The majority of Washington vineyards are in eastern Washington where the warm climate and land are perfect for growing grapes. Most people live in western Washington with the Cascade Mountains in between. Winemakers realized if they wanted wine lovers to sip their creations, they needed a destination that was closer while still having a wine country experience. Woodinville fit the bill and Chateau Ste. Michelle became the first winery to establish a presence in the town. It even built a chateau and rebranded it to reflect its name. Columbia Winery followed in 1989 and then many more in the 1990s. Today Woodinville is a premier destination for wine lovers and there are now over 130 wineries with tasting rooms in the area.
Woodinville is nestled in the Sammamish River Valley. It is a lovely town filled with friendly people. Even though the region boasts more 90+ rated vintages than anywhere in the world it is not pretentious. Washington winemakers are not mired in the rules of wine traditions and are more creative and artistic than their counterparts from California and France. When visiting a tasting room, ask questions to find out what makes their winery unique. Chances are the winemaker experimented with a wine and it came out so good it ended up going into production.
Pro Tip: With over 130 wineries in Woodinville it can be overwhelming to decide where to go. The town is divided into four winemaking districts: downtown, Hollywood, the Warehouse, and West Valley districts. I like to pick one district and plan my tasting around that area. For this trip, I chose the Hollywood District.
My stay in Woodinville was a press trip hosted by Woodinville Wine Country.
The Hollywood District is both ritzy and rustic at the same time. You’ll find a gold-rated Conde Nast lodge not far from tasting rooms nestled into rural historic homes. Fancy dining and pub grub, you’ll find it all in Hollywood. The district was named after the Hollywood Schoolhouse which is now an event center and tasting room.
1. Dusted Valley
I love a winery with a great story. The Dusted Valley philosophy is when family works together the American Dream can turn into a living reality. More than 16 years ago the Johnsons and Braunels quit their jobs and established Dusted Valley. Chad Johnson and Corey Braunel’s strong roots in agriculture led to their roles as winegrowers. In a bit of serendipity, they married two sisters, Janet Johnson and Cindy Braunel, who handle all the sales, distribution, admin, and the wine club. The Stained Tooth Society wine club is the coolest name ever.
Great wines grow in the vineyard and Dusted Valley’s sustainable farming practices in the Walla Walla valley and skilled winemakers have created some wines I really enjoyed. The 2018 Stained Tooth Syrah is one of the best I’ve had. It is a rich deep purple color. Chad’s dad is a dentist and I love his quote. “Life is too short to stain your teeth on bad wine,” Dr. Dan Johnson D.D.S. It is an old-world style, and the syrah is blended with a hint (3 percent) of viognier. Another standout for me, the 2018 Chardonnay which comes from the Yakima Valley AVA.
2. Lauren Ashton Cellars
The Apple Farm Village is the perfect setting for Lauren Ashton Cellars. A group of historic cottages were moved to this site and then restored. Beautiful gardens surround the buildings creating lovely outdoor tasting areas. Owner Kit Singh, a dentist by profession, is a gifted winemaker who truly has a passion for the artistry of winemaking. The name of the winery is inspired by the names of his two children, Ashley Lauren and Ashton Troy. The wine labels are adorned with photographs showcasing the beautiful country of Estonia to honor his wife Riinu’s heritage.
Singh has more of a French style of winemaking and makes lower alcohol wines which produce less of a “buzz.” If you are a white wine drinker this is the winery for you because he produces quite a variety of whites. He takes his craft seriously and works to produce a purposeful “nose” with the scent of a promise of what is to come when you take a sip. Seriously, they smell so good you could almost wear them like perfume. Usually, when I visit a winery, one or two stand out for me but during this visit, I loved everything I tasted while sitting in the lovely garden under a shade tree. Singh’s craft really shines in his 2009 Cuvée Arlette Red Blend with varietals from the Red Mountain AVA. Most Red Mountain red wines are big and bold. His blend is almost as if you had a big, red mountain wine and left the heavy stuff behind. It is a more nuanced refined wine layered with fruit from a cooler area. Every bottle of wine and every sip you take of Singh’s wine is very personal to him. It comes from the heart with each vintage created from his hands.
3. Obelisco Estate
This family-run estate has such a great story. General manager and winemaker Ken Abbott fell in love with wine while visiting his late uncle Doug and aunt Betsy Long in St. Helena and their vineyards on the famed Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley. A very short version of the history, Doug and Betsy retired in Gig Harbor, Washington, but were lured back into winemaking by the promise of the mystical “Red Mountain.” Ken gradually drew Doug in by asking for help until eventually, he gave up his career in real estate, finance, and development. With Doug’s passing in 2017, Ken carries on the family tradition of crafting wine for Obelisco along with aunt Betsy.
Doug and Ken were kindred spirits with a love of history and archeology. Needless to say, I was “fangirling” big-time meeting Ken as I too share a love of history, archeology (my childhood dream career), and to add wine tasting into the mix made for a perfect day. The earliest wines were made by Egyptians and that heritage is evident at Obelisco, which translates to obelisk. I tasted so many truly great ones during this visit, but there is not enough space to write about them all. Ken and Doug had a conversation one day about how it was too bad people must wait three years to taste their cabernet sauvignon, so they decided to make a rosé from these grapes. It is 100 percent juice and no water (most rosés have water added). This is a unique rosé with a beautiful red/rose color, the staff calls it the “Brose” due to its depth of flavor. You won’t taste a rosé like this anywhere else.
For a truly special occasion wine, the 2017 Nefer III (triple Nefer) fits the bill. It’s 100 percent cabernet sauvignon and it is worthy of its triple nefer rating. Egyptians had their own wine rating system, the nfr (the language had no vowels so Ken and Doug added the “E” so people could pronounce it. It means beautiful inside and out.). Wine jars were sealed and marked with one nefer for the public, two nefers indicated wine for the nobility and three nefers was wine reserved for the Pharaohs. It was a special treat to be able to taste this wine and it is worth the hefty price tag.
4. Hollywood District Tasting Rooms
With so many tasting rooms in Woodinville, and even in the Hollywood District, you won’t have time to visit them all. Within a single block in Hollywood, you can spend all day wine tasting and won’t have to move your car. On previous visits, I tasted at the Alexandria Nicole Cellars located on the ground floor of the Hollywood Schoolhouse building. The tasting room has a speakeasy feel to it and it also has some nice outdoor seating. It is making two fun sparkling wines, a rosé and a white called “Adult-ing,” and is designed to be an everyday folding laundry or other household chores sipping wine. Also, in the Schoolhouse is the renowned Maryhill Winery which recently opened and has 10,000 square feet in the building.
The Milbrandt Vineyards and Ryan Patrick Wines tasting rooms are located next to each other across the street from the Hollywood Schoolhouse. Lovely wines and beautiful venues to wine taste, both are worth a stop. Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery was the first in Woodinville and the perfect spot if you are new to wine tasting or want to learn more about wine. There are a variety of experiences available to enhance your knowledge or just to enjoy, such as a picnic on the grounds.
It can be challenging sometimes to find lodging right in Woodinville due to its popularity. On my recent visit, I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Redmond Center which is just a 10-minute drive. It is a chain hotel but felt more like a luxury boutique hotel. The staff was very friendly and helpful and the common areas were perfect places to hang out with friends.
Check out these other Washington attractions while you’re visiting: