Family Cellars Tasting Room
you pour it, they will come. This has certainly proven
true in Woodinville, scarcely a half hour’s
drive from downtown Seattle. These days the former
logging community is wooing oenophilic Emerald City
dwellers, as well as visitors from around the globe,
who can sip and savor vintages that were once only
available at the vineyards of Eastern Washington,
on the far side of the Cascades. By bringing grapes
across the mountains and creating an official Woodinville
Wine Country in 2002, an eclectic group of thirteen
winemakers turned a sleepy backwater into a Pacific
in mind, though, this place is no Northern California
Wine Country. While Napa came into its own through
its wine industry, Woodinville established its character
long before the cellars came to town. Logging and
farming financed the development of the Sammamish
River Valley in the late 1880s, and these trades propelled
the town well into the 20th century. Napa created
a provincial chic to define itself, but Woodinville
is happy to be good ‘ole, unpretentious Woodinville.
first glance, you may wonder why Woodinville was chosen
to become a “wine country.” First of all,
there are no vineyards here. The few historic buildings
are scattered among strip malls, and some wineries
are even housed in industrial warehouse complexes.
But the surroundings are wooded and gorgeous, and
that no doubt was one of the biggest draws. Also,
according to Bill Phillips, co-founder of the Woodinville
Wine Country, the region’s first winery (Chateau
Ste. Michelle set up its winemaking facilities in
1976) was most likely built in this location because
rural land was cheap, and it was close to a major
city. It was “only natural,” he explains,
that smaller wineries gravitated to the area to “try
to grab some of the residual business.” In this
respect, the Woodinville Wine Country is an organic
part of the landscape.
and Industrial Cool
area offers two terrific hotels for overnight stays:
Lodge in town or the Salish
Lodge & Spa, a short drive away. The dozen-plus
wineries invite a full weekend’s touring, but
if you have only one day, we’d like to suggest
an itinerary that combines a few standout small wineries
with the Old Guard. The route is easy. Just start
at the north end of SR-202 and work your way south.
And make sure to plan ahead. Some wineries are open
daily, some just on weekends and some only during
organized tasting events.
old advice to start small works well in Woodinville,
as there are plenty of snug, personable little wineries
to choose from. Like most of its counterparts, the
boutique DiStefano Winery is an unassuming place.
As you’re cruising along the highway, keep an
eye out for the address, as there isn’t a huge
sign. And when you enter, prepare yourself for intimacy.
Get ten people inside the tasting room and you can’t
help but rub elbows. But this means instant camaraderie,
and isn’t that the point of opening a great
bottle of wine?
Mark Newton produced the first DiStefano (a Sauvignon
Blanc) as a wedding gift for his wife, Donna DiStefano,
in 1990. Today the winery produces eight types of
wine. As we began sampling, we were looking forward
to the 2001 Ottimo (60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Merlot),
a wine that’s earned the company much acclaim.
We liked it, but what we really loved was the 2001
Meritage. To some this may seem a more pedestrian
choice, but we found it seductively smooth …
one of those wines you continue to think about for
days. In fact, we brought a bottle home, and although
its contents are long gone, the empty bottle is still
sitting on the kitchen counter, a memento of the lovely
afternoon we spent sharing it with friends.
up is a place we fell in love with the moment we finally
found it. We made more than a few wrong turns in the
parking lot of one of the aforementioned warehouse
complexes before we tracked down Kennedy Shah. The
door was rolled open, exposing the entire front of
the tasting room to the great outdoors. Beneath the
high ceilings in that vast space, the counter backed
by cabinets looked like a model kitchen set up at
a trade show. This industrial appearance—combined
with no attempt whatsoever to be cozy—was truly
tantalizing. Adding to the appeal was owner Bijal
Shah, who stood behind the counter pouring.
community activist and philanthropist born in Mombasa,
Kenya, Bijal owns Kennedy Shah with his wife, Sinead,
English born and a pilot for United. Together with
an uncle, they run Woodhouse Family Cellars, which
produces the label named after the couple’s
daughter, Kennedy. There are so many things to like
about this winery, it’s hard to know where to
begin. How about the twenty percent of gross revenues
it donates to women’s and children’s charities?
Or the gorgeous label that could be framed and easily
passed off as a small work of art? Or the fact that
you’d never know Bijal is the big boss as you
watch him welcome guests and interact with employees?
there are the wines, which are produced using harvests
from the state’s Red Mountain region. Although
located within the Yakima Valley wine district, it
has been federally recognized as its own American
Viticultural Area (AVA). From these grapes, Kennedy
Shah crafts a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, limited
Pinot Noir and blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier,
playfully named after Kennedy’s aunt, Auntie
Meredith’s Picnic Blend. We took home a bottle
of the 2001 Cabernet, whose flavor complemented the
overall Kennedy Shah experience: intriguingly stark,
yet warm and inviting.
Café & Wine Bar
now time to stop for lunch. Unlike in Napa, wineries
here don’t have little cafés or substantial
market areas for whipping up an impromptu picnic.
If you don’t know what you’re looking
for, you may think your only choices involve super-sizing.
Fortunately, we were given the insider tips. The Barking
Frog in Willows Lodge serves a menu of reliable Wine
Country cuisine, and Purple Café & Wine
Bar offers a selection of light fare.
away in a strip mall (surprise, surprise), Purple
is quite pretty inside. It’s the perfect place
to refuel on reasonably priced gourmet pizzas, sandwiches
and salads. In keeping with the rest of the area in
not taking itself too seriously, it has fun with its
cheese flights, which are given such mischievous names
as Pepe le Phew, We Love You!, If Willy Wonka Had
a Cheese Factory, and—our favorite—To
Our Beloved Sea Captain Ivar, which is described as
“a tad dry, sometimes mild, often briny and
always nutty.” Anyone who knows Ivar’s
reputation is sure to chuckle.
Hitting the Big Timers
that you’ve sampled a few smaller venues, we
recommend hitting the big timers. Although technically
the Woodinville Wine Country is new, winemaking in
the area is well established, having flourished out
of the legacy of winemaking in Washington, whose first
vines were planted at Fort Vancouver in 1825. The
industry, helmed mainly by French, German and Italian
immigrants, spread across the state, and by the late
1930s there were over forty wineries in Central and
Eastern Washington. It took a while for the establishment
of a wine scene on the west side, and the leader of
that movement is undisputedly Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Another stronghold, Columbia Winery, set up shop across
the street in 1986.
in 1962 by a group of friends, six of whom were University
of Washington professors, Columbia Winery started
off strong and gained further acclaim in 1979 with
the arrival of David Lake. Lake, who is hailed as
the “Dean of Washington Winemakers,” is
the first winemaker in the state to produce Syrah,
Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris. He is also one of two
Masters of Wine in Woodinville (the other is Robert
Betz). This accolade says much about Woodinville Wine
Country, since the group consists of only twenty members,
and there are scarcely twenty Masters of Wine in all
of America. Housed in a faux Victorian-style manor,
the winery’s tasting room has a casual, neighborhood
bar feel to it—a pleasant place to hang out
we like Columbia Winery, we have to admit that wine
for wine we prefer Chateau Ste. Michelle. If you know
this winery only for its inexpensive grocery store
wines, you will be delighted to discover its premium
vintages. You will also enjoy the setting, which is
the old Hollywood Farm estate that once belonged to
Seattle lumber baron Frederick Stimson. The gardens
are beautiful, and you can take a self-guided tour
of the ornamental cherries, red oak, European copper
beech, weeping Norway spruce, Japanese maple and rhododendrons,
the blowsy Washington State flower.
long as we’re confessing, we also must come
clean on the fact that—despite our ravings about
Kennedy Shah’s modern, unconventional atmosphere—we
really did enjoy the traditional, old-fashioned feel
of Chateau Ste. Michelle. From its French chateau-style
architecture to its casks and fertile, winey smell,
the tasting room is a classic. Like Columbia, it has
a large counter, and when you belly up to it, you
feel as if you’re hanging out at a local joint.
Aiding the down-home attitude are the down-home servers,
whose knowledge is passed along like a story handed
down by a favorite great uncle or aunt. We recommend
the reserve tasting, although in the end we chose
a bottle from the regular serving list. Our pick from
this trip: the 2001 Canoe Ridge Estate Syrah. It was
a favorite with everyone else that day, too, as the
shelf was empty by the time we reached it, and we
had to ask someone to dig through the back room to
a nice long nap at your hotel, it’s time for
dinner at The
Herbfarm, whose nine-course set menu is paired
with five to six wines. Make reservations well in
advance (the norm used to be a year’s lead time!),
and prepare to mingle with lots of Seattleites, who
count this restaurant among their top choices when
celebrating important occasions or simply wanting
to commune with good friends.
we have mentioned just a few wineries, the rest are
certainly worth visiting, which is why more than one
day is ideal. If you’re really intent on sipping
at as many as possible, plan to come during the annual
Passport to Woodinville, when all of the local wineries
open their doors. This spring event is just one of
the many ways the Woodinville Wine Country is wooing
wine lovers. Chateau Ste. Michelle holds big-name,
outdoor concerts in the summer, a farmers market operates
in season, there’s a festive open house on St.
Nicholas Day, and a Northwest Wine and Culinary Village
is on its way. The area is going to grow, and SR-202
may come to resemble Napa’s Highway 29 in years
to come, but one thing is certain to stay the same.
Woodinville will always be Woodinville: low-key, welcoming
and steeped in the pioneer spirit of the Pacific Northwest.
Woodinville Wine Country
14030 NE 145th St.
Woodinville, WA 98072
14111 NE 145th St.
12280 Woodinville Dr. SE
Woodinville, WA 98072
Woodhouse Family Cellars
15500 Woodinville-Redmond Rd.
Woodinville, WA 98072