Show up in Woodinville Wine Country expecting a Napa-type experience and you might be disappointed, as just about the only thing the two towns have in common is wine. This isn’t to say that Woodinville is in any way a letdown—rather, the fact that this charming hamlet a mere 30 minutes northeast of downtown Seattle is the complete opposite of Napa is a wonderful thing; there’s less pretension, less pinot and no wine train to get kicked off for having too much fun.
Nearly all of the 100+ wineries housed in Woodinville’s four districts get their juice from Eastern Washington’s growing regions; what you see when you’re visiting are the production facilities (even the picturesque vines in front of Chateau Ste. Michelle are just for show).
It’s working man’s wine country where vintners also have day jobs and outside the heavy hitters like Ste. Michelle and Columbia, the boutique winery reigns supreme. Most tasting rooms are clumped together in strip malls, making it relatively easy to traipse to and fro without drinking and driving.
Here’s where to go and what to sip.
The Warehouse District is filled with husband and wife teams who turned their hobbies into bona fide wineries. Elevation Cellars’ Steven Stuart first started making wine in his garage in 1999. Now he produces 3,000 cases per year, the bulk of which satiates Elevation’s 800 wine club members. The tasting room, manned by Stuart’s wife Mary, also houses the barrel room. Tours are easy to come by and conversation with the couple flows easily, as does the wine. The real standout here is their signature blend Monolith, a dusky Bordeaux blend ($36), but fans of whites will also enjoy their Imperium, a balanced Riesling ($17). Food carts parked on the weekends help to break up the overt warehouse-feel.
The Woodinville outpost of this Red Mountain winery is sleek and sparse—the focus here is solely on the wines, which span one wall from floor to ceiling. The staff at Fidelitas is more than happy to school you on the history of Red Mountain and Washington wine as a whole—they’ve got the dirt (or should we say, terroir?) on how the land has been divvied up over the years and who’s got the best grapes. If you’re just looking to taste, see if you can get this Hollywood District winery to open a bottle of 4040, their massive restaurant-only label. If you’re looking to buy, go for their Red Mountain Merlot ($45) or the Klipsun Vineyards Semillon ($25).
Also in the Warehouse District, Flying Dreams Winery is for fans of Spanish-style wines. Their famed Monastrell ($36) is a dark, peppery wine that takes the little known grape and blends it with just a touch of cabernet. It’s aged for 27 months and begs for food along with a little aeration. Their Temperanillo Reserve ($45) is easier to sip on an empty stomach. Usually release dates for new vintages come complete with paella cooked over an open flame outside the tasting room, so keep on top of their calendar if you’re interested.
The granddaddy of them all, Chateau Ste. Michelle sits on a hillside in the Hollywood District overlooking the rest of Woodinville. Step inside and you’ll find a well-oiled machine full of helpful staff members flitting about answering questions. Take the complimentary tour and tasting—which provides a behind-the-scenes look at their bottling plant—or spring for the $10 tasting for a more comprehensive look at their large library (the Artist Series is particularly interesting). Be sure to get an appointment at the Col Solare Bottega; the glass box within the larger Chateau tasting room offers tastes of three vintages of their fabulous cab-based blend ($75 for the 2012 release). Buy a bottle and wander the gardens, keeping an eye out for the peacocks.
Situated between a strip mall and a busy thoroughfare in the Hollywood District, DeLille Cellars has a charming carriage house and ample patio space. Their Chateau is only open for private events, so unless you’ve got a wedding to attend, the carriage house is where you’ll be tasting their three labels: DeLille Cellars, Doyenne and Grand Ciel. The staff sets a languorous pace allowing you to really enjoy each taste. Their Roussane ($37) is nice but the real knockout is the Chaleur Estate Blanc ($38), a sauvignon blanc/Semillon blend that’s such a deal-closer, they finish the full tasting with it, casually mentioning the wine has been frequently served at the White House for the past three administrations. Also keep your eye out for the D2 ($44), it’s a restaurant staple at steakhouses around Seattle but much cheaper if you buy on-site.
Jackie Varriano is an always-hungry freelance writer based in Seattle.