It didnt feel like a romantic night out: Spending nearly three hours on a cluttered freeway in driving rain, then dashing from wine cellar to wine cellar in more rain with a soaked strip of tasting tickets and only a food truck for dinner, before winding back through traffic past misty vineyards to two more rainy freeway hours. Third Thursday Wine Walk or First, or Second in Woodinville sounds great on a brightly lit website, but the traffic-laden reality is different. That doesnt mean you cant explore Western Washingtons Napa from the South Sound it just means you have to be creative.
Woodinvilles Third Thursday Wine Walk has been going for five years now, drawing attention to the lesser-known wineries in the area. Chateau Ste. Michelle, which is Washingtons oldest and biggest winery, Columbia Winery (now 50 years old) and the nearby Redhook Brewery might still be the big hitters in this rolling valley north of Seattle, but for those who like the treasure hunt of exploring smaller vintages, theres dozens more to choose from.
And recently, the Third Thursday (which covers Woodinvilles Warehouse district, slightly northeast of the Chateau/state Route 202 area) has expanded into other Thursdays: First Thursdays in the Hollywood district and Second Thursdays in Kirkland. All three walks offer a blanket tasting price which is cheaper than doing it venue by venue and allows you to spend your tickets at any of the participating wineries, breweries or distilleries.
We get 200-300 people each time in summer, said Alicia Hansen of Page Cellars, which began the walks as a group marketing tactic for the smaller wineries.
The trouble is, Thursday nights from 4-8 p.m. are exactly the worst time to be driving to Woodinville from the South Sound. Even if you can leave work mid-afternoon, youll still be snarled in traffic, and getting back home will completely take the edge off any grape-induced bliss you might have experienced. And if you choose the Warehouse district, youll need to pack your own dinner, or else rely on the mobile food truck in the parking lot. When I went, it was the Barking Frog Kitchen, which does blue cheese fries and a signature Grand Marnier prawn dish, but isnt exactly upmarket.
Add in that nonparticipating wineries (i.e. the big ones, and any not in that nights particular district) will probably be closed, as will other retail draws, such as the extensive Molbaks nursery or the Adventura aerial play park near Redhook, and its even less appealing. A smarter way to do Woodinville is on a Saturday and preferably one without rain. (Many smaller wineries close on Sundays.) Spend the morning enjoying slightly less traffic before cruising the gently sweeping Sammamish River valley (Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 north, then state Route 522 east will get you to SR 202 the fastest). Take in a park (Totem Lake or the Sammamish River Trail), or ogle the plants at Molbaks, then head for lunch at one of the many Hollywood wineries with café patios, such as William Church, Purple Wine Bar or DeLille.
Then you can start your tasting cruise. Many of the Hollywood wineries are right there on the big corner, but dont miss Sky River Mead, with dry, semi- and sweet honey and fruit wines, and Soft Tail Spirits, with handcrafted vodka and grappa. This might also be the time to visit St. Michelle, unless youre planning on attending one of their summer concerts.
Head north up 148th Avenue Northeast (which changes to 140th Place and 140th Avenue northeast along the way). At Northeast 175th Street, turn right then head north on Northeast Woodinville Duvall Road and left on Northeast North Woodinville Way to the Warehouse district.
Here, too, theres a lot to choose from. Page Cellars is one of the most spacious with café seating in the barrel room. When I visited they had a cordial-tasting rosé, and a rough syrah with lots of chocolate, cinnamon and tannin behind it. Red Sky next door has a pretty barrel room; its signature Sunshine white is a buttery lemon blend, while the Sunrise cabernet franc blend is nicely peppery with hints of anise. Haystack Needle was serving up a big punchy cabernet which seemed a great value at $12 a bottle; Florentino had a sangiovese with a fruity, floral mouth explosion and a smoky coffee-ish malbec; Alta Cellars offered a cabernet franc with a broad, earthy berry feel. Project V Distillery does a local vodka. The industrial park location is practical rather than beautiful, but theres a world of taste to explore.
Head back south for dinner and maybe to catch a show at Chateau Ste. Michelle. You can even make a weekend of it and stay at the atmospheric Willows Lodge or Matthews Estate.
Seattleites looking for the next happy hour can keep the $20 Thursday wine walks. For South Sounders, exploring Woodinvilles wines should be a much more leisurely experience.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568