Burgundy, Napa, Mendoza, La Rioja, Tuscany. Surely these places are on your wine trip bucket list. Here’s one to add: Woodinville, Wash.
Twenty miles from Seattle, by highway or bike path, 118 of the state’s 950 wineries have tasting rooms here. Many are satellites of operations on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. That’s east, where the grapes are: 55,000 acres divided into 14 appellations across hundreds of miles. The people, the drinkers and distributors, are in the west.
Want to taste something your friends haven’t? Something collector-worthy or enjoyable right now? Woodinville is the place to discover what Washington wines are all about.
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Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is a great starting point, literally. Woodinville’s first winery, and the state’s largest, has a history that dates to the repeal of Prohibition. A free 30-minute tour introduces visitors to the Columbia Valley AVA where 99 percent of Washington’s wine grapes grow, and “liquid sunshine” (rain; they get that a lot). It ends with a taste of three wines. Continue with four more, $15, including Eroica Riesling, a collaboration with Dr. Loosen of Mosel, Germany.
Ten years ago there were only 20 tasting rooms in town. The rapid growth began in 2008 in the Hollywood Schoolhouse area, a 10-minute walk from Chateau Ste. Michelle. There is an actual schoolhouse, built in 1912, now a private event space in the middle of three small, strip-mall type lots accommodating some 30 tasting rooms.
Market Vineyards exemplifies the state’s fun, pouring the likes of Arbitrage Cabernet Sauvignon and Liquidity, a Roussanne-Viognier blend. (Get it? As in, stock market?) Panther Creek Cellars opened in May 2018 to share its big, fruity Pinot Noirs.
Possibly the greatest part of Woodinville is the opportunity to make personal connections with the people making, distributing, and drinking Washington wines. At Lauren Ashton, it’s winemaker Kit Singh, a daytime dentist and big believer in Washington. “We have better fruit than California,” he says. “We have three hours more sunshine and the right conditions for cooling down.”
You could spend your whole day in this area, starting with breakfast at The Commons, then stepping from room to room, or sitting at Village Wines – about 40 wines by the glass, mostly from Washington, from $8.
Or you could branch out. Time to call Green Cab (206-575-4040) or another car service and head to the Warehouse District.
Start out at Refuge and Prospect, where Jason Baldwin makes well-composed wines so interesting and dynamic they can send the wine geekiest among us into a tailspin. Seeing Red, Baldwin says, is Washington in a bottle. “You need a spreadsheet to track where all the grapes are grown,” he says. The cozy, industrial-chic lodge space is next to a transmission shop, par for the course here.
Cross the street to enter a concentration of some 50 rooms within former light-industrial spaces. Another possible all-day affair. Wander to the back to Savage Grace, where Michael Savage can be found, talking Loire Valley and Beaujolais, and translating their styles with Washington grapes. “We don’t want wines to give you everything,” he says. “We want them to have a question mark, but have a graceful end.” The only question you’ll have is: How much room do I have in my suitcase?
A day of wine is best broken up with a refreshing beer. Newly opened Métier Brewing Company sells beer to stay or go, and offers nitro-brewed coffee and root beer on tap, too.
Save room for dinner and local spirits at Hollywood Tavern + Woodinville Whiskey. This upscale diner opened in November 2013 and serves the most attractive and tastiest fried pickles you might ever have (crispy cornmeal yet still juicy-dilly). Or, take it up a notch — braised pork shank, seared halibut — at the new Heritage Restaurant Bar.
If you’re spending the night you’ll be in one of the town’s two hotels. Near the Warehouse District is a Hampton Inn & Suites. Its 102 rooms, from $179, provide breakfast and Friday evening wine. Bonus: There are four tasting rooms on the property: Avennia, Tertulia, Tsillan, and Skylite Cellars.
There’s also the lovely Willows Lodge, which has 84 rooms and suites, from $269. Sign up in advance or with the concierge for the WineVenture van trip to four local wineries from 12 to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. The $130 price includes all tastings and a fruit-and-cheese platter.
Get up early or plan a bike-and-taste day using the paved, 10.9-mile Sammamish River trail, a wonderful place to view the river, the valley, the Cascade foothills and Mount Rainier. Note it’s a commuter path, too, so keep to the right and single file, please; everyone’s friendly yet serious about their bike etiquette.
A bit of advance planning (48 hours) will get you a seat at Patterson Cellars, where all sorts of cravings —charcuterie, roasted vegetables, sandwiches, chocolate — are paired with wine in an educational and fun food experience, from $25.
Woodinville is easy to navigate on your own (see woodinvillewinecountry.com for maps and ideas). Or let Barrel Wine Tours or Main Street Drivers do the planning, and driving.
Note: Tasting room hours vary but most are open 1 to 5 p.m., weekends only. Check websites or call ahead for specifics. Many wineries, including Betz and Delille, use volunteers during harvest (September to October) and bottling. Again, call ahead.