Wine Tasting in Tacoma – Wine Bank and Beer Vault

I love to go wine tasting.  Fortunately for me, the Wine Bank and Beer Vault is less than a mile from me.  They are officially in University Place, but since I live in Tacoma, I’m saying Tacoma.

My landlords told me about this wine shop when I first moved in to my apartment.  I didn’t make it over until about 6 months later.  They do wine tastings every Saturday from 2 – 4:30, and occasionally do beer tastings as well.  I would stop in once in awhile for a tasting and to pick up a bottle. The owners, Bob & Linda were always very welcoming.  They have some great wineries and vendors in to offer information on the wines they are tasting each week.

Recently they expanded their beer section and changed their name to the Wine Bank and Beer Vault.  I’ve started enjoying beers more lately thanks to the influence of my niece and her new husband.  Since I primarily drink red wine, beer can taste really good on a hot, summer day.  (Although, we don’t get a lot of hot, summer days here in the Pacific Northwest.)   I do enjoy a good Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or even some white blends when the weather is warm as well.

Besides the wine tastings, some of the things I like about the Wine Bank is that they have some great specials, including the “under $10” wall.  They are very knowledgeable about their products.  I can go in and tell Bob that I like a specific wine (or beer) and would like something similar, and he will give me good advice.  They also have a “Beer Rewards” program – they say it’s like getting free beer.  Can’t argue with something like that.  Once you spend $100 on beer you get $5 free (I think that’s how it works – I just remember hearing something about “free beer”).

I recently joined their Passport Wine Club. They pick 2 great wines for you for only $29.99 per month, plus you get 10% off all the wine you buy.  My first wines were a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from Hunter’s Winery in New Zealand.  The Sauvignon Blanc was FABULOUS!!  The Pinot wasn’t to my taste, but not terrible.   For me, this is another great wine tasting opportunity.

They also offer a Discount Wine Club for a one time, $99 fee.  With this, you get 15% off all of your wine purchases and pay the fee just one time!

There are many reasons to visit this wine shop if you are in the greater Tacoma area.  Stop in to buy a bottle or 2, do a wine tasting, meet Bob & Linda, or buy some beer.  They offer growlers for as little as $7.95!

Playing Tourist in my Own Back Yard – The Olympic Peninsula

Exploring the Olympic Peninsula

When I had some time off a few weeks ago, I took several day trips on the Olympic Peninsula.  It’s sad to say, but I really don’t get out and explore our own local area as often as I should.  I think I take it for granted that I can always do that when company comes to town, or I don’t have other plans, or it’s a nice sunny day and a friend might want to do something fun.  I decided that since I was off work and most other people were working, the weather was fabulous, that I would go exploring.

I live in Tacoma, so I started by heading over the Narrows Bridge towards Gig Harbor.  I always love the view from the Narrows.  Following Highway 16, I went past Gig Harbor and Port Orchard, turned onto Highway 3 going North at Bremerton.  I took a detour to drive through Poulsbo because I hadn’t been for years.  This is a pretty little town with lots of shops and restaurants and I filed it away for a day when I can make it my destination.  At Port Gamble I turned West onto Highway 104 and crossed the Hood Canal Bridge.  Hood Canal Bridge    Hood Canal Bridge

What a beautiful drive so far!  Incredible views of the water, lots of trees, and very little traffic.

I took another detour into Port Ludlow because I had heard about The Resort at Port Ludlow but had not seen it for myself.  I stopped in and the front desk people were kind enough to let me take a look around and even gave me keys to look in 3 different rooms.  This is a lovely resort right on a marina with beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains, Admiralty Inlet and the mouth of Hood Canal.  The Inn at Port Ludlow has just 37 rooms and suites; they have meeting space for up to 60, and would be the ideal setting for an intimate, waterside Wedding.  It would also be a great romantic weekend getaway location for guests from the Seattle / Tacoma area.  The Fireside Restaurant is warm and inviting, and weather permitting; you can sit out on the deck.      There is a beautiful lawn area on the water side of the resort with chairs and benches; I could see myself sitting out here enjoying the sun and salt air with a good book for a few hours.  One of the meeting rooms looks out onto this view; it would be hard for me to keep focused on business details while looking across this beautiful expanse of lawn.

The rooms are beautiful, with fireplaces, mini-fridge, and large bathrooms with jetted tubs, oversized robes and fabulous views.  I toured a suite that had a huge deck and fabulous view.  The bedroom itself was a little small, but the living area, huge bathroom, and incredible deck more than made up for it.  I also toured 2 Queen Rooms, one with a full bay view and one with a partial view.  These rooms were spacious with a seating area by the fireplace, and the bathroom could be opened up to look out into the room – opening it up even more.

Queen Suite

The staff was very friendly.  The Port Ludlow Golf Club is right there and they offer packages including golf.  They also offer spa treatments right in your guest room.  And the rates are very affordable, starting as low as $129 per night.

Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula

After my tour of The Inn at Port Ludlow, I headed up to Port Townsend.  The Wooden Boat Festival was going on that weekend, so the town was crowded.  I was fortunate to find a parking spot on the street for 2 hours, and set off on foot.  This is an historical town with beautiful architecture was founded in 1792; it is full of shops, restaurants, museums, parks and more.  I was pretty hungry by this time, and wanted to eat where I could look at the water.  I wandered into the Belmont, which was established in 1889 and has a restaurant and hotel. The food and service were very good, although the restaurant itself looked a little tired.  The view was fantastic, and I would recommend eating here if you’re visiting Port Townsend.

After lunch, I wandered around, in and out of shops, took some pictures of the fabulous old buildings, and was intrigued to find a couple of interesting little hotels.  The Swan Hotel is right on the marina and offers wonderful views of both the Olympic and Cascade mountains as well as sea views.  They were completely full so I wasn’t able to see the rooms, but from the outside it was very inviting.  Their sister hotel, The Bishop Victorian Hotel & Gardens is located a couple of blocks inland in the Downtown Historic District.  They, too, were full, but the owners were very inviting and gave me some information and history on both hotels.

Depending on the time of year you visit, you might see whales, bald eagles, and deer.  There are some great wineries in the area, for those wine connoisseurs out there.  There are numerous events and festivals happening throughout the year, including Farmers Markets.

I timed my drive so that I would hit rush hour in Bremerton on the way home.  My advice would be either plan to stay at least until after dinner, or even better spend the night or even a weekend.  You really need that much time to explore this area.

I’m going to Wine a little….

When you think of wine tasting in Washington state, what comes to mind? Walla Walla, theYakima Valley, Woodinville, or maybe even the Port Angeles/Port Townsend area of the Olympic Peninsula?  I have some other suggestions for you. 

I was fortunate a couple of weeks ago to be invited to do a barrel tasting at Mosquito Fleet Winery in Belfair, Washington.  I’m a member of the wine club at The Wine Studio, a charming little wine shop in Gig Harbor.  The new owners, Kirsten and Rich, had arranged this tasting as a special treat for the wine club members.  If you aren’t familiar with this shop, you should check them out.  On Friday evenings they have wineries or distributors come in for wine tastings from 5 – 7.  They have a ladies night on Wednesdays with special prices for the ladies.  And they have other events from time to time.  Even if there is no event going on, it’s a great place to stop in and pick up a bottle or enjoy a glass or two with friends.

You may not have heard of Mosquito Fleet yet, but you will.  They only released 2 varieties for 2009 – a Meritage and a Cabernet Sauvignon – a total of only 217 cases.  They will be bottling their 2010 wines in September and releasing them I believe in February 2013.  This time there will be more varieties and a larger number of cases so it won’t be quite as hard to come by. The 2 couples that own the winery welcomed us and, besides enjoying their fabulous wines and the nice spread of cheeses, fruits, and more, they educated us about their approach to wine making in an informative and entertaining way. 

If you find yourself heading that way, you may want to plan your day to continue on to Shelton to the Walter Dacon Winery.  This is another winery I learned about by going into The Wine Studio for a tasting.  They were tasting 5 different Syrahs – one of my favorite varietals.  I liked all of these wines, including the dessert wine which are usually too sweet for me.

Last night they had Madsen Family Cellars from Olympia come in for a tasting.  I wasn’t able to go, but decided to include them in this post because after visiting Shelton you could continue your tour on to Olympia.  I checked out Madsen’s website and they mention that there are a couple of other wineries in the area so you could make a real day of wine tasting.  One of them is Stottle Winery in Lacey.  Their tasting room is open 5 days a week and your tasting fee is applied to any purchase – I love that!

Northwest Mountain Wines, also located in Olympia, will be having their tasting at The Wine Studio on May 25th.  I’ll be at that one as I’ve got a 5 day weekend off from my “day job”.  They have some interesting sounding wines, including some fruit wines and for the holidays a spiced mead. 

Another winery I visited a couple of months ago is Trillium Creek Winery in LakeBay.  Claude and Claudia were great hosts, with lots of fun stories (I tend to find that most winemakers are fun to be around, hmmmm, I think I’m on to something here.)   They have a charming little tasting room, and Claude will offer you some cheeses to go with the wines as he tells you his philosophy of wine making.  Their wines are sulfite free, and they also have some fruit wines including an interesting Ginger wine.  Their property is beautiful and you can arrange for a tour.  Although their wines are not as full flavored as I like, a visit here is a very enjoyable way to spend an hour or two.

Another local winery I have not visited, but have put on my list as I’m typing this and realizing that I need to do more wine tastings close to home, is Olalla Valley Vineyard and Winery in Olalla, Washington.  They also have several varietals as well as some fruit wines.

So, if you enjoy wine, are looking for something to do one day, why not visit one or more of these local wineries.  Just make sure you have a designated driver or taste and spit which seems like such a waste of good wine to me.

What’s New with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines?

As part of my continuing travel education, I attended a breakfast seminar this morning put on by my local business development managers for Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club cruise lines.  Wow!  Do they ever pack a lot into 1 ½ hours.  There is a lot of cool, new stuff happening with RCCL and I’m happy to be able to share it with you.  I’m only going to hit the highlights. 

If you are into cruising, you probably have heard of the new Oasis class ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.  RCCL is doing Royal Enhancements on all of their ships, and so far have completed 3.  They will be rolling this out onto the rest of the fleet over the next 3 years until all the ships have the most popular features.  They even upgraded the Oasis of the Seas with the Dreamworks Experience which was previously only available on the Allure.  Plus they added a 3D movie theater. 

They have upgraded the Freedom of the Seas and the Liberty of the Seas with the following:

  • Dreamworks Experience (this does not include as much as the Oasis & Allure, but still a fabulous experience for the kids.)
  • 3D Theater with First Run movies.
  • Outdoor, Poolside movies.
  • The Cupcake Cupboard
  • Vintages Wine Bar
  • Royal Babies & Tots Nursery (for 6 mos. – 3 YO, babysitting for $8 per hour, 3 – 1 ratio kids/staff.  You know you want a romantic evening without the kids!)
  • Enhanced Wi-fi throughout the ship.
  • Digital Wayfinder System (touchscreen system – type in your room # and find out the quickest way to get there.  Find out what’s happening & where right now.  What restaurants have no waits and much more!)
  • Chefmakers Cooking Academy– classes such as Knife Skills, Small Bites & Cocktails, Quick & Easy Fish, Wine & Dine, Spa Cuisine, Kids with Kids Baking and more.  (This is one of my favorite enhancements, right after the Digital Wayfinder)

The next ship to be done is the Radiance of the Seas.  It will have many of these same features, but it will also have many new dining venues such as the Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse, Rita’s Cantina, Giovanni’s Table, Quill & Compass Pub and more.  They will also have a Chef’s Table experience for a maximum of 14 guests where the chef will create a 5 course meal paired with wine.  They’ve also added a few new cabins.  Next will be the Splendour of the Seas – and then the rest of the fleet. 

Azamara Club Cruises doesn’t have the dramatic ship upgrades that their sister Royal Caribbean does, but they WOW you with the experience.  They offer unique itineraries offering cultural immersion and experiences; an informal, country-club atmosphere; fabulous regional cuisine and wines; more overnight stays; 45% of their port stays are until 8PM or later; 694 passengers to 408 crew members with 70% of the rooms having balconies; few children because there are no childrens programs, and more inclusions and amenities in the price such as:

  • Gratuities (dining, bar & housekeeping)
  • Bottled water, sodas and specialty coffee & tea.
  • Select vintage red & white wine at lunch and dinner.
  • Self service laundry
  • Concierge service.

Suite guests get even more inclusions including Butler Service and Complimentary Specialty Dining.  They have some incredible new itineraries for 2012, and some fabulous specials including discounts for booking air with their Choice Air program (same, or better, rates as you will find published on other sites); 50% off select shore excurisions; some great single occupancy discounts and more. 

Azamara also offers great Golf  Themed itineraries where they have paired with PerryGolf.  You can play spectacular, challenging courses in countries such as Spain, Italy,France, Portugal, Wales and Ireland.  They even have a cruise planned to coincide with the 2013 British Open.  The Golf Package includes too much to list here, but some highlights. 

  • Green fees & Confirmed starting times (including cart and gratuities)
  • Practice range & range balls where available
  • All golf bag handling between ship & golf courses and onboard club storage in a secure location
  • Full time Golf Manager throughout the voyage
  • Cocktail parties, Golfer’s social events onboard, 2 special onboard dinners, and special events for non-golfing guests.

The package offers one price for golfers, and a reduced price for their guests who can still attend all the social events onboard.

Azamara also has cruises for Carnival and New Year’s Eve in Brazil, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and more special events.  They will take care of tickets and transportation for you for these events.

Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club Cruises really can take you to the world – Caribbean, Europe, Asia and more.  Let’s get cruising!

Unique Wine Tours in the Pacific Northwest

I love to travel to warm sunny destinations, but during the summers here inWashington state (which may have finally arrived) there is nothing better than getting out and about and enjoying all the beauty we have here.  I also love wine, so I was really happy when I came across a couple of very unique wine tasting tours.

The first involves river rafting on the Wenatchee, a BBQ steak lunch and then wine tasting by limo.  The limo (which holds 20 passengers – sounds like a great group trip to me), picks you up in downtown Leavenworth and takes you to the start of the rafting adventure.  Blue Sky Outfitters will supply everything you need for your rafting adventure and soon you will find yourself  launched into Upper Gorilla and Sharkstooth with lots of fun waves, before winding down Drunkard’s Drop with waves of up to 16 feet.  Sounds scary, but this whitewater adventure is only rated as class 3 rapids.  You will end your rafting adventure at beautiful Riverside Park where you will enjoy a fabulous Top Sirloin BBQ lunch with all the trimmings.  You then change into dry clothes and get back into the limo and start the second part of your adventure – Wine Tasting!  You will be tasting many wines along the way so to encourage guests to stay well hydrated, bottled water is provided in the limo. You finish up at the highly acclaimed Icicle Ridge Winery where the beautiful acreage and great wines make it hard to leave.

Pacific NW Float Trips offers a river rafting/wine tasting trip of their own.  It combines their Skagit River Fall Colors trip, which includes a picnic lunch, with wine tasting and tour at the Glacier Peak Winery.  This one can also be done with a group and depending on the size the price does come down a bit.

Another really unique tour that I’d love to try is Hot Air Ballooning and Wine Tasting.  Wine Country Balloon Tour offers a sunrise tour which includes a 200 year old tradition of toasting with sparkling wine while sailing over the lush acres of slowly ripening grapes.  With this tour on Sundays you can enjoy brunch after the flight for an additional $25.  Not so much wine tasting as wine drinking while ballooning.

I’m not much of an early morning person, so Over The Rainbow Balloon Flights has a similar tour which would fit my schedule much better.  They also do an early morning tour, but have another daily tour that departs a couple of hours prior to sunset.  You’ll board your craft for a once in a lifetime experience. Once in the air it’s time to relax and enjoy about an hour aloft while you drift effortlessly over the picturesque SammamishValley.  Some of the flight will take place up high–l,500 to 5,000 feet up where you’ll enjoy panoramic views of theSeattleskyline and the mountain ranges surrounding thePuget Sound area. You’ll spend some of your flight barely above the surface as you brush the treetops. Help yourself to the leaves for a souvenir. Matthew’s Estate, a premier winery, will host your post flight celebration.

If anyone has done one of these tours, I’d love to hear how it went.  Even better, I’d love to see some pictures posted on my Facebook page.

Great Gig Harbor Day

I was disappointed to wake up this morning to the rain.  I was planning for a nice day, mowing the lawn, maybe giving Sherman a bath, and enjoying some warm spring sunshing out on the deck.  It took me a while to get motivated to do anything, but finally got a couple of indoor chores out of the way. 

Around 12:15 my niece/roommate mentioned that she and her son were going to Kelly’s for lunch.  That sounded good – I’d been feeling a little hungry and thinking about what to have for lunch.  I said I’d meet them there as we had different plans for the rest of the day.  For those of you who don’t know, Kelly’s Cafe and Espresso on Pioneer Way right in the heart of Gig Harbor has been voted best breakfast, best burger and I’m sure they have gotten a bunch of other bests over the years.  Great prices, great location, they now serve breakfast all day (a plus as far as my 11 year old nephew is concerned).  This is a great casual, family dining spot.  I have never had a bad meal here, although sometimes when they are busy (as they were today) the service can be a little slow.  But the food is worth the wait!

Today I had the Albacore Tuna Melt with dill havarti cheese on scrumptious sourdough bread.  I chose a green salad instead of fries.  I could only finish half the sandwich, but just had the leftovers for dinner – just as good leftover as when it was served at the restaurant.  For $8.99 I would highly recommend this sandwich.

When I arrived at Kelly’s, I had noticed a sign across the street at The Keeping Room advertising wine tasting from 1 – 4.  I’ve been here before, it is a great little gift / wine shop with a very welcoming attitude.  They were featuring some northwest wines today and Art was pouring.  I started with a San Juan Riesling – I’m not usually a riesling person because they are so sweet, but this was good.  There was also a Willamette Valley Chardonnay (not my fave), a Pinot Noir and a chocolate port.  I’m not a port person, but this was pretty tasty. 

I left and dropped some books at the library then stopped at the Verizon Store on Pt. Fosdick.  I am not very techy and had not been able to configure my Blackberry with my Bluetooth and was having some other issues as well.  A couple of the young folks there helped me out – Thanks! – you know who you are (sorry I didn’t get your names).  Then we got to talking travel and I could have stayed awhile, but they had other customers to help.  Plus, I had to get that tuna melt home to the fridge.

I came home for awhile, but then while checking status updates on Facebook I saw that  The Wine Studio had some wine left from their tasting yesterday and that 7 Seas Brewery was having their Can Release Party.  I had forgotten all about that.

If you have not been to The Wine Studio, you really should stop in and meet the owner, Diana Becks.  Her shop is warm and inviting, just like she is.  Tastings are listed on her website, and she also will allow you to take over and host a private event.  I had stopped in yesterday and tried the Onyx wines from South Africa and they were all good, although I did have my favorites.  Diana stocks a great variety of wines, all price ranges, domestic and imported.  And she can special order just about anything you would like. 

By the time I left there it was about 5:40 and the 7 Seas Brewery party was scheduled to end at 6PM.  It was still raining, but I had not been to their tasting room so I decided to make the stop.  I wish I had arrived earlier.  There was still quite a crowd, but the event was definitely winding down.  They had music, food and of course, great beer.  The live music and food were done when I arrived, but I did try one of their new cans of British Pale Ale and enjoyed it.  I hung out under one of the canopies and visited with some other folks – it would have been better if the sun was shining, but it was a great event anyway.  I didn’t have a chance to meet the owners, Mike & Travis, but after tasting their beer I’ll be stopping in again when they aren’t so busy. 

So, that’s how I spent a rainy day in Gig Harbor.  I look forward to getting out and about on a sunny day soon.

New Wine Bar in Gig Harbor, Washington

I know I usually write about exotic, tropical destinations like Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean, but I just have to share with you how wonderful this new wine bar is in my new home of Gig Harbor.  I had the house to myself last night and debated whether to just stay in and enjoy the silence, or venture out.  I needed a couple of things from the grocery store so as long as I was going out anyway I decided to check out the Forza / Harbor Greens Wine Bar.


When I walked in the door I was immediately greeted by Chad, one of the owners, who offered to help me find a table.  The little bar was packed and there were no tables available so he brought me a chair so I could sit at the counter.  He brought me a wine list and menu and explained that food is available Wednesday – Saturday, but wine is available 7 days a week.  He offered his wine suggestions and went off to get me my glass.  I liked that you could buy wine by the glass, ½ glass or bottle. 


By the time he returned with my wine, I had perused the food menu and chosen the Bruschetta.  It had mozzarella, prosciutto, a spicy red pepper jelly and balsamic vinegar (if I remember correctly).  You could also get salads, sandwiches, several other “small plates” and desserts. 


I relaxed with my wine and listened to the music provided by Dave Calhoun who does Jimmy Buffett style music and dresses in tropical shirts and shorts.  (See, there is a tie in with my tropical theme.)  The bar has music on Friday and Saturday nights.


My bruschetta arrived soon and looked really good.  I took a bite and the flavors just exploded in my mouth – I even mmmm’d aloud.  I thought to myself – these 4 pieces are not going to be enough, I could eat this all night.  About 10 seconds later, Nathan, one of the waiters stopped by and said “excellent choice” and asked how I liked it.  10 seconds earlier he wouldn’t have needed to ask because he would have heard me. 


I enjoyed good food, good wine and good music in the hour and a half or so that I spent at the Wine Bar.  The service was excellent – several employees stopped by to see if I needed anything.  They are all helpful in suggesting wines and food – the menu does suggest wine pairings that will go with each dish.  The bar was packed the whole time I was there so apparently others were enjoying the relaxed atmosphere as well.


I look forward to going back soon so that I can try some of the other delicious sounding dishes and wines.  And because this is also a coffee bar, my niece and her son can go with me – we can get a reasonably priced meal and glass of wine, then go next door to the Harbor Greens market for fabulous fresh produce, meats, fresh seafood and a huge wine selection. 


If you want to learn more about how Forza Coffee Shop became Forza Wine Bar click here for an article in the Peninsula Gateway.  This bar is not next to the water here in Gig Harbor, but it is only a couple of minutes off the Olympic Drive exit of Highway 16.  Just take a left at the light coming off the freeway (if heading west on 16) and look for Harbor Greens market on your right.  You won’t be sorry.