WOODINVILLE, Wash. —
If you can't bring the people to the wineries, you've got to bring the wineries to the people. That's the philosophy that created a tourism boom in Woodinville, a town of 10,000 people located a half-hour's drive northeast of Seattle.
Beginning in the 1970s, scores of vineyards were planted in the warm, semi-arid climate of eastern Washington, three to six hours' drive southeast of Seattle. Grape growers established their wineries amid their vines in the Yakima and Columbia valleys and the Walla Walla region. Only a few winemakers considered the obvious advantages of building their businesses closer to metropolitan Puget Sound.
One of them, however, was the state's oldest winery, the American Wine Co., founded in Seattle in 1934 with the repeal of Prohibition. At tiny Woodinville, its owners discovered an early-20th-century lumber baron's 87-acre estate ripe for redevelopment. They built a French-style chateau — in the process renaming their company Chateau Ste. Michelle — on the former Hollywood Farm (holly trees once lined the main drive) and began trucking its grapes over from a Columbia Valley vineyard.
The Columbia Winery opened up across the street in 1988. Over the next 20 years, a few other growers followed suit. But the rush didn't begin until the 21st century, after the Washington State Legislature passed a law that allowed wineries to have satellite tasting rooms away from their wineries.
Within a few years, dozens of tasting rooms — and a few wine-production facilities — were offering flights of wine in a location where their direct-to-consumer sales and brand awareness campaigns could burgeon. Today there are nearly 100 wineries and tasting rooms in Woodinville, and the number continues to grow.
As the wineries multiplied, Woodinville's hospitality industry flourished. A luxurious urban resort, the Willows Lodge, opened near Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia in the fall of 2000, and greater Seattle's best-known prix-fixe restaurant, the Herbfarm, established itself on the same grounds in early 2001. Craft breweries and distilleries followed.
Today, a visit to the Woodinville Wine Country — and yes, that's a proper name — is a popular weekend getaway destination for residents of the greater Seattle area, and out-of-staters are increasingly identifying it as a place for one-stop wine shopping.
Willows by the river
Woodinville was pioneered in 1871, when Susan and Ira Woodin left Seattle and traveled up the Sammamish River to harvest timber and farm cattle on the cleared land. A town grew up around their log cabin, which subsequently became the first school and post office. But it remained somewhat remote until the years following World War II, when improved transportation knitted Woodinville (situated immediately north of the Microsoft hub of Redmond) into the Seattle metropolitan area. The town remained unincorporated until 1992, when residents voted to become their own city rather than be annexed by neighboring Bothell.
Frederick Stimson built his Manor House, now a state historic site on the Ste. Michelle grounds, in 1912. In 1923, he added a hunting lodge in the low woodlands along the Sammamish River.
When the new Willows Lodge opened in the same location as the lodge in September 2000, it retained the heritage not only of Stimson's time, but also of the Native Americans who preceded him and Ira Woodin in this valley. And it quickly became the hub of Woodinville tourism.
Spreading across five acres beside the Sammamish River, the Willows is surrounded by well-tended gardens that extend south to state Highway 202 and north along the riverbank to dog-walking trails and a corporate team-building ropes course. In addition to 84 guest rooms, the hotel incorporates a serene day spa with an outdoor hydrotherapy pool, extensive meeting space, and the Fireside lounge where music and other special events are commonplace.
The heavy use in construction of locally milled Douglas fir and quarried stone perpetuate a Northwest-themed lodge feel. And there's extensive display of Northwest coastal tribal art, including reproductions of pieces by the late Haida woodcarver Bill Reid. They complement numerous historical photos of Frederick Stimson's Woodinville.
In the heart of a traffic circle in front of the lodge, the charred remains of a 1,500-year-old Olympic Peninsula cedar stump artistically separates the hotel from its Barking Frog restaurant. A large fire pit, centerpiece of an eight-seat dining table, greets diners to this three-meals-a-day restaurant. Its farm-to-table emphasis is underscored by the ready availability of vegetables, fruits and herbs within the lodge's decorative gardens.
Indeed, the Barking Frog shares the gardens with The Herbfarm, perhaps the most renowned restaurant in the Pacific Northwest. National Geographic Traveler once named it the “number one destination restaurant in the world,” and its multitude of other accolades have included a James Beard award to chef Jerry Traunfeld as the best in the Northwest.
From humble beginnings as a rural farm and herbal nursery, The Herbfarm morphed into a popular small restaurant in tiny Fall City from 1986 until the start of 1997, when it was destroyed by fire. Owners Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck slowly rebuilt, operating first from a tent, then from temporary quarters in the Hedges Winery in Issaquah. The restaurant gained a permanent home in Woodinville when it opened beside the Willows Lodge in early 2001.
Dinner here is a special occasion, and it's priced accordingly: A couple should not expect to say goodnight without having spent $500. Then again, this is an event as much as it is a meal. Nine set courses are served over five hours, matched with a half-dozen Northwest wines. The menu isn't determined until the afternoon before it's served, based entirely upon the best and freshest produce available on that particular day.
It's a short walk and a shorter drive — not much more than a quarter-mile — from the Willows Lodge to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Visitors enjoy wandering the grounds, from tree-lined lanes and duck ponds to a 4,300-seat outdoor amphitheater that hosts a popular summer concert series, before entering the chateau to begin a free winery tour.
As one of just four guests who accompanied a company tour guide, I was led past fermentation tanks and down a long corridor that eventually led to a palatial tasting room. I learned that all of the winery's red wines (mainly merlot and cabernet sauvignon) are produced at its Canoe Ridge Estate, in the Columbia Valley's Horse Heaven Hills, but its whites (primarily riesling and chardonnay) are produced here in Woodinville.
In fact, Ste. Michelle is the world's largest producer of riesling, turning out more than 2 million cases a year. But the grapes never find their way across the Cascade Range: They are pressed in eastern Washington, and their juice is then carried to Woodinville in tanker trucks, where the winemaking process is completed.
The tour ends in the tasting room — in truth, a series of interconnected rooms that host about 300,000 visitors a year. In addition to several elegant tasting bars and a broad selection of wine-related souvenirs, a special Plexiglas enclosure in the heart of the room is home to a partner winery, Italy's high-end Col Solare.
The Columbia Winery is almost directly opposite Chateau Ste. Michelle on the north side of Highway 202. It was established in 1962 by 10 friends, most of them university professors, one of whom donated his garage for wine production. It flourished under master winemaker David Lake, who for three decades (until his death in 2009) was renowned for new-varietal experimentation that led to the first production of syrah, cabernet franc and pinot gris wines in Washington.
From 1993 to 2007, Columbia was well-known regionally as the northern terminal of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, which traveled up the east side of Lake Washington from Renton. Only the tracks remain; there has recently been talk about turning it into a rails-to-trails corridor, supplementing the 11–mile Sammamish River Trail that links Woodinville's Wilmot Park with Redmond's Marymoor Park.
Between Columbia Winery and the Willows Lodge stands the modern Redhook Ales' Woodinville Brewery. Relocated in 1994 from a former transmission shop in Seattle's Ballard district, where it was started in 1981, Redhook is one of the country's largest craft breweries, even adding a second production facility in New Hampshire in 1996. Today, it is as much beloved for its gourmet pub-style cuisine as it is for its Long Hammer IPA.
Where there's wine and beer, there is also whiskey. The Woodinville Whiskey Co., established in 2010 by Maker's Mark veteran David Pickerell, produces hand-crafted, Kentucky-style bourbon aged in oak barrels. Until now operating out of a warehouse facility, the small-batch distiller is about to move into a new, custom-built factory and tasting room within shouting distance of the Columbia Winery — and next to the Hollywood Tavern, which is in itself a story.
Generations of Woodinville visitors have been greeted to the city by a red neon “TAVERN” sign atop a roadhouse at the foot of Kingsgate Hill. It was built as the Hollywood Corner Service Station in the 1920s, not long after Frederick Stimson's nearby hunting lodge, and converted in 1947 to the Hollywood Tavern. After a major facelift, it remains a restaurant, but now with a menu of “wine country farm cuisine” under the direction of Seattle restaurateur Josh Henderson. And it's added a rotisserie and fire pit, horseshoe pits and special-event space.
The Hollywood District
A half-mile east of the Hollywood Tavern, Woodinville's official Hollywood District focuses upon a roundabout where Highway 202 turns south toward Redmond. A chic, 24-acre residential-commercial development, to be known as Woodinville Wine Village, has been envisioned nearby; but until it becomes a reality (ground has yet to be broken), the hub of the neighborhood is the historic Hollywood Schoolhouse.
Built of red brick in 1912, the old school has also been a community center, grange hall, agricultural warehouse, auction house, antique mall and banquet facility. Renovated in 1994, its main floor remains special-event space. But visitors can enjoy an upper-floor museum of antiques and memorabilia, ranging from toys to old gas pumps to set props from the old “Northern Exposure” television series.
The Schoolhouse basement is now a popular tasting room and clubhouse for the Alexandria Nicole Cellars. A century-old water tower rises above expansive gardens on the north side of the building, where weddings are frequently held in summer.
The Hollywood Schoolhouse dominates the northeast corner of the Highway 202 roundabout. No fewer than 30 wineries and/or tasting rooms are mere steps away, including such well-known Walla Walla names as Pepper Bridge, J. Bookwalter, Forgeron, Fidelitas and Dusted Valley.
Two personal favorites, in the Hollywood Vineyards Center that occupies the southwestern quadrant of the intersection, are Brian Carter Cellars and the DeLille Cellars Carriage House, both of whom source their grapes from several Eastern Washington vineyards, including the unique terroir of Red Mountain.
Also here are several restaurants worthy of a meal, including the Purple Cafe & Wine Bar, whose wine-directed Woodinville menu is repeated at three other Seattle-area locations; The Commons Kitchen & Bar, which offers a more casual dining experience; and the secluded Le Petit Terroir, an authentically French-style bistro tucked around the back side of the Hollywood Vineyards Center.
The Warehouse District
There's one more major wine center in Woodinville, not quite three miles north of the Hollywood District on the far side of downtown. The Warehouse District packs a remarkable 47 wineries (at last count) into a series of adjacent buildings east of Woodinville-Snohomish Road, otherwise known as state Highway 9. Most of the tasting rooms here are open on weekends only.
A majority are on the north side of North Woodinville Way. These include the outstanding Kestrel Winery, whose main production facility is near the foot of Red Mountain at Prosser, and such shining lights as Elevation Cellars and Robert Ramsay Cellars. Ramsay, in particular, is worth a visit not only for its wines, but also for a gallery of fine art that includes expressionist portraits by regional painter Pepper Peterson.
Winemaker Tim Stevens displays his own avant-garde work at the tiny Stevens Winery, which has a nook in another set of warehouses south of North Woodinville Way. Nearby Covington Cellars incorporates a casual restaurant that serves Friday night dinners and weekend afternoon lunches.
For visitors looking for activities that don't involve eating and drinking, Woodinville has also become a gardening center. Molbak's Garden+Home, for instance, is one of the best-known nurseries in the Northwest, and it incorporates a popular cafe and grill open for breakfast and lunch daily. Woodinville Lavender, on three acres just south of the Hollywood District, offers all manner of fragrant artisan products — even when the purple blooms are not on the shrubs.
If you go
(All addresses in Washington)
• Woodinville Chamber of Commerce. 17401 N.E. 133rd Ave., Suite A3, Woodinville; 425-481-8300, www.woodinvillechamber.org
• Woodinville Wine Country. P.O. Box 2114, Woodinville, WA 98072; 425-205-4394, www.woodinvillewinecountry.com
Auberge de Seattle, a French Country Inn. 16400 N.E. 216th Ave. , Woodinville; 425-844-4102, www.edgeofseattle.com. Rates from $255
Baymont Inn & Suites. 12223 N.E. 116th St., Kirkland; 425-822-2300, 800-337-0550, www.baymontinns.com. Rates from $89
Matthews Estate House Bed & Breakfast. 16116 N.E. 140th Place, Woodinville; 425-487-9810, www.matthewswinery.com. Rates from $195
Redmond Inn. 17601 Redmond Way, Redmond; 425-883-4900, 800-634-8080, www.redmondinn.com. Rates from $144
Willows Lodge. 14580 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; 425-424-3900, 877-424-3930, www.willowslodge.com. Rates from $199. Includes Barking Frog restaurant (425-424-2999; three meals daily; moderate to expensive).
The Commons Kitchen & Bar. 14481 N.E. Woodinville-Redmond Road, Woodinville; 425-892-2012, www.thecommonscafe.com. Three meals daily. Moderate
Gobble. 13300 N.E. 175th St., Suite 3, Woodinville; 425-486-1486, www.gobblerestaurant.com. Lunch and dinner daily. Budget
The Herbfarm. 14590 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; 425-485-5300, www.theherbfarm.com. Dinner Thursday to Sunday. Very expensive.
Hollywood Tavern. 14508 N.E. Woodinville-Redmond Road, Woodinville; 425-610-7730, www.thehollywoodtavern.com. Lunch and dinner daily. Budget and moderate
Le Petit Terroir. 14455 N.E. Woodinville-Redmond Road, Suite C, Woodinville; 425-296-2525, www.lepetitterroir.com. Lunch and dinner Wednesday to Sunday. Moderate
Purple Cafe & Wine Bar. 14459 Woodinville-Redmond Road N.E., Woodinville; 425-483-7129, www.purplecafe.com. Lunch and dinner daily. Moderate to expensive
Woodinville Brewery & Forecasters Public House. 14300 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; 425-483-3232, www.redhook.com. Lunch and dinner daily. Moderate
Alexandria Nicole Cellars. 14810 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; 425-483-2968, www.alexandrianicolecellars.com
Brian Carter Cellars. 14419 N.E. Woodinville-Redmond Road, Woodinville; 425-806-9463, www.briancartercellars.com
Chateau Ste. Michelle. 14111 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; 425-488-1133, www.ste-michelle.com
Columbia Winery. 14030 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; 425-482-7490, www.columbiawinery.com
Covington Cellars. 18580 N.E. 142nd Ave. , Woodinville; 425-806-8636, www.covingtoncellars.com
DeLille Cellars. 14208 N.E. Woodinville-Redmond Road, Woodinville; 425-877-9472, www.delillecellars.com
Elevation Cellars. 19495 N.E. 144th Ave., Suite A-115, Woodinville; 425-483-2800, www.elevationcellars.com
Kestrel Vintners. 19501 N.E. 144th Ave., Suite C-900, Woodinville; 425-398-1199, www.kestrelwines.com
Robert Ramsay Cellars. 19495 N.E. 144th Ave., Suite A-235, Woodinville; 425-686-9463, www.robertramsaycellars.com
Stevens Winery. 18520 N.E. 142nd Ave., Woodinville; 425-424-9463, www.stevenswinery.com
Bon Vivant Wine Tours. 2120 W. Montvale Place, Seattle; 206-524-8687, www.bonvivanttours.com
Hollywood Schoolhouse. 14810 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; 425-481-7925, www.hollywoodschoolhouse.com.
Molbak's Garden+Home. 13625 N.E. 175th St., Woodinville; 425-483-5000, www.molbaks.com
Woodinville Lavender. 14223 N.E. Woodinville-Redmond Road, Woodinville; 425-398-3785, www.woodinvillelavender.com
Woodinville Whiskey. 16110 N.E. Woodinville-Redmond Road, Woodinville; 425-486-1199, www.woodinvillewhiskeyco.com
See additional photos on The Bulletin's website: bendbulletin.com/travel
In two weeks: Austin, Texas
Gas, Bend to Woodinville, 696 miles (round-trip) at $3.30/gallon: $91.87
Lunches (two), en route: $15
Lodging (two nights), Willows Lodge: $398
Dinner, Barking Frog: $89.90
Breakfast, Barking Frog: $21.70
Lunch, Le Petit Terroir: $25
Dinner, Hollywood Tavern: $26
Breakfast, The Commons: $17