Monday, July 11, 2016

Woodinville Wine Country: Exploring the Best Of Washington State Wine - Part 1

Seattle is a travel highlight for any lover of wine, food and culture. But there is so much more just a few miles away from the Emerald City. Woodinville, located in a peaceful valley 30 minutes northeast of Seattle, is a crossroads where the fruit of Eastern Washington meet the vintners, chefs and flavors of the Pacific Northwest.

Smiles all around in Woodinville tasting room

The Woodinville Wine Experience

When I first visited (and fell in love with) Washington State wine country, I spent most of my time in the Walla Walla Valley. Eastern Washington is where most of the grapes are grown in the state. The high desert climate and less-than-fertile soil is ideal for vineyards. It’s also across the Cascade Mountains and a couple hundred miles away from Seattle.

During a recent visit to Seattle we tagged on a few extra days but didn’t have the time to trek all the way to Walla Walla – however, we were in luck. A mere half hour away Woodinville offers 108 wineries and tasting rooms. Our plan was to reduce our mileage and invest that extra time into tasting wine.

If you are a wine tourist, Woodinville will most likely be a different type of experience. Unlike the Silverado Wine Trail in Napa Valley, you won’t be trekking from one destination winery to another. Instead, this is more like the Lompoc Wine Ghetto – storefronts where there is a tasting room and sometimes a production room in the back. With a few exceptions, you won’t be strolling garden paths to granite and glass edifices.

Keep your eyes out for these winery signs

The Warehouse District

There are two main wine areas in Woodinville, the northerly Warehouse District and the southerly Hollywood District. Each has 45 to 50 tasting rooms or wineries with a few distilleries and microbreweries thrown in.

A common site is a three-foot tall sandwich board sign with the name of a winery and an arrow pointing the way. At one stop in the Warehouse District we saw 20 such signs lined up on the road.

The outsides are typically what you might expect of a strip mall business, except for the signs advertising wine inside. It’s not uncommon for wineries to share space as was the case with our first stop where three tasting rooms were co-located, each with a small bar set up.

Our first taste was Convergence Zone Cellars, for us it was the convergence of luck and our location. CZ was on my long list of places to visit and after blundering around with directions we spotted a sign and stopped in.

First stop: Convergence Zone in Woodinville

Convergence Zone Cellars

Convergence Zone is a small family owned winery with production facilities in Woodinville and North Bend. They source grapes from Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Columbia Valley.

We sampled the 2013 Dewpoint, a Riesling with 1.6% residual sugar, and Drizzle, a Pinot Gris with 2.2% residual sugar. While they were okay, our favorite was the 2013 Mistral, a Grenache-based blend with Syrah and Mourvedre. This offered great flavors of fresh macerated berries.

Kaella Winery

Taking about two steps to our right, we entered the Kaella Winery zone manned by owner and winemaker Dave Butner. The winery name combines the names of Dave’s two youngest daughters. Kaella focuses on small-log premium red wines. Their production is about 500 cases annually.

Dave Butner is rightly proud of his wineDave has recently sold the winery and has been using his time in the tasting room to pour some special bottles. Great timing on our part! We tasted the 2010 Ciel du Cheval Sangiovese (full of tannins and spice) and well as the 2012 Cabernet Franc and 2012 Meritage. Each of these was outstanding, but the best of all was the 2008 Merlot. Only one barrel was produced and the tannins have integrated nicely into the smooth, ripe cherry flavors.

Avennia

Avennia was a recommendation from a waiter in Seattle. It turns out that its tasting room was on the backside of the parking lot from Convergence Zone and so we decided to pop in. We were the only visitors present and that led to a great tasting with winemaker Chris Peterson. Chris is a native of the Pacific Northwest and helped make some of the top-rated wines in the state at DeLille Cellars.

Chris Peterson and his concrete eggWe started with the refreshing 2014 Oliane Sauvignon Blanc. It is wild fermented and partly aged in the winemaker’s newest toy – a concrete egg. It offers a nice dose of minerality. Our well-needed refreshment continued with the L’Egerie Rosé made from Grenache and Mourvedre using the direct press and saignée method.

Chris is enchanted with Bordeaux wines – and so are we. The 2013 Gravuva blend, is an almost even blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a dollop of Cabernet Franc.

Don't miss wine tasting at AvenniaThe highlight of the tasting was the 2013 Sestina, which is a Left Bank Bordeaux blend driven by 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 9% Cab Franc. Chris calls this a 15-year wine – but we don’t think we can wait that long for the bottle we purchased.

Chris calls his wine style vineyard driven. “I want to show off the terroir,” he said. “I want to let the wine express itself.”

Woodinville is a kaleidoscope of wine. We’ll take another look through the lens later this week in our second installment.

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