Friday, November 6, 2009

My Visit to Woodinville, WA Wine Country

I’ve been a roll lately with opportunities to visit wineries while travelling for my real job. This week, I had a free afternoon while working in Seattle, and I took the opportunity to visit some wineries in Woodinville, WA. Woodinville wine country is a short 25 minute drive from downtown Seattle, and it is home to what I found to be some very good wineries. Woodinville is pretty unique among the wine regions I’ve visited in that there are a large number of wineries there, but hardly any grapes are grown in the Woodinville area. Almost all the grapes being crushed and made into wine in the area are grown well east of Woodinville in Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley. There are multiple AVAs within the Columbia Valley which include Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, and Yakima Valley. Many different varietals are being grown in these appellations although the most successful I found seem to be Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

My first stop in Woodinville was the winery that stared it all here in 1976. Chateau St. Michelle was the first to build a winery and visitor’s facility in Woodinville, and they remain one of the biggest and most important winery in the area. They are a very large producer (well over 1,000,000 cases annually), who make wines ranging from inexpensive, simple wines to some very high quality, higher-end fine wines. There visitor’s facilities are large and expansive with multiple tasting rooms and grounds that include an amphitheater for outdoor concerts in the summer. I tasted a number of different reserve wines at Chateau St. Michelle, and although many of them were good, they were somewhat one dimensional. They had nice fruit forward flavors, but not much beyond that in the way of complexity, tannins, or overall structure and balance. One exception was their Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. This was a very nice classic Cab with blackberry and cassis on the nose and the palate with a nice full bodied mouthfeel and silky tannins. It also brought a very nice finish that really set it apart from the other wines I tried at Chateau St. Michelle.

My second stop in Woodinville was the Januik Winery right around the corner from Chateau St. Michelle. Januik was started in 1999 by Mike Januik, who is the owner and winemaker. Mike is a UC Davis grad who spent a number of years at Chateau St. Michelle, and he left there as their head winemaker. After tasting Mike’s wines, I have to believe that his leaving had to be a pretty big blow to Château St. Michelle. His wines are very, very good. Diane, my outstanding host at Januik poured a number of wines for me to taste. The standout for me here was their Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. This Cab, which had only 198 cases produced, has a very nice purple color with aromas of blackberry, cassis, and a hint of tobacco. The blackberry and cassis are joined by black plum on the palate, and the wine has smooth tannins with a nice, long finish. Their Klipsun Vineyard Merlot 2006 was also quite good. It was a fine reminder that when Merlot is done well, it can make really nice wine regardless of what Miles from the movie Sideways has to say about it.

My next stop was that hidden gem that I seem to find on every visit I make to wine country. I visited Matthews Estate not knowing anything about it other than the fact that the folks at both Chateau St. Michelle and Januik recommended it. The winery and small, cozy tasting room are in a small, unassuming building, and the winery and all the action going on there at this time of year were visible and audible from the tasting room. There is always an added level of excitement when you visit a winery that is actively making wine. My excellent host here for most of my visit was Jim Rubstello, who is one of the partners at Matthews. They are a small winery with annual production of about 3500 cases with plans to grow to about 5000 cases over the next couple years. Their winemaker, Aryn Morell, spent five years in Napa Valley working for a few wineries including Silver Oak before deciding to return to his native Washington to work for Matthews. The work he is doing here at Matthews Estate is excellent. I tasted four wines at Matthews, and all of them were, in a word, outstanding. Their 2006 Claret, which is their base level Bordeaux style blend, had a nice purple-red color with a complex nose of cherry, red currant, and a bit of earthiness. Pleasant acidity and smooth tannins brought balance and structure to the fantastic cherry fruit on the palate. Their 2005 Red Wine, which is their flagship Bordeaux blend, was an absolutely delicious wine. Aged in 75% new French oak, the 2005 Red Wine brought aromas of blackberry, cherry, and cassis with a bit of a subtle herbal element. The palate follows that up with deep black fruit flavors, solid tannins, and a fantastic finish with very nice length. I felt that this was a truly outstanding wine. Their 2007 Columbia Valley Syrah was also very good. It had a fantastic nose that combined black fruit with orange zest, some spice, and a mild, pleasant barnyard smell. The palate brought cherry and plum fruit with some very nice but mild black pepper and some raw meat. This was a very nice Syrah that was much closer in style to a Northern Rhone than to any New World Syrah or Shiraz.

The final stop on my trip was Alexandria Nicole Cellars. Most of the fruit for Alexandria Nicole Cellars wine is sourced from their estates Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Julia and Kathie here were very good hosts who were gracious enough to pour wine for me when I arrived at exactly the time they normally close. Alexandria Nicole works with a number of different grapes ranging from Rhone varietals to Cabernet Sauvignon to Tempranillo. The standout wine for me here was their 2006 Destiny, which is a Bordeaux style blend consisting of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec that was aged in French and American oak for 22 months. The nose brings aromas of blackberry, cassis, and a very nice herbal element. In your mouth, you get a medium-full bodied wine with deep, black fruit flavors and solid tannins that bring some structure. Overall it’s a very nice wine from a nice winery.

I have to say that I went into my visit to Woodinville with somewhat limited expectations. Many of the wineries I wanted to visit were not open on Mondays, which is the day I visited. Other than Chateau St, Michelle, I did not know much about the wineries that were open on Mondays, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The wineries I visited and the wines I tasted were very good and in some cases outstanding. If you’re in the Seattle area, a side trip up to Woodinville is well worth the trip.


  1. Glad you enjoyed your experience!

  2. Woodinville is a fantastic place. I love the fact that Columbia Winery is right acroos from Chateau Ste. Michelle, and when it comes to NW whites, they do an admirable job. And since I also loves me the beer, Red Hook is just down the street. Some fantastic talent in a small area. Glad you got to taste the Matthews - I was deeply impressed by their offerings. Had that at a wine bar near Pikes Place Market. While in Woodinville, Alison and I stopped at a wine boutique with several winery offerings. A Cab Franc from Silver Lake had the most precipitous finish on a wine we've ever encountered. It was big on the palate and then...vanished. Oddest sensation. Exciting area to explore - thanks for the reminder!