While spending time in Seattle, Washington this spring, I decided to drive to Woodinville to check out for myself what all the fuss was about. Why are so many wineries here? What’s the draw? I met with Cynthia Daste, the Executive Director of Woodinville Wine Country, and spent an afternoon visiting wineries and talking about this unique juxtaposition of tasting rooms representing Washington state wines. With over 80 wineries and tasting rooms, and only 30 minutes from Seattle, Woodinville provides an experience like nowhere else in America.
The Woodinville wine industry began with the establishment of Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in 1976. This French-style winery stamped an elegant footprint in Woodinville, and was immediately a tourist destination. Chateau Ste. Michelle produced wines from their vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA in eastern Washington, and continues to produce quality wines today.
The “Why Woodinville?” is fairly simple. With most vineyards located in warmer, more arid eastern Washington, it made sense to offer consumers and tourists the opportunity to sample wines within one small community. Woodinville’s close proximity to Seattle provides an economic base from the population, and offers tourists a day trip from Seattle to discover the multitude of wines Washington has to offer in a relaxed, rural setting.
Our first stop was the Novelty Hill/Januik winery. Winemaker Mike Januik gave us a tour of the state-of-the-art facility. Astounding. The winery is a destination not only for renowned wines, but corporate events and weddings which keep them booked year round. Mike’s wine-making reputation goes before him. With a Master’s Degree in enology and viticulture from U.C. Davis, California, voted as one of the world’s ten “Masters of Merlot” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and having over a dozen wines appear in Wine Spectator’s “Top 100″ list…….well, he couldn’t have been more accommodating and modest. Novelty Hill/Januik has access to some of Washington’s most prized fruit, along with their own stellar vineyards. We tried some amazing Cabernets, and a Chardonnay that made me re-think my less-than-enthusiastic regard for most Chardonnays. However the wine that I fell in love with was the Novelty Hill 2009 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Viognier. With 96% Viognier and 4% Roussanne, aromas of floral, pear and apricot, it was truly a Viognier to remember. (I’m hoping no one noticed the case I snuck out to the car)
The next stop was the tasting room of J. Bookwalter, which like most of the tasting rooms in Woodinville can be reached within five minutes of each other. Their eastern Washington location in Richland was voted Sunset Magazine’s 2010 Winery Tasting Room of the Year. The Bookwalter family has deep roots in agriculture and the Washington wine and viticulture industry. With the addition of world-renowned winemaker Zelma Long in 2000, the J. Bookwalter Winery devoted more emphasis to their red wines. With a new focus and revitilization, a rebranding ensued…and ensue it did. Out came “literary terms” for wines. Names such as Anecdote, Protagonist, Conflict and Foreshadow were coined, bringing a fun way to think about the wines. While a major focus has been reds, we were in the mood for whites today and sampled a killer 2010 Anecdote Reisling Columbia Valley.
Last, but certainly not least, we visited Rod Balsley at William Church Winery. Rod is immediately likeable, as if we’d known him for years. He took time to give us the backstory on everything from sourcing grapes, to his phiosophies on winemaking. After extensive travel with his wife, Leslie, and falling in love with the wines of Italy, the decision was made to jump into winemaking in 2005. Apparently a quick study in crafting wines, William Church has already been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. The name William Church is a tribute to their respective father’s names, and will no doubt begin a long tradition of winemaking in Washington. The William Church 2010 Voignier was heavenly…….and as if on cue, two women walked in asking for the Voignier they had heard so much about. We begrudgingly shared the bottle. Perhaps the winemakers in Washington know how to kick out fabulous Voigniers? Apparently so.
Our education finished for the day, we thanked Cynthia for being a versed and fun host. If the people we met today are any indication of the Washington wine industry, we’re pretty impressed. Welcoming, warm and intensly knowledgeable. Cheers to you!