When locals in the Seattle area think of Woodinville, they often think of wine. However, our exploration opened up a whole world of other spirits! But we will start with the wine. The small city of Woodinville (pop. 10,000) can be found about 30 minutes northeast of Seattle, in the beautiful Sammamish River Valley. Woodinville has 118 wineries and tasting rooms throughout four distinct districts: Warehouse District, Hollywood District, West Valley District and the Downtown District. The Hollywood and Warehouse districts are especially fun because you can park your car and walk to so many different tasting rooms. The Warehouse district alone is the home to more boutique wineries per square foot than any other wine region in the entire world! Pretty good odds that you’ll find something you love.
Our two-day visit to Woodinville started with a fantastic lunch at the Purple Café and Wine Bar. Our delightful meal started with the seasonal, delicious, and creamy Delicata Squash Soup garnished with sour cream and pine nuts. Perfect for a brisk fall day! We then moved to the Curry Chicken Bowl, made with chicken, lentils, cauliflower and garnished with yogurt and cilantro. The lentils were cooked to perfection, firm and tasty. The yogurt and curry created a great balance. The sommelier helped us navigate through Purple’s 39-page wine list to choose a Syrah from Dusted Valley Vintners. The Syrah, made of 100% Eastern Washington grapes had a light, spicy pepper to it that paired very well with the chicken. Lemon Tart for Dessert? Tempting but we declined. And if you’d like, after your meal you can stroll right next door to the Dusted Valley tasting room.
But since we had already (thoroughly) enjoyed the Dusted Valley Syrah, we continued a few steps down the sidewalk to check out Fidélitas Winery. Fidélitas has two tasting rooms, with the other one located in Benton City, WA in the Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area), where all of their grapes are sourced. The Red Mountain is the smallest AVA in Washington State. AVAs are geographical wine grape growing regions in the United States, and their boundaries are declared by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Each AVA is defined by specific characteristics of their terroir (the aspects of soil, geography, climate, slope, among others). The Red Mountain AVA is a geographic region that was formed by repeated ice-age flooding of Glacial Lake Missoula over 10,000 years ago. The flood waters not only redesigned the landscape, but they also deposited nutrient-rich soils over sand, silt, and gravel, which create a perfect foundation for growing wine grapes. The area also benefits from its location within the Cascade Mountain rain shadow, which gives it an average annual rainfall of seven inches. This dramatically lowers the mold and mildew issues for the area. The high latitude (N 46) and the topography create very beneficial temperature swings during the growing season. Daytime temperatures average 90 F degrees (32 C) but drop to an average of 50 F (10 C) at night. The cooler nights help to retain the acidity levels, which contributes to the exceptional balance and structure of wines made from Red Mountain grapes.
Fidélitas owner and winemaker, Charlie Hoppes (yes – he has heard the “shoulda been a brewer” jokes) has always wanted to grow grapes in the Red Mountain AVA. He graduated from UC Davis in 1981 with a degree in Agricultural Science, with an emphasis in Viticulture and Enology. He started his career working for Mike Januik at Snoqualmie/Langguth winery and then followed him to Chateau Ste. Michelle, where he rose to the position of Head Red Winemaker until 1999. In 2000 he opened Fidélitas with a Cab/Sauv and Merlot blend named Optu. This inaugural wine is still in their portfolio today. Charlie focuses his winemaking skills on Boudreaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. During our visit to the Woodinville tasting room, we began with the Red Mountain Malbec. It has a very well balanced complexity, with tastes of cherry, cranberries, and sage. It would pair great with a steak! Next came the 2015 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, with its soft notes, mild tannins and elegant characteristics of red fruit, baking spice, and pepper. This is a wine that can be cellared until 2025. Our favorite though was the 2015 Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which was awarded 94 points by famed wine critic Jeb Dunnuck. The deep red color, and rich notes of black fruits, dried tobacco and coffee were well structured, providing a nice lengthy finish. The clones (a cutting or bud from a ‘mother’ vine) 2 and 6, used for this wine predates Prohibition.
The robust Woodinville wine culture has given birth to many other “spirited” destinations. It is also home to 14 breweries, cideries, and distilleries. We decided to check out one of each.
Our first stop was Triplehorn Brewing and Taproom. Located in the Warehouse district, among the wine tasting rooms, the Taproom is warm and welcoming. It seats over 100 people inside, and even more in the summer when the garage doors roll up, and tables are brought out into the sun. Head Brewer Ray Nesheim and his brother Rich (business manager) started the brewery in 2012. The Nesheim brothers were previously in construction, which is apparent from the beautiful, Nordic-themed Taproom. From the crowd in the Taproom, it looks like they are doing great. And that’s no surprise – they make great beer. Being an IPA fan, I was thrilled with their Intervention Imperial IPA (80 IBU), crisp and hoppy! Michael went Bavarian with the Volkfest, a Bavarian-style Märzen which was a beautiful copper red with a full-bodied maltiness. The Taproom is open every day and is kid and dog-friendly. They don’t have a kitchen, but a schedule of food trucks can be found on their website.
For our cider experience, we headed over to Woodinville Ciderworks. Principal owner and Cidermaker Leroy Radford served us some of his tasty cider and told us about his journey, which was quite eclectic. He graduated from the Cornish School of Arts, as a dancer. Radford then went to Broadway to dance in a number of productions. From there he went into journalism and became a filmmaker and opened his own multimedia business! While some might think all that sounds a little incredible – meeting Leroy would put your doubts to rest. The man’s energy could fill a room! In early 2000 Leroy was drawn to winemaking and studied in enology and viticulture programs in Oregon and Washington through the Northwest Wine Academy. In 2008, he opened his own winery, Flying Dreams Winery. Never one to rest on his laurels, Leroy began Woodinville Ciderworks in 2015. Today his cider is sold in over 150 local establishments. Working closely with Jocelyn, another principal, and Head of Operations, Woodinville Ciderworks currently has 8 distinct ciders on tap. We were fortunate enough to taste the Passion Mango, Apricot Hop, & Peach Ginger. Michael’s favorite was the Passion Mango. Mine was the Peach Ginger, so that was the bottle we took home.
Our next stop was J.P.Trodden Distillery. We met owner and distiller Mark Nesheim, who was understandably very proud of the small-batch bourbons. Even though Nesheim is not exactly a common name, he is not related to Ray and Rich Nesheim of Triple Horn Brewery. They found each other through a mix-up by a FedEx delivery and became friends and supporters of each other’s establishments. Mark started out as a chef and restaurant executive, but as he neared the age of 50, he realized he wanted to do something else.
Mark and his wife Jennifer had a spark of an idea to open up a distillery. Four years later they introduced their first small batch bourbon. The craft of creating an excellent bourbon includes hundreds of variables. J.P. Trodden cooks their mash of 70% corn and 30% winter wheat, all grown on a one family farm in Quincy WA. Mark painstakingly shepherds the mash through the process of distilling in their copper alembic pot still. It is then aged a minimum of 3 years in new Kentucky oak. When it is matured, Mark hand selects 3 barrels at a time for blending and bottling. After hearing about all of this, our next step was the difficult task of tasting the goods. We started with the J.P. Trodden Black Label. It is aged for three years and is 90 proof. It is also a World Spirits Competition Double Gold Winner. The layered flavors of caramel, vanilla, and anise are complemented by the oak notes from the casks. Next came the J.P. Trodden Red Label. This one had flavor notes of maple, vanilla and black pepper – which were echoed in its long spicy finish. Our last taste was of the J.P. Trodden Blue Label – which was my favorite - and also their premium label. The long honey finish was preceded by notes of caramel, maple, rose petal and butterscotch. One sip and all I wanted to do was retire to the fireplace on a snowy afternoon.
So who is this J.P. Trodden these excellent spirits are named for? J.P. lived in the Okanagan region in northern Washington State. As a mail carrier, he worked the “Star Route” which actually crossed the Canadian border. Did I mention that this was during the early 1930’s – Prohibition times? Of course, Canada was not suffering under the strictures of prohibition, so J.P. nice guy that he was, would sometimes stash a bottle or two of whiskey in his mailbag, and met his friends back in the States in a small cabin, to share in the rare treat of a glass of whiskey. The cabin was Cabin #5 on the Star Route (ergo: JP -star-5). I think old J.P. would be quite proud of his namesake bourbon!
After all that heavy lifting, we were ready to find our home for the night. We traveled the short 10-minute drive to downtown Kirkland to the Heathman Hotel. The Heathman, located just a couple of blocks from the Kirkland waterfront, is the only boutique hotel in downtown Kirkland. The warm luxury of the lobby, rooms, and hallways, are enhanced by lovely pieces of artwork. Every room has a different décor. The hotel also offers a shuttle to Woodinville so you can explore the tasting rooms, and then they will come back to pick you up. There is also a lot to do around lively downtown Kirkland.
For dinner, we wandered down to Trellis, located in the lobby. The ambiance of the restaurant creates a magnificent garden setting. Lots of greenery and very comfortable patio-type chairs and tables. But don’t let the relaxed, informal setting fool you, this is a fine dining, culinary experience. Michael started with the seasonal Parsnip soup. Built on a vegan base, it was light and tasty. I went for the Cider Steamed Clams, steamed in cider, parsley, shallot, garlic, butter, and lemon zest. And of course, the grilled baguette, because steamed clam lovers know that the best part is scooping up the delicious broth with a tasty baguette.
For our main course, Michael chose the daily fresh fish selection of Sablefish, with kale, fennel, red peppers, shaved radish, and zucchini. The fish was terrific with a smooth, velvety texture and sweet buttery taste. Sablefish is a “meatier” fish, with a great taste, and Trellis did it proud. I decided on the Grilled Ribeye with baby potatoes and grilled broccolini. The broccolini was cooked to perfection, with that tender, crispy snap to it. When Michael asked me how the beef was, all I could say was “Oh. My. God!” It was one of the most tender, rich and beefy-ist steaks I had the joy to experience. Highly marbled and cooked to my preferred level of medium rare – it was a real treat.
When asked about dessert, we immediately groaned a reluctant no. But the prospect of Honey Rosemary Hand Crafted Olympic Mountain Ice Cream was too compelling. It really was a great way to end the meal.
As always, we feel that it is our civic duty to include some suggestions for fresh air and exercise on these excursions. And the Woodinville area has a lot to offer in that department. Wilmot Gateway Park is a great place to start. It is the flagship park of Woodinville.
Along with covered picnic areas, beautiful engraved tiles and bricks, and a large grassy bowl that is perfect for Frisbee or suntanning, the Sammamish River Trail runs right through it. The trail runs 10.9 miles from Bothell, through Woodinville to Marymoor Park in Redmond and is part of the Locks to Lakes Corridor. It is paved the entire length and is popular with walkers, bikers, skate skiers, and roller bladders of all levels.
When it was time to go home, (always the hardest part of our trips), we comforted ourselves with the knowledge that Woodinville Wine Country has lots of wonderful events throughout the year. Here is just a short list of the fun opportunities:
Holiday Artisan Show - Nov. 10, 2018 Eye of the Needle Winery
Women, Wisdom & Wine - Nov. 28, Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery
St. Nick’s Holiday Wine Weekend - Nov. 30 to Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018
Private Barrel Auction - Aug. 15, 2019, Novelty Hill-Januik Winery
And if you are interested in learning more about our favorite beverage, watch for the 2019 Woodinville Boot Camp (check out their last event here), sponsored by Woodinville Wine Country.
The list above is just a small sample of what goes on in Woodinville Wine Country. Check out the full calendar here.
Lucky for us, we live close enough to Woodinville to visit often. But even if it involves an airplane flight, it is worth the trip to experience the Spirits of Woodinville.
Editorial disclosure: Food and lodging were generously provided.