When you think of Washington wineries, chances are you think of places where the state’s wine grapes are grown, such as the Columbia Valley or the Columbia Gorge or Woodinville.
What you might not know is that wine is made right here in Thurston County.
“Absolutely, people are surprised to find out how many wineries are in the area,” said Josh Stottlemyer, owner of Stottle Winery in Lacey. “People are surprised and happy that they don’t have to travel very far.
“The quality of the wineries in the area is fantastic,” he said. “We all have award-winning wines.”
This weekend, the local wineries’ collaborative organization, South Sound Wine Trail, offers Wine and Chocolate Passport, so wine lovers can get to know the local wine scene. The event includes tastings at six of the trail’s seven wineries.
“People like to come out and have the party atmosphere,” Stottlemyer said.
He said Stottle will have a variety of confections to choose from, including truffles, turtles and a cherry-chocolate-macadamia candy.
“Last year, some people had chocolate fountains,” he said, “and some people had chocolate cheesecake.”
The Wine Trail has a few big events a year, but the group’s larger aim is to raise awareness about local wineries.
Events draw people from Seattle, Bremerton, Snohomish County and Portland, and the wineries are getting visitors from much further away than that.
“We regularly get visitors from all over the country,” Stottlemyer said. “Just last week, we had people from Wisconsin, New York, Georgia and probably a few other states as well.”
While wineries are growing in South Sound, the grapes are produced and harvested elsewhere.
“The grapes are grown in Eastern Washington,” said Ray Curtis, who owns Northwest Mountain Winery. (His winery also makes mead, he said — although that’s from honey produced in Centralia.)
Having grapes travel means that wineries here are more likely to be in industrial parks than on large estates, and they’re new, rather than generations-old family businesses.
Stottlemyer is the former owner of local web-design firm, the Helix Group. A few years ago, he decided on a career change, and now he and his wife, Amy Stottlemyer, are vintners.
“We’ve always been into wine and wine tourism,” Stottle said. “I went to wine school at the Northwest Wine Academy in South Seattle and started up the winery, and here we are today.”
Northwest Mountain started — like so many bands — in a garage.
Curtis grew up in Circleville, Ohio, working at a winery owned by a friend’s parents.
“I never thought about it again until I moved to Washington 12 years ago and started visiting some of the wineries on the Olympic Peninsula,” he said. “It was just like being back home.”
He made friends with some winemakers and started thinking about it. “One night, a friend of mine said, ‘We’ve been to wineries in garages. What do you think it would take to start your own winery?’ ” he recalls. “Next thing you know, our garage was a winery.”
Why the garage?
Well, for one thing, alcohol needs to be made in a secure location. “Crushing grapes can be messy, too,” Curtis said.