Finding the right time to head to the Pacific Northwest can be quite difficult when you’re spoiled with sunshine and beautiful beaches in Florida. Ideally I would choose July when the weather is much warmer, the chances of sunshine much better, and I can spend time with my dad and little sister for a week. This usually includes my aunts and uncles flying out for a family gathering, taking part in Bite of Seattle where food vendors fill the lawn of the Seattle Center offering samples of their latest creations or the trendiest new delights, and an over all a good time. However, we missed that window this year and instead we got to experience Fall in the PNW.
To be honest, I’ve never visited Seattle in the Fall. It’s always been either winter or summer, but after this visit I would have to say that Fall in the Pacific Northwest is a requirement. The fresh smell of the pine trees, the cool air, and the fire burning glow of the colors of the leaves as they transform between summer and winter almost made me think twice about coming home.
Unfortunately, our trip was just a mere 3 days and 4 nights, so we decided to make the best of it. Our choice of fulfilling that short window consisted of taking advantage of the many wineries that the area offers. The number of wineries situated in Washington State are almost innumerable and after this visit I know we have many more to explore. I’ll touch on the three wineries and the whisky distillery that we visited in Woodinville in this post.
My dad happened to be hosting 4 foreign exchange students from Denmark at the time which meant we had a full house and a lot of excitement. After a little bit of leg pulling and the boys being off to class for the day, Ryan, my dad and I set off to Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
If you are ever in Woodinville, Chateau Ste. Michelle is a great winery to start with. This was my personal favorite of the few wineries that we visited. The general tour and tasting were free, but the openings for tours are limited to 10 people at a time. With the variation of seasons and weather, I can’t imagine that there is ever a bad time to visit. My biggest suggestion is that you arrive early.
Our tour consisted to 3 red and 2 whites wines. You will get a quick glimpse of the vats that hold a number of the wines in production, learn about a few of their specialty wines, and get a lesson on the various valleys of Washington where grapes are grown. To my surprise, the climate on the eastern coast of Washington appears to vary greatly from the western coast. Eastern Washington is more arid, dry, and the perfect breeding ground for grapes used in wine making versus the cold, rainy, and damp western coast. Sadly, this tour did not provide the opportunity to fulfill my Lucy and Ethel dreams of stomping grapes. These particular grapes are actually pressed closer to their origins and the pressed juice is then transported into Woodinville to fill the vats on the winery grounds.
The Enoteca Experience
As if our five glass tasting was not enough to confirm the fact that we were sold on Chateau Ste. Michelle wine, when our tour guide explained the additional divisions of wine the company specialized in, we agreed that we wanted to try their Enoteca wine tasting. The Enoteca consists of a global selection of wines including assorted wines from New Zealand, France, Spain, Oregon, and Italy to name a few. The Enoteca flight costs $25 for 5 wine samples. If you purchase $25 of wine that fee is waived.
The wonderful thing about the Enoteca tasting is that it includes not just a diverse selection of global wines, but a diversity in types of wines. Our selection that day included wines from Marchese Antinori: 2017 Vermentino Doc (white), 2017 Scalabrone Doc (Rose), 2016 Il Bruciato Doc (blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah), 2015 Cont’ugo Doc (Merlot), and a 2015 Bolgheri Supriore Doc (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot).
If I am being honest, I was never really a fan of red wines up until that moment. The harsh bitterness the I used to get from red wine was no longer a problem. I’m not sure if that is because I was simply in a winery or because I was being served quality red wine. Needless to say, Ryan and I have been on a red wine kick since.
If you want the most bang from your experience whether you just do the free tour or a specialty tasting, Chateau Ste. Michelle would easily be my top suggestion. Be sure to stick around and eat lunch on their grounds and keep a look out for concerts that are held on the winery grounds. My dad was able to attend an Earth, Wind, and Fire concert on the grounds not long ago and raved about it.
Since Woodinville is all of 15-20 minutes from my dad’s house and with the weather being a little colder than what we are used to in Florida, Ryan and I made a second trip to Woodinville the next day to do more wine tastings. Columbia Winery is located directly across the street from Chateau Ste. Michelle. Seeing as to how it was October, we were greeted by orange, red, and yellow leaves as far as the eye could see and perched among them was a black and white cottage style building which serves as the tasting room.
The Columbia Winery at this location mainly serves as a tasting room and an event space. For $15, you sample 5 wines served with a lesson on where and how the grapes used for Columbia wine come from. Luckily for this tasting, there is no reservation required. We were able to walk right up to the bar and be served. As with many of the wineries in the area if you buy a bottle’s worth of wine, the cost of the tasting can be waived. We were fortunate enough to have a sommelier who was extremely enthusiastic about the wines they served and was very interested sharing his wealth of knowledge. Although, I wish we could have seen how the wine was made, we learned how each type of grape is harvested to produce certain types of wine. This is the winery that I will credit with my new found love of Chianti. Our sommelier introduced us to a 2015 Chianti. According to him, regardless of which Washington winery produced it… 2015 was the year of the Chianti.
Woodinville Whiskey Company was a side adventure for Ryan and literally around the corner from Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Winery. If I had to guess the three are within a 5 minute walk of each other. The property houses a pizzeria, a whiskey tasting bar, and you’ll even get a glimpse of how they make their whiskey. We were a little too early for the whiskey tour, but were up to the tasting. I’m not much of a whiskey kind of girl, but Ryan and I had the option of sharing a whiskey flight. If am not mistaken, a flight of 4 whiskey samples is $20. With the tasting you will get an education on how they prepare their various whiskeys, how whiskeys around the world vary, and get a better understanding of how different ryes and grains can develop the taste of a particular whiskey.
During this excursion, I was more so there for moral support. I tasted enough of each to wet my tongue and even that was too strong for me. My favorite part however, was the last sample that they left us with. None other than the Woodinville Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup. That was definitely more of my speed. All in all Ryan enjoyed this tasting. If you’re a whiskey drinker, this would be his recommendation.
The last winery we stumbled upon was an adorable and charming family owned winery called JM Cellars. JM Cellars is named after a husband and wife duo, John and Margaret. What was once their home has been turned into a lovely tasting room. This winery is located just up the hill from the other 3 tasting rooms that I have mentioned on this blog, but is tucked away down a long driveway covered in foliage and that radiates with the aromatic smell of pine. The winery is cozy and gives you the warm feeling of being home. The grounds include a beautiful event space, a walking trail down to a spring, and what I would summarize as chance truly enjoy Washington’s natural scenery.
The tasting room is open Fridays-Sundays from 11 AM-4 PM and costs $15 per person which is refundable with a purchase of $35. This tasting features 5 wines. Again, you will be provided with a lesson on what makes their wine so special and the history of this particular winery. What I loved most about this particular winery is how warm and welcoming the environment was and how well it has maintained its family touch. This place is a hidden gem. This was the only winery that we purchased a bottle of wine from to bring back home with us. We snagged a bottle of their 2016 Cinsaut Red which appears to currently be sold out.
You’re encouraged to enjoy your wine anywhere on the grounds that you please. So Ryan and I opted to venture down to the spring that rests at the bottom of the property’s nature trail. Along the way we were blown away when we spotted some deer and how by how peaceful, pure, and untouched the property was. After making it to spring we sat briefly and took a moment to appreciate how beautiful Washington truly is. This was the perfect note to end our wine excursion on.
In all of my trips to Washington, I will admit that this was probably one of my favorites. I got the experience the fall and changing of the leaves that we so long for in Florida, enjoy some vino with my husband and my dad, and grow an even broader appreciation for wine. I can happily say that this will surely not be our last trip to Woodinville for wine tasting because there are innumerous wineries that make up Woodinville. Wines from other parts of the US receive so much praise, but I think Washington certainly can stand on her own. If you’re ever in the Seattle area and want to get away from the city and would enjoy some relaxation and wine, Woodinville will be calling your name.