According to the latest business census, there are over 150 places / reasons to enjoy an adult grape beverage in Woodinville, be it a wine bar, a wine cellar, a tasting room or a winery. So many choices and so little time…what a dilemma!
So Leah and I relied on our friend Hali, who used to pour for DeLille Cellars when she lived in the vicinity, and she offered some helpful recommendations, which prompted us to make reservations long before our arrival, because time slots at popular locations can fill quickly.
Woodinville has become a popular weigh station for Seattle folks and world travelers to sample Columbia Valley varietals and blends without having to travel east of the Cascades to taste the fruit off the vine.
Much like Napa and Sonoma, hot, dry summers and cold winters make Columbia Valley’s climate perfect for cultivating fine grapes. Then the harvest is shipped west, where Woodinville vintners can perform their magic.
With wines now scoring in the mid-90s, Woodinville is stepping out of the cool vibe shadow of California’s Wine Country, and making a play for some of the best Syrah’s, Merlots, and Chardonnays in America, while serving in casual and laid-back surroundings.
Leah and I scheduled our tastings over three afternoons, with my son Nathan joining us on the last day.
Notable for its country charm, Chateau Ste. Michelle always earns a visit.
As Washington’s founding winery, and Wine Spectator’s 2004 American Winery of the Year, Chateau Ste. Michelle has become Columbia Valley’s global ambassador for its award-winning regional wines, which made it a good place to start our tasting.
We were seated outdoors and served a pitcher of water, a wine glass, and a placemat holding four mini carafes of our flight selections for $25 each. Because of COVID-19, our cheese plate came pre-packaged from a catering clerk for $17.
We had high expectations.
While all four wines were worthy of showcasing, none of them was especially worthy of purchasing a bottle. However, we did secure concert tickets for the Summer Night Music Series, featuring Kara Hesse at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Amphitheatre.
Our next stop the following day was to DeLille Cellars,
where we enjoyed a flight of terrific Bordeaux-inspired blends…
in their newly, appointed tasting loft, repurposed from Redhook Brewery.
To our surprise, our wine tasting and cheese board was comped by Wine Club personnel in deference to Hali, which compelled us to ship home a 6-pack of their glorious 2018 D2.
On the third day of Wino Appreciation Week, Leah and I walked a stretch of the Sammamish River Trail–
all the while puckering our lips, jiggling our wrists and cleansing our palates–in anticipation of tasting wine from three new winemakers–but this time with Nate in tow for his first official pouring.
After lunching on flatbread pizza at Woodinville Wine Country, we sat around al fresco at a pouring counter representing Pepper Bridge and Amavi Cellars. Nathan gave each menu a thorough reading, but he was illiterate in wine-speak, uncertain of grape varietals, and unsure how wine might taste like cured meat and figs, so he followed my lead. I drank from the right menu and Leah from the left menu, although she shared her pours with me.
Leah and I walked away with a bottle of Sémillon from Amavi, and Nate walked away with a new appreciation of bourgeois culture, conceding that wine tasting could make an interesting first date.
We continued our wine crawl across the road at Guardian Cellars. We were seated under an awning and presented with a tasting menu. We had a chuckle over the names of wines before realizing that Guardian owners, Jerry Riener is a cop by day and a winemaker when he’s not a cop, and his wife Jennifer Sullivan is a reporter by trade and pours wine on the weekends.
Thanks again to Hali, who arranged to transfer her Guardian club membership to us for the day, so our tasting was gratis. But alas, we left the scene of the crime, empty-handed, only to be remembered by our finger prints and DNA residue on the glassware.
That evening, our last in Woodinville, we attended singer/songwriter, Kara Hesse’s concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle Amphitheatre–our first concert since the COVID-19 outbreak–and we came ready to party, but house rules clearly stated: Wine is welcome, but only if the Chateau Ste. Michelle label is affixed to the bottle. So we stuck with water.
The lawn was dotted with couples, friends and families enjoying picnics from lawn blankets and stadium chairs, and the atmosphere was festive.
Kara and her band had just taken the stage to cheers from the crowd when a hot air balloon sailed across the sky.
What? A balloon?
It was a small distraction, and one that was easily forgotten once Kara warmed up to give us her impression of what Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt and Cheryl Crow might sound like if all three voices were put in a blender.
Two things I learned that day:
I would have enjoyed the concert more if I was drinking wine instead of water;
and Nate should stick to beer.