In Woodinville Wine Country, vino, veritas

July 8, 2014

By Peter Clark

Does winding through Woodinville’s wine country sound like a fantastic way to spend a day? You’re right — it is.

A number of wineries have bloomed in the bursting local industry along the northwestern tip of Lake Washington. When world-famous Chateau Ste. Michelle winery settled in the area in 1976, it brought with it a gradual wave of other wineries and, of course, wine lovers.

Currently, more than 100 wineries call the Woodinville area home. Now, you can experience those on the Woodinville Wine Country shuttle, every first and third Saturday from July 5 to Sept. 20.

By Peter Clark Above, John Bigelow, JM Cellars co-owner, stands on the bocce ball court that doubles as a wedding venue.

By Peter Clark
John Bigelow, JM Cellars co-owner, stands on the bocce ball court that doubles as a wedding venue.

On a cold, drizzly June 13, our shuttle dropped us off in a lovely spot located in the Hollywood District. It turned out to be my favorite of the day.

If you go

Second annual Lavender Festival at Woodinville
July 11-13
Stroll the fields, listen to live music, watch artists, enjoy lavender food, activities and more.
$3 entry fee; ages 5 and younger free

Woodinville Wine Country shuttle
First and third Saturday
Noon to 5 p.m.
July 5 to Sept. 20 4This shuttle connects Woodinville’s Warehouse District with the Hollywood District.
For $10, hop on and off as many times you wish.

JM Cellars is not only a winery, it is a seven-acre arboretum, on a hill quaintly called Bramble Bump. Perhaps the foliage looked extra spectacular in the misty air, or perhaps the first wine tasting added an extra bit of romanticism to my morning mind, but the rustic cottage and surrounding woods felt simply magical.

Grabbing a bottle of merlot, owner John Bigelow took us on a wet walk of the grounds. The arboretum includes maintained trails and a strip of vibrant green where visitors play bocce ball on better days.

As with most wineries in the Woodinville area, JM Cellars does not grow its grapes on the wooded land. Instead, it gets its grapes from vineyards throughout the state. However, you will see rows and rows of impressive looking barrels and all the machinery it takes to turn those grapes into wine.

Bigelow said he works with local colleges to get interns who are studying viticulture, the fancy name for the science of grapes. And, of course, he gets volunteers to stomp grapes, awarding their leg work with a bottle.

In Woodinville’s Warehouse District, you’ll be tempted by the bland-looking storage units and buildings to judge the book by its cover. But more than 30 wineries inhabit the area, with each owner turning each space into his or her own uniquely decorated business. The mystery as to what each winery has to offer is tantalizing.

We visited Patterson Cellars, in one of the Warehouse District’s many alleys, and Tasting Room Manager Stephanie Cuffel greeted us with a smile, crackers and many wines to taste.

She showed us how the business uses the space, which appeared much larger on the inside, to make and store wine from the grapes it imports from Eastern Washington vineyards. All the while, she kept an ongoing conversation about what wines we preferred and graciously tried to accommodate our tastes with the winery’s offerings.

At Lauren Ashton Cellars, a well-lit, welcoming room greets wine tasters making their way from place to place. A gaggle of smiling people situated themselves around a charming older man and discussed each taste with exuberance. The decor used every bit of old wine barrels, making wall decorations, tables and chairs from the remnants of the former fermenters.

Though I did not respond to any of the wines there, I think it offered a comfortable, social space for those interested in experiencing wine with others.

Our group ended our trip with a visit to the fragrant fields of Woodinville Lavender.

This small lavender farm cast a gorgeous hue on the brightening day as local owner Tom Frei told us the story of how he left aerospace engineering to fulfill his agriculture dream. On the grounds, he grows multiple types of beautiful lavender. With the crop, he distills it down into essential oils, makes products to sell in the local farm shop and works with other regional producers to incorporate the locally grown flower into many products.

With a chocolate-covered hazelnut and lavender ice cream bar, Woodinville Lavender was the perfect pairing to a day sipping wine.

Many other wineries dot the scenic hillsides of Woodinville and each of them look individual in its presentation and surely offer distinctive wines. The whole experience exposed me to the charm and whimsy of the valley. I knew immediately I would recommend the shuttle to my parents on their next visit to the area. And I also knew I would tag along.


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