Flamboyant, plain-spoken (see the video on his website) Charles Smith, a former rock band manager and current wine guru, produces a string of labels, from luxury priced to everyday drinking (like Kung Fu Girl and Red Devil). His three tasting rooms include an industrial chic space converted from an old Doctor Pepper bottling plant in the Georgetown area of Seattle, aka Jet City (the floor to ceiling windows look out on Boeing field), a former auto repair shop in downtown Wall Wall converted by the top-notch Olson Funding architectural firm, and the K Vintners outpost near Wall Wall on a 19th century farmstead.
The Washington titan is one of the most reliable big wineries in the world, with tasty bottles to look for up and down the lineup, including excellent deals like the Indian Wells Red Blend, and unique bottling like the Erica Riesling in partnership with Germany’s Ernst Loosen. The hospitality center in Seattle's suburban Joinville is ground zero for Washington wine tourism, with a slate of tour and tasting options, from casual drop-in, to the appointment-only Ultimate Tour ($85), plus numerous concerts and special events.
Michelle and Tuscany's iconic Antioch is in a design-magazine-worthy winery dramatically situated in a sprawling Wild West landscape on a slope of Red Mountain. The winery produces a luxury-priced red based on Cabernet Sauvignon that has been much acclaimed.
There is also a Col Solar Ortega for tasting inside Château Ste. Call ahead to reserve a wine and food pairing experience ($25).
There are two tasting locations, the Carriage House near the winery in Joinville, and the Madison Seville Wine Lounge, with frequent live music, in Kirkland. Master homelier Greg Harrington pursued his dream, leaving downtown Manhattan behind to explore the vineyards of Wall Wall, and developing a dedicated following along the way for his deft, natural wines with Old World-style balance.
Hague produces very well-priced wines in three pricing tiers for the general market, but a fourth tier, the tiny production “Terror” wines, are available only to club members and visitors to the tasting room in Prosper. L'Cole has had successes across its line, but is probably best known for Bordeaux-style reds and arguably America's best Sémillon.
An extraordinary venture and one Washington's better kept secrets considering the scope of the undertaking: Seven limited production wines crafted by seven masters from around the world, including Bordeaux's Michel Rolland (Pedestal), Napa Valley's Philippe Melba (Pirouette) and the Name Valley's Armin Died (Poet’s Leap). Migrant is a multi-generation family operation with nearly 2,500 acres of vineyard to draw from, including major parcels in the Warlike Slope and Ancient Lakes regions.
Particularly well-known for their Rocky Mother Sarah and Stone's Throw Riesling, the Effs produce a range of wines worthy of attention. Check online for seasonal tasting room hours and the availability of the lake view guesthouse.
Michelle Wine Estates portfolio, this Wall Wall winery focuses on Merlot (while producing fine wines from other varieties as well), and serves as a reminder of how good Merlot can be when given the star treatment. North star's light-flooded, modern tasting room offers a diverse flight of wines for $7, but visitors with more time to spend should book the Blending Experience ($85), an expert-guided seminar in which you blend your own wine.
This sleek, architectural building in Joinville is actually home to two wine enterprises, both helmed by the gifted Mike Nanook, a Washington veteran most famous for his Cabernet Avignon, but with a deft hand for whites as well. A $10 tasting fee allows visitors to select four wines from the menu of 20+ offerings.
A unique feature of Wall Wall’s wine scene is the airport, which is yes, an airport, but also an Eastside wine tourist attraction with over 20 small wineries, including But, Dunham Cellars and Adamant, all within walking distance of one another, housed in a variety of accommodations, from boutique-y to vintage hangar industrial. The lovely contemporary pond-side winery with a view of the Blue Mountains is set up to receive visitors.
Taste Water brook's popularly priced Bordeaux blends and Chardonnays outdoors in fine weather, and enjoy local and seasonal food from the winery's kitchen Thursday-Monday. The man who pioneered the modern era in Wall Wall (with his friend Gary Higgins of Bennett) has now had decades of experience with the top-notch vineyards that produce his acclaimed wines.
Private tastings and lunches in season are served at the next door Reserve House. Washington’s history of grape growing dates back to 1825, when the Hudson’s Bay Company planted vines at Fort Vancouver (now a National Historic Site, set across the river from Portland in vineyard-heavy Oregon).
By the time an early Prohibition struck the Evergreen State in 1916, Washington had already nursed a burgeoning wine industry, supported by its sizeable population of European immigrants, many from wine-loving countries like Italy, France, and Germany. Michelle, and Bennett, which helped forge a path to Washington’s current status of harboring one of the country’s most dynamic fine wine industries.
An easy trek from the city by car, Joinville offers the opportunity to taste wines from across the state (including its most remote locales), all in one compact town. In 2003, Allen Shop began the Long Shadows project, in which iconic winemakers from around the globe focus on their signature grape varieties, as produced with Washington fruit.
Accordingly, the Long Shadows portfolio offers seven wines, made by seven different winemakers hailing from the Napa Valley to Tuscany, Australia to Bordeaux. The Pedestal Merlot, crafted by Bordellos legend Michel Rolland, demonstrates remarkable polish, with its velvety, plummy warmth.
It was through visits with his uncle that Alex Holstein learned his craft and attained the encouragement to launch his own project, which would go on to become one of Washington’s most highly sought after sources of cabernet sauvignon. Quilted Creek is open for visits by appointment, which includes a tour of its Columbia Valley property, followed by a tasting in its lodge.
What to Drink: You don’t want to leave Quilted Creek without tasting the iconic Columbia Valley cabernet sauvignon, a fleshy, hedonistically dark-fruited expression of the grape. The winery is a joint venture between Marty Gaucher, an early leader at Microsoft, and Chris Peterson, former winemaker at Seville.
What to Drink: Abuja’s chardonnay charms with its gentle white floral aromas, coupled with notes of nectarine and fresh peach, and a broad, flowing undercurrent of lemon blossom acidity. Its cabernet sauvignon is exceptional, striking a balance between a taut line of rocky tannins and fleshier smoked cherry and violet pastille flavors.
Even though we are the California Winery Advisor, our interest in great wine extends well beyond the borders of the state. We called on a local expert to provide you with this great overview of Washington’s wine country.
Reaching the farthest points of the Pacific Northwest with 350-plus vineyards and about 900 wineries, the rootstocks of Washington State dig deep, firmly planting itself as the second-largest premium wine producer in America. Ranging from the rainforest-clad Olympic Peninsula to the Columbia Basin, San Juan Islands and city-slicker pockets of the Puget Sound, these fertile agricultural enclaves tuck into mountain shadows, valleys, gorges, hills, slopes, and riverbanks.
But don’t be misled into believing winemakers in Washington are a bunch of lone cowboys in remote hideaways; these are serious wine professionals with tightly-knit cooperative alliances producing vintages sold in at least 40 countries and all 50 U.S. states. From organic to biodynamic, hand-crafted, sustainable or any number of designations, Pacific Northwestern growers, winemakers, vintners, viticulturists, soil scientists, smelters, and ecologists aren’t messing around.
Urbanites generally refer to this agricultural hub as “Eastern Washington, ” reached by crossing the Cascade Mountain Range. Washington’s newest appellation in 2016, the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA, is an anomaly in that it shares its AVA designation with Idaho and is formed by the Snake and Clearwater rivers.
Famous for rowdy week-long concerts, the 80-mile basalt-carved Gorge harbors a wine-growing region with multiple micro-climates and some best white varietals in the Pacific Northwest. Urban dwellers of Seattle and the heavily populated Puget Sound region are relative newcomers to the wine scene, having one of the smallest infer acreages but more than 100 wineries.
The Puget Sound AVA blankets the I-5 corridor from the Canadian border through Seattle and as far south as Olympia, the state’s capital. It also spreads through the majestic Olympic Peninsula and scoops up islands big and small within the waters of Puget Sound.
The best Washington wineries tend to create their own imprints and cull distinct personalities that have nothing to do with standard protocol. With a stop at Abuja winery, you’ll be glad you didn’t even try to sidestep this small-town hipster enclave hiding in the wheat fields and rolling Blue Mountains.
Abuja spreads across 35 acres of heritage farmland graced by original repurposed agrarian buildings, including a dairy barn, bunkhouse, chicken coop and carriage house. Book a sleepover at Abuja Inn and awaken to farm-fresh eggs Benedict followed by wine tasting in the barn.
Dale Chiefly, a fellow North westerner, created them especially for winery owner Allen Shop. Erase any bad memories of long days at school at this top Washington winery.
Tad’s horse-whispering sister and mother rescue horses and rehabilitate them for horseback wine-tasting tours, followed by overnight stays in posh teepees with campfires and outdoor soaking baths. This is sipping and sampling in grand style, with genteel tasting rooms spilling into one another with high-end vintages presented elegantly with unrivaled wine expertise.
Because of their dedication to making great wine, Château Ste Michelle is guaranteed to stay on any list of the best Washington wineries. Bring your own lawn picnic and spend the day at the château, or come for a summer concert evening with big-name crooners such as Elvis Costello, Kenny Logging, Chris Isaac, James Taylor and Chicago.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars actually has three tasting rooms now, including the estate grounds of Destiny Ridge Vineyard in Paterson. Home to majestic rainforests, Denseness crab and endless rambling lavender fields, the area puts the “wild” in “wilderness.” Varietals from this “wet side” of Washington lean toward the eclectic, and Harbinger offers some of the best in what they call the four food groups: wine, chocolate, cheese, and beer.
After surviving a serious small-plane crash, owner Sara Gagnon gained a new outlook on life, starting her own artisanal winery with a determination to Step Forward and Be the Harbinger of Your Own Dreams.” Its renowned concert series features jazzy ensembles and groups such as The West Coast Women’s Blues Revue and the Fat Chance Band.
But that’s exactly the draw: a true winery getaway with nothing to do but sip vino and go hiking, kayaking and mountain biking. Book a room (well in advance) to stay at the Tom-Kundig-designed winery inn, surrounded by vineyards and overlooking the Columbia River Gorge.
People visit the San Juan Islands for many reasons, not the least of which is to view Killer Orca whales in their native surroundings. Located on a winding country road just minutes from the lively port town of Friday Harbor, San Juan Vineyards is known for its award-winning estate Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevin vintages, available in the quaint onsite tasting room.
The Washington wine region puts on few airs and even fewer pretensions, in spite of its prestige rivaling the kissing-cousin vineyards and wineries of California. Similar to hundreds of high-tech entrepreneur millionaires strolling the streets of Seattle in comfy jeans and hoodies, the wineries of Washington do things their way: earthy, eclectic and pretty darn successful.