Sip Your Way Through Puget Sound
Paul Zitarelli shares must-visit vineyards and tasting rooms within easy reach.
To celebrate the publication of Tiger Oak Media’s all-Chinese Seattle Luxury Living magazine, Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty (RSIR) introduced a special English language content series to highlight select articles from the magazine on the RSIR blog. The final post in our series is all about the cottage industry of wineries and tasting rooms in Western Washington to accommodate local wine connoisseurs.
Chateau Ste. Michelle was founded in 1967 (they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary this year), and nine years later, in 1976, they built their French chateau-style winery in Woodinville. Since then, the Woodinville winery scene has exploded, and it is now the undisputed center of Western Washington’s wine universe, boasting nearly 150 wineries and tasting rooms in a very concentrated space.
Let’s begin at the outskirts of the Hollywood District, where farmland gives way to three beautiful wineries. Chateau Ste. Michelle is worth a visit, and not just for historical interest. Its wines remain excellent sources of value, and a trip to their tasting room should include the Col Solare Bottega, where they pour Col Solare, their high-end, Cabernet-focused collaboration with the Antinori family of Italy.
Mike Januik, longtime winemaker at Ste. Michelle, is now the winemaker for Januik Winery and Novelty Hill, which share a beautiful modern tasting room just north of Ste. Michelle. Try the Januik Cabernet Sauvignon from Champoux Vineyard, an iconic site for Washington Cab.
JM Cellars is another gorgeous winery on the outskirts of the Hollywood District, with outdoor patios and gardens where tasters can relax and enjoy owner and winemaker John Bigelow’s robust red wines.
The heart of the Hollywood District contains two Woodinville stalwarts, each founded by a winemaker who began his career on the distribution side of the business. Chris Gorman’s Gorman Winery makes full-throttle, no-holds-barred reds. If they’re pouring the Albatross, Gorman’s Cabernet Sauvignon-Petit Verdot blend, don’t miss it. Mark Ryan Winery now has New Zealander Mike MacMorran at the winemaking helm, and he produces a series of bold, balanced red wines. His classic Bordeaux blends, Long Haul and Dead Horse, are not to be missed.
Wrap up your time in the Hollywood District with a trip to DeLille Cellars Carriage House tasting room. DeLille is among the most acclaimed wineries in Washington. Their Chaleur Blanc (a white Bordeaux blend) is one of the finest white wines produced in the state.
Finish your time in Woodinville up north in the Warehouse District, with visits to a trio of rising stars. Peter Devison makes a series of thrilling wines for Efeste, including refreshing Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs from the coveted, chalky Evergreen Vineyard. Stevens Winery is as notable for Tim and Paige Stevens’ sculptural artwork as it is for their dynamic wines. Try the Black Tongue Syrah, which lives up to its name.
By day, Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen is the sommelier at downtown’s RN74 Restaurant, one of Seattle’s finest gastronomic and wine outposts. By night, he is the winemaker for W.T. Vintners, where he puts his vast wine knowledge to use making delightful wines. His Gruner Veltliner shows that Austria is not the only place that can grow this fickle grape.
The newest local hubs for wineries and tasting rooms are in the gritty industrial areas in the southern reaches of the city—SODO and Georgetown neighborhoods—with winemakers chasing reasonable rents and proximity to Seattleites.
Begin a visit by driving south out of downtown via First Avenue South. Past Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field, the vibe changes from retail and galleries to a mix of manufacturing, industrial, and distribution uses. Two miles south of the stadiums is SODO Urbanworks, a complex that perfectly captures the evolution of this neighborhood. In the past few years, seven tasting rooms have opened here, all within walking distance of one another. Wine connoisseurs can spend an entire day tasting, broken up by a lunch (and maybe a cold beer) at the excellent Schooner Exact Brewing Company.
Three of the wineries at SODO Urbanworks produce wine in their spaces, so if you’re visiting during harvest time (September through November) be sure to start with this trio to see grapes fermenting and making the magical transformation into wine. Kerloo Cellars is the longest-tenured winery at the complex, and winemaker Ryan Crane built his reputation with a series of beautiful Syrahs, many from single vineyards. Andrew Latta was the assistant winemaker at the acclaimed K Vintners/Charles Smith Wines for many years, and recently launched his own winery, LATTA. Grenache and Malbec are his twin calling cards. At Structure Cellars, Brian Grosso makes lovely food-friendly wines. His Cabernet Francs are especially compelling.
Other tasting rooms at SODO Urbanworks include a trio of influential wineries based in Walla Walla who have chosen SODO for their Seattle outposts: Rotie Cellars, Sleight of Hand Cellars, and Waters Winery all offer excellent tasting experiences. At Waters, be sure to ask if they’re pouring 21 Grams, their ultra-luxury cuvee and a real rarity.
Further to the south, just north of Boeing Field, is Jet City, the capital of Charles Smith’s sprawling wine empire. Smith, who made a huge splash in Washington wine circles last year when he sold five of his brands for a staggering $120 million, opened his massive Georgetown production facility and tasting room in 2015, and it has proven an immediate success, drawing large crowds eager to sample Smith’s broad range of wines. The most exciting bottles are Smith’s single-vineyard Syrahs, which range from $30 to as much as $150.
Bainbridge Island is a short 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle, but its pastoral setting makes it feel further afield. The island contains seven wineries, all of which are open during “Wine on the Rock” event weekends throughout the year. There are three tasting rooms with regular open hours within walking distance of the ferry terminal: Eagle Harbor Wine Company, Eleven Winery and Island Vintners, which is a co-op tasting room for Amelia Wynn and Fletcher Bay Winery.
If you drive your car onto the ferry, you can experience Bainbridge Island’s rural setting by visiting Bainbridge Vineyards. All of winemaker Betsey Wittick’s wines come from estate vineyards onsite at the winery, and they include a series of delicate white wines, as well as an ethereal Pinot Noir, rare to see grown anywhere in Washington.
About the Author: Paul Zitarelli is owner and head scribe for award-winning SoDo-based retailer Full Pull Wines, where he offers his private mailing list access to the best boutique wines of the world. Full Pull’s mailing list is still open (for now): at fullpullwines.com
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