Full weekend in works for Spring Release

From tasting to special events, busy times are forecast for the long weekend.


WALLA WALLA -- The buzz on Spring Release: It's going to be a busy weekend.

Tourism and wine industry officials are anticipating a full house for the annual wine event that offers visitors a taste of new vintages straight from the barrels and a variety of special wine-related events.

Shanna Hatfield, director of marketing and public relations for the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center, said Spring Release weekend is one of the downtown hotel's busiest each year.

"We start getting busy toward mid-March, but May is really when things get going and this weekend is the kickoff of that," Hatfield said this morning.

A couple of last-minute room cancellations came this morning, she said. So a few lucky procrastinators may be able to land a room at the downtown luxury hotel if they call. For the most part though the rooms aren't expected to remain unspoken for.

"They typically go fast," Hatfield said.

The busy weekend is a barometer of sorts for the community's tourism forecast, as well as the health of the industry. The participation could also be a sign to local officials on whether the lingering clutches of the recession are loosening.

"Of course during this time anything we can do that kind of gives us a pulse is helpful," said Elizabeth Martin-Calder, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

She said anecdotal evidence so far suggests the Valley is in for a lot of activity. A number of operators at the Valley's more than 100 wineries have reported sellouts of their private events with visitors still calling around interested in tickets. "It was a great Thursday," Martin-Calder said, adding that wineries were already noticing a buildup of crowds. "The buzz feels good."

She said the wineries have gotten more creative with their special events. A Spanish-inspired paella dinner with flamenco guitar accompaniment was set to kick off Castillo de Feliciana's weekend, while Flying Trout and Tero Estates planned to partner with nighttime bonfires and a Sunday morning massage in the vineyards.

The array of special events is reflective of the individual wineries and their efforts to reach out to visitors, she said.

Though supported by wine alliance staff members, Spring Release is an event generated by the wineries themselves. Actually it dates back to one winery in particular.

The annual release from one of Walla Walla's most prestigious winery's, Leonetti Cellar, served as the original impetus for the weekend.

To address the round-the-clock demand for the wine, operators of Leonetti began hosting an annual event for its release. As consumers flocked to the area, other wineries noticed a spike in their tasting rooms. More of them began opening their doors during what became known as "Leonetti Weekend."

Spring Release blossomed from there. Martin-Calder said her office has been busy handing out winery maps and answering questions. She said the wine alliance participates by visiting new wineries and enjoying the various festivities.

"It's so much their event," she said of the wineries. "We're kind of witness to that."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.


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