Sip and Stay in Woodinville Wine Country

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SIP & STAY IN WOODINVILLE WINE COUNTRY
by Debbie Stone

 

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Debbie Stone shares her adventures in Woodinville Wine Country. Listen to her interview here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Spreaker, Podbean, or SoundCloud.

 

Years ago, when I lived in Woodinville, Washington there was only one winery – Chateau Ste. Michelle. Built in the French chateau-style and set amid lush grounds, it was (and still is) the grand dame of Woodinville. A visit to this “queen” for wine tours and tastings transported me to another time and place. And in the summer, I would look forward to attending the winery’s outdoor concerts, complete with colorful hot air balloons drifting above the magical setting. 

Little did I know that Chateau Ste. Michelle was only the tip of the iceberg of a burgeoning wine industry in Woodinville, and what would eventually become the wine mecca of Washington State. 

Today, there are over 130 wineries and tasting rooms that make their home in this idyllic locale and the number is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. It might also surprise you that the town boasts more 90+ rated vintages than any wine region in the world! 

As to why Woodinville is a “wine magnet,” many believe that location is a key factor. The city is close to Seattle (about a half-hour away), but far enough away to maintain its small-town feel. And when Chateau Ste. Michelle moved to the area back in 1976, it put Woodinville on the map for other industry partners. 

In 2017, the City of Woodinville conducted a tourism study and found that close to 800,000 people visited the town that year with wine-related activities the dominant attraction. They come from all over the region and beyond to taste celebrated wines from legendary producers and discover lesser-known vintages from new kids on the block.

Currently, there are four distinct wine districts in the city: Hollywood, Warehouse, West Valley, and Downtown. And there are plans for more developments with construction already underway.

Though many of the wine establishments are tasting rooms created by wineries located on the eastern side of the state, there are dozens of businesses that actually produce wine right on-site in Woodinville, such as Novelty Hill Januik, DeLille Cellars, Sparkman Cellars, Patterson Cellars, and Lobo Hills, among others. 

On a recent visit to Woodinville, I did tastings at Mark Ryan Winery and DeLille Cellars. Now, I need to confess that I do not have a sophisticated palette when it comes to vino, thus I am not a dedicated wine writer, so my descriptions of wines are very simple. Most of the time, I’m able to taste the overriding essences of wines, but when it comes to the subtleties, I’m not quite there yet. Truthfully, I like to go wine tasting, not just for the wine, but for all the other aspects of the experience – the ambiance, the backstories behind the place, and the conviviality of the scene. 

Winemaker Mark Ryan’s journey began in 1999 with a few tons of grapes in a friend’s garage. The first vintage was a success and sold out immediately and the rest is history. Largely a self-taught winemaker, Mark’s goal from the get-go has been to make the highest quality wines in Washington State. 

This boutique winery has been ranked “One of the Top 100 Wineries in the World” by Wine & Spirits Magazine, while Mark was named “Winemaker of the Year” by Seattle Magazine. Award-winning wines are the norm here and their names and artistically illustrated bottle labels are notable. 

The winery’s tasting room in Woodinville has a hip and happening vibe. Vintage furniture, motorcycles, and posters of rock bands adorn the place, while music abounds. The motorcycles come from Mark’s collection, as he has a passion for these flashy “beasts.” One of his wines, Board Track Racer, is inspired by this passion. The posters are representative of the winemaker’s penchants for rock music and reflect a steady diet of attending live shows featuring such groups as the Foo Fighters, Alabama Shakes, Pearl Jam, and The Strokes. According to Mark, the posters also make for good wall art. 

You’ll find the tasting room staff to be friendly and upbeat, as well as knowledgeable about the regularly rotating selection of wines they’re pouring. During my visit, I sampled the 2020 Lu & Oly, a light, sparkly and bright chardonnay named for Mark Ryan’s two daughters, Lucia and Olivia; 2018 Lost Soul, a Syrah with notes of blackberry and plum; 2019 Monkey Wrench, a well-balanced Bordeaux blend with a long finish; 2018 Lonely Heart, a bold, earthy Cabernet Sauvignon; and 2018 Long Haul, a full-bodied, smooth red, composed primarily of merlot. The latter is named for the many lengthy treks Mark made from his home to the vineyards in pursuit of actualizing his dreams. 

DeLille Cellars, a boutique artisan winery, is a pioneer of Bordeaux-style blends (both red and white) in Washington State. Founded in 1992, DeLille is widely regarded as having had a pivotal influence in establishing the state as a premier viticultural region with a tradition of quality over its 29-year history. 

The renowned winery has crafted over 200 top-rated wines and has received many accolades, including being honored as a “Wine & Spirits Top 100 Winery” and “Wine Enthusiast Wine Star – Top Five American Wineries.”

DeLille’s new, modern tasting room, occupies a three-story building, where seated wine tastings occur inside on the various levels, as well as alfresco on the patios. I tasted four wines: the 2020 Chaleur Blanc, which had hints of peaches, lemon, and grapefruit with a definite oak influence; 2019 Roofline Pinot Noir, defined by its notes of cherry and raspberry; a rich and luscious 2017 Grand Ciel Syrah; the 2018 Le Colosse, a lively, plummy Merlot; and the Four Flags 2018, a Cab Sauvignon with a meld of savory and fruity essences.

I accompanied my tasting experience with a delicious charcuterie plate. The array of meats, cheeses, and fruit paired nicely with the different wines and provided a range of textures and flavors. 

Recently the winery opened The Lounge at DeLille, an onsite restaurant with a full menu and of course, wine by the glass or bottle. The menu includes fresh pastas, market fish specials, salads, and interestingly, poutine, among other dishes. It’s on the list for my next visit to Woodinville. 

Though wine plays a dominant role in Woodinville, beer and spirits are also represented at several local breweries and distilleries. If you’ve got Fido with you, check out Ales and Tails, a combo indoor dog park and taproom, and the only facility in town allowing dogs to roam freely off-leash. 

Over at Woodinville Whiskey, you’ll find small-batch, artisanal spirits. Before coming to Woodinville, Master Distiller, David Pickerel, was a fourteen-year veteran of Maker’s Mark and is a legend in the industry, so you can expect the quality to be top-notch.  

The Caribbean comes to life at Woodinville at Puget Sound Rum, Woodinville’s first rum distillery. Here, traditional Jamaican rum-making methods are used, albeit with a twist, to create flavorful varieties like Comb & Cane Honey Infused. After a few sips, you might just hear steel drums! 

Hard cider aficionados will appreciate the modern ciders at Locust Cider, with such offerings as Peach Ginger, Hibiscus, Watermelon, and Mojito. And if you’re curious about the name, it stems from the drone of locusts that founder Jason Spears heard while waiting for an ambulance after having a near-death experience as a teen. The noise became a symbol of strength, perseverance, and calm – a trio of qualities that have served him well in his cider venture. 

When it comes to accommodations, the place to stay is Willows Lodge. Located in the heart of Woodinville Wine Country on five gorgeously landscaped acres bordering the Sammamish River, this upscale property is a treat for the senses and a haven of relaxation and rejuvenation.

You know you’re somewhere special when you drive up to the entrance and see the hollowed shell of a massive, 1,500-year-old cedar snag. Brought here from the Olympic Peninsula, it is a reminder of logging days when twenty-foot or taller stumps were left behind because they were too big to take to the mill. The lodge itself is constructed of 100-year-old Douglas fir timbers, which give it a handsome, rustic appeal. This wood is carried throughout the property and showcased in the impressively crafted furniture. 

Enter the expansive lobby and you’re greeted by a huge stone fireplace and tall beamed ceilings. Art, particularly Northwest Coast Native American works, is everywhere you look – in the public spaces, guest rooms, and throughout the gardens. Pieces on display were created by contemporary masters of this artistic tradition and culture. Thematic concepts focus on spiritual, animal, and natural worlds.

Right beyond the lobby is the Fireside Lounge, where you can enjoy a libation or two (more wine anyone?). And when the weather gods are smiling, this cozy bar transforms into an alluring indoor/outdoor space with a patio and firepit. 

Rooms, each with their own private patio, are tastefully decorated and have stone fireplaces, ultra-comfy beds with 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, and spacious bathrooms with oversized soaking tubs and Molton Brown toiletries. Pampered, yes. Over the top, no. And that suits me just fine, as I’m all about comfort and refined warmth, which is what you’ll find at the Willows Lodge. That and impeccable service performed by a friendly, hospitable staff.  

Make sure to stroll the grounds, as they’re stunning. The flowers and plants provide bursts of color, texture, and intoxicating scents. You’ll discover water features, sculptures, a stone hut, a gazebo, and…a pair of pet pigs named Basil and Borage! The pigs belong to The Herbfarm, Washington State’s only five-star restaurant. Though situated on the property, The Herbfarm is not owned by Willows Lodge. World-renowned, this restaurant offers a nine-course dinner with wine pairings for a unique gastronomy experience. As expected, you’ll have to dig deep into your wallet for this one.

The lodge’s highly acclaimed restaurant, Barking Frog, gets my vote when it comes to having that special meal, whether in the warm, inviting dining room with its welcoming fireplace or if weather permits, out on the picture-pretty patio. The restaurant’s name comes from Native American storytellers use of the frog as a symbol of wealth or abundance. 

Executive Chef Bobby Moore works his magic in the kitchen with a seasonal, innovative menu that emphasizes fresh, quality ingredients sourced from local farmers, foragers, and purveyors.

My husband and I split the shaved zucchini salad and roasted heirloom carrots with walnut-miso “hummus,” followed by the wild king salmon with a veggie succotash and corn fritters for me, and the grilled octopus and smoked brisket in black garlic barbeque sauce for him – an interesting combo, but one that he continued to wax rhapsodic about weeks later. Other entrees included such dishes as seared scallops, steak for two, grilled pork chop, lamb chops, halibut, and stuffed poblano with risotto. 

For “The Finish,” try the blueberry brown butter cake with mascarpone gelato or the vanilla bean pot de crème with rhubarb compote. You’ll waddle out the door, sated and content. 

Up the wellness ante during your stay with a treatment at the lodge’s onsite spa. Or spend time in the hydrotherapy pool or sauna. An evening soak under the stars proved to be the key to a restful night of sleep for me.

When you’re not sipping or tasting, take time to explore the outdoors. Walk or bike the bucolic Sammamish River Trail, kayak, or go paddleboarding on a nearby lake or river. Also, within easy reach are numerous spots to hike and ski in the Cascade Mountains, a preeminent recreational paradise.

If you go:

Willows Lodge: www.willowslodge.com   

Mark Ryan Winery: www.markryanwinery.com  

Delille Cellars: www.delillecellars.com  

www.woodinvillewinecountry.com  

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness, and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and all seven continents.

 

 

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About the Author:

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines.

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