunch on their property. Just be sure to ask first. (Photo courtesy of Northstar Winery)

Now that you’re prepared to picnic, a good question to ask is where you should go. It all sort of depends on where you will be wine touring.

Typically, if you are heading to wine country, many wineries provide space for picnics.

Such regions include areas of Eastern Washington such as the Yakima or Walla Walla valleys, Lake Chelan, Red Mountain or the Columbia Gorge. In Oregon, most of the west side of the state from the northern Willamette Valley to the California border is dotted with wineries. Idaho’s main area is the Snake River Valley near Boise (but also check out the Lewis-Clark Valley near Lewiston). And in British Columbia’s primary wine-touring region is the Okanagan Valley about four hours east of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

Many wineries provide outdoor seating for picnicking, including tables and chairs. Others will invite you to enjoy a meal by sitting amid the vines near the winery. Be sure to ask first because you don’t want to appear intrusive, nor do you want to be in a vineyard while work is taking place.

It’s also good form to go to the tasting room first, try some of the winery’s offerings and even buy a bottle or two. Be sure to mention that you would like to enjoy your lunch on the winery property, just to make sure it’s all good.

And finally, don’t forget to clean up after yourself. Leaving garbage on someone else’s property is poor etiquette.

If you are touring urban or suburban areas (such as Woodinville or Portland’s urban wineries), picnics can be a little trickier because there’s not always space provided. If that’s the case, just ask in the tasting room. The nice folks might let you enjoy your meal in the barrel room. Otherwise, find a nearby park to partake.

If you are traveling to wine country for a special event such as Spring Barrel Tasting in the Yakima Valley or Memorial Day Weekend in the Willamette Valley, bringing your own picnic lunch could be quite helpful. Typically, restaurants are jammed for big events, so planning ahead by bringing your own lunch will make the day that much more pleasant.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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