With blue skies, smudge-free wine glasses, maps and 1-ounce pours in hand, the wine walkers were off on their self-guided tour.
The summer-like warm evening in downtown Bellingham hosted wine enthusiasts for the first ever Wine Walk on Friday, May 8, put on by the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.
Local retail business owners opened their doors and prepared tables with appetizers and wine tastings for guest to enjoy.
From 5 - 8 p.m., the wine walkers visited local stores where they purchased and tried a variety of Washington wines.
Event manager Lindsey Payne worked with downtown businesses to kickstart what she predicts will be an optimistic and exciting annual event.
“We have a retail group we meet with on a monthly basis, and we discussed the components of what the Wine Walk would look like and we decided it was a really good fit for downtown,” Payne said. “We were excited to take the ideas of our downtown business owners and make them a reality, so we decided to roll with it.”
Payne took suggestions from local businesses discussing the event details and eventually the Wine Walk word got out around downtown. The team of locals collaborated with different venues in order to find out what exactly needed to happen in order to have a successful new event.
“Bellingham is always associated with beer, it’s definitely a beer fan kind of town and to do a thing that’s centered around wine just for downtown is really exciting,” Payne said. “I think that’s why there’s a lot of buzz around downtown, there’s beer enthusiasts everywhere but there’s also wine lovers everywhere too.”
Exposure to stores in downtown and having the wine stands inside the shops provided the wine walkers to explore not only new wines but new shops as well, Western alumni Emileigh Kinnear said.
Enjoying the wine event solo, Kinnear graduated from Western with a bachelor’s degree in business.
“I feel like if I’m with a group, it turns into something other than wine tasting and you can’t focus on the flavor,” Kinnear said. “So if I’m by myself I can go around at my own pace and talk to the winemakers, I don’t feel like I have to hostess or entertain other people, although it would be a good date night activity as well.”
Funded by the local community and the ticket revenue, the Wine Walk had 11 different wineries visiting from around the area promoting their handcrafted adult beverages in local stores. The wineries and businesses were all listed on the maps and tour guides for guests to refer back to.
“I think this event is great because it pulls people into shops they wouldn’t normally visit necessarily,” Kinnear said. “I certainly went into new ones, or ones I didn’t realize changed ownership.”
Whether it was white wine, red wine or rosé, the wine shops and wineries provided tastes of all varieties while allowing the guests to wander around the stores to browse and mingle.
“I went down to The Bureau of Historical Investigation, and they have a really beautiful raspberry wine, it’s a little strong so I would save it for last,” Kinnear said.
Not only did the event bring people downtown to shop in stores they normally wouldn’t, but also provided service to shops around town not involved in the Wine Walk, said employees of Vinostrology, a wine bar downtown.
Caitlin Hanson, an employee at Vinostrology, has been working at the wine bar for nine months and had noticed a positive change in business Friday night.
“The [Wine Walk] is absolutely helping business. It’s busier than we’ve been for a while, but it’s a lot of fun,” Hanson said. “There have been a lot of people who seem much more interested about the different wines, which is really cool.”
The sold out and successful event already has Payne thinking about future Wine Walk details.
“We will get the cups branded like April Brew’s Day does where people can take a little novelty glass home, ideally that would be really great,” Payne said. “Since this is our first year, we aren’t at that point, but maybe next year we can get to that point.”
Little twists and turns to the event will change as the years go on, as Payne initially wasn't sure what to expect in terms of attendee numbers and wine tasting venues.
“There were downtown business that wanted to sign up once we put the cap on the number of venues, there were more wineries that wanted to sign up in addition to the ones that were confirmed,” Payne said.
After closing the details on the event, Payne couldn't accommodate all the guests and different wineries but has plans to expand next year.
Payne said there will be room to grow next year and the event will be bigger since the event turned out to be a huge success with the maximum amount of attendees participating.
Western student Niki Seyster a major in environmental science minoring in chemistry, originally bought tickets for herself and her boyfriend but thought the Mother’s Day weekend would be a fun treat for her mom.
“We all had a great time and got to see some interesting stores that I didn't even know about before. I also loved learning about and sampling a lot of great Washington wines,” Seyster said in an email. “I would definitely do it again next year.”
The amount of wineries and number of people wanting to attend ended up being too much and the cut off point was at about 500 people.
Kinnear and other attendees thought highly of the event only had positive words to say about it.
“I think it’s really well organized, I like that they have little food stations at various places so you can clear your palate and get a little water,” Kinnear said. “They have just been very professional, I think, it’s very upscale.”
Plans to expand next year involve having more wineries and local stores, the Wine Walk was a success in the eyes of the woman who help put on the event, Lindsey Payne.