Last weekend, we left sunny southern California and headed up to Seattle to explore the wine country in Woodinville, Washington.
Woodinville is an easy 30 minute drive from downtown Seattle along lush forests and over long, floating bridges. I had never been outside the city and was blown away by how beautiful the area was. When we arrived in the picture-perfect little town of Woodinville, it was foggy and misting which only made the colors on the changing trees more vibrant. After what has been a really strange year weather-wise in Los Angeles, it FINALLY felt like fall.
We decided to begin our day with breakfast at a local restaurant called Barking Frog. The name comes from “the Native American storytellers use of the Frog as a symbol of wealth or abundance. When the frogs are barking, it is a sign of peace and harmony in nature.”
This cozy, rustic restaurant features both a chef (Chef Bobby) who was once invited to cook at the historic James Beard House in New York City and a wine list that has received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence five years in a row. Even more importantly, the restaurant had an incredible casual warmth to it and the food was absolutely delicious. We watched the restaurant’s resident peacock roam the grounds as we enjoyed our food. It was a great and highly recommended way to start a day of wine tasting – especially considering Barking Frog’s convenient location at the beginning of the wine country “loop”.
After breakfast, we were ready to begin our day of wine tasting. Woodinville Wine Country is arranged in a loop composed of tasting rooms representing over 50 Washington wineries, ranging from one of the biggest wineries in the state to several small production boutiques. Almost all Woodinville wineries grow their grapes in the warm, arid climate of Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley which shares similar latitudes to the great wine regions of Northern Europe.
We decided to start with the biggest and most well-known – Chateau Ste. Michelle – which was a quick 5 minute drive from the Barking Frog. The Woodinville wine industry actually began with the establishment of Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1976 and the industry has been growing and flourishing ever since.
Chateau Ste. Michelle was a truly impressive winery with beautifully landscaped grounds, a large tasting room and a wine-focused gift shop. Visitors can also take a tour of the facilities to learn more about the wine making process. We each decided to do a tasting where we sampled 4 of the 8 wines they were pouring for a $10 fee. Some of these wines can be found at major grocery stores while others can only be purchased at the Chateau.
I decided to try an ’08 Pinot Gris, ’05 Chenin Blanc, ’07 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and an ’05 Petit Verdot. While I thought they were all quite good and nicely balanced, the Cabernet Sauvignon was a clear stand out for me.
After our tasting, we continued along the loop and stopped at Novelty Hill/Januik. Novelty Hill and Januik are two independent wineries that share a tasting room and production facility in Woodinville. Acclaimed winemaker Mike Januik makes the wine for both labels, working with leading Columbia Valley vineyards, including the wineries’ own estate vineyard Stillwater Creek.
The Novelty Hill/Januik winery is a modern architectural masterpiece with a design that works in perfect balance with the natural environment. Dominant use of cold gray concrete mirroring the often overcast Washington sky is warmed by rich woods, splashes of colored artwork, vibrant green gardens, an outdoor fire pit, an open cellar/barrel room, and lots of natural light coming in through the many glass features.
Novelty Hill and Januik are both committed to delivering consistent high quality wines using nurturing and innovative artisanal winemaking processes. Visitors are able to taste wines from both labels, with 3 different tasting options. The Colombia Valley Tasting allows for 4 wine samples from a combination of Novelty Hill and Januik for $5. The “King Cab” Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting features 4 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes for $10, and the Single Vineyard & Reserve Tasting is a mix and match of 4 single vineyard and reserve wines for $10 (Friday through Sunday only).
I wanted to familiarize myself with wines from the different single vineyards in the Columbia Valley, so I opted for the Single Vineyard/Reserve tasting and found several of the Cabernet Sauvignon’s to be exceptional, rivaling some of the great Cabs of Napa Valley. Novelty Hill/Januik is a definite “must see” for anyone visiting the area.
We purchased a couple of bottles at Novelty Hill/Januik and headed on to Efeste. Efeste is the northernmost winery along the Woodinville wine country loop, but it’s well worth the visit. Stand outs here included a 2009 Babbitt Rosé Syrah made from 100% Syrah grapes, an ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend called Final Final, and a 2007 Big Papa made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Efeste also had a gratis cheese and cracker plate that complemented our tasting perfectly.
At this point, we were running out of time so we headed to one more winery – Mark Ryan Winery. Mark Ryan McNeilly is an artisan winemaker with a rock and roll edge whose wines have received several rave reviews from Wine Spectator.
The tasting room at Mark Ryan was one of the coolest we saw on our tasting trip. The walls were decorated with colorful rock and roll posters, restored vintage motorcycles were on display, and the tasting menu was written on a chalkboard above a wonderfully aged yellow credenza.
Mark hand crafts all his wines in a garage in Bellevue, Washington and aims to create wines that are expressive of the region where the grapes are grown. He lets his grapes ripen quite a bit resulting in wines that are big, flavorful, and juicy, but also very nicely balanced.
Most of the wines we tasted at Mark Ryan were Bordeaux blends (Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon), some with Syrah or Petit Verdot added which gave the wines bold body and unique personality. I liked all the wines we tasted here, but my favorite was the ’08 The Dissident ($32). We bought a bottle and brought it back to Seattle to enjoy at dinner.
I very much enjoyed our trip to Woodinville Wine Country and felt like we really only scratched the wine tasting surface in this beautiful area. The wines we tasted were consistently very, very good. Cabernet Sauvignon seemed to shine here, along with Merlot and Syrah. In fact, I felt the Cabernet we tried was on par with some of the best I’ve tasted out of Napa. I look forward to getting back to Woodinville to explore it further. It is well worth a visit and recommend to anyone who has an appreciation for the natural beauty of the Northwest and a passion for great wine… all within a short drive from Seattle.
Click here to visit the Barking Frog website.
Click here to visit the Chateau Ste. Michelle website.
Click here to visit the Novelty Hill Winery website.
Click here to visit the Januik Winery website.
Click here to visit the Efeste Winery website.
Click here to visit the Mark Ryan Winery website.
Click here to visit the Woodinville Wine Country website.