Washington State wines are garnering national esteem (and investment) but, historically, the industry faced a geographical challenge. Washington’s vineyards and wineries are much farther from major city Seattle than is the case with, say, San Francisco and Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Enterprising winemakers realized that a tasting room, if not an actually winery, in downtown Seattle could be just the thing for far-flung Washington winemakers to introduce their wares to urbanites and travelers. Now there are more than 25 wineries in Seattle proper. The heart of the scene is SODO Urban Works, a downtown development that is home to nine wineries, among which are some of Washington’s most exciting wines.
For those eager to explore Washington wine, here’s the low-down on Seattle’s fast-developing scene.
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Hours and availability for many tasting rooms are somewhat limited, though most are open Friday through Sunday. A few require special appointments. Check websites before you arrive.
Rotie Cellars: When Sean Boyd started Rotie in 2007, the potential for Rhône-style wines in Washington was just starting. Boyd, along with producers like Greg Harrington at Gramercy Cellars and Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen at WT Vintners, applied traditional Rhône Valley techniques to Washington fruit. He co-ferments his Syrah with a small percentage of Viognier, for example, as is the style in Côte-Rotie. The winery is based in Walla Walla, but Rotie’s tasting room is one of a handful in SODO Urban Works, a cluster of wineries and tasting rooms that have become the epicenter of Seattle’s urban winery scene. Location.
Jet City Winery: Charles Smith was already a rock star winemaker when he was based in Walla Walla; now, with the opening of Jet City Winery, he’s on a whole new level. The massive winemaking facility — situated in a refitted airplane hanger — fits Smith’s status in Washington, especially after selling five of his brands to Constellation Wines for a cool $120 mil. The tasting room offers the chance to explore a wide range of his wines, from the Wines of Substance available nationwide, to single-vineyard bottlings of Syrah and Chardonnay, among Washington’s most acclaimed wines. Location.
Latta Wines: Andrew Latta went from being a sommelier in Phuket, Thailand to making wine in Walla Walla. After stints with Dunham Cellars and Charles Smith, he set out on his own in 2010. Like many of his colleagues, he largely focuses on Rhône varietals, which he foot-crushes and ferments with native yeasts. His non-interventionist style of winemaking also involves extended macerations and a fair bit of whole-cluster fermentation. While the red wines get most of the acclaim, his Roussanne remains one of the finest New World examples of the varietal. Location.
Kerloo Cellars: Ryan Crane’s Kerloo exemplifies many of the trends in Seattle’s urban wine scene: He’s young, moved his production from Walla Walla to Seattle’s SODO Urban Works, and clearly loves Rhône varietals. He’s also tremendously focused on keeping his wines at an affordable price; his acclaimed Blue Mountain Syrah from Walla Walla retails for $20. He also launched a second label, Sodo Cellars, to offer wines at an even more approachable price point. Location.
Thirsty for More
Robert Ramsay: Atop Queen Anne Hill lies another ode to Washington’s Rhône varietals. In this case, alongside the expected Syrah and Grenache, you’ll find single-varietal bottlings of such southern French obscurities as Cinsault and Counoise. Location.
Waters Winery: Working with fruit from many of the finest vineyards in the state, winemaker Jamie Brown both blends across vineyard sites, and more recently has emphasized single vineyard bottlings, particularly of Syrah. Location.
Sleight of Hand: Trey Busch’s love of rock and roll is evident from the moment you set foot in his SODO tasting room, which features more than one Pearl Jam poster. The wines explore most of Washington’s premier varietals, from Riesling and Chardonnay to Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Oh, and if you notice a familiar face on the label for “The Conjurer,” don’t be surprised: Magic enthusiast Neil Patrick Harris is a fan of the winery! Location.
Complete Your Seattle Urban Winery Tour
Nine Hats: This newly opened tasting room showcases a side project run amok! What was once a cute one-off for Long Shadows Winery has turned into a full-fledged brand of its own, with a wide range of single-varietal offerings from Viognier to Pinot Gris. Location.
The Estates Wine Room: This tasting room allows you to sample both Oregon Pinot Noir (from Archery Summit) and Washington Cabernet Sauvignon (from Double Canyon) in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square. Location.