Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Day in Woodinville, WA

The last time I visited Seattle, we weren't able to make it to wine country.  I was happy today that this time, an afternoon excursion was possible.  We got a Zipcar and headed down to Woodinville just South of Seattle and hit a couple of wineries and ended the afternoon with a brewery.  It was a really fun afternoon, and we had some great wine and beer.

Delille Cellars:  Our first stop of the afternoon, and the reason I wanted to visit Woodinville, was Delille Cellars.  We had the good fortune to randomly meet Exectuvie winemaker, Chris Upchurch, and his wife at the their tasting room.  We pour the Delille Cellars Roussane by the glass at work, so I knew a little about them and their wines already, but I was very pleased to be able to try a more almost complete lineup of what they had to offer today - we tried seven of their thirteen offerings.

Overall, I admired the restraint of the wines.  The alcohol was in check and none were overly oaky for my palete.  Chris told us that he really admires French wines, especially those of the South and he models much of what he makes on greats such as Grange des Péres, Domaine Tempier, and Domaine de Trevallon to name a few.

I already love the Roussane, and I was also pleased to try their Graves style white called Chaleur Estate Blanc.  It is made from about 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc and 1/3 Semillon.  Because it is aged sur lie and barrel fermented, it has a rich creamy quality that reminds me of creme brulee.  That's not to say that the wine was soft.  On the contrary, there were plenty of bright citrus and floral notes like grapefruit and lemongrass that balanced out the full feel of the wine as we drank it.  It was a wonderful way to start a memorable afternoon of tasting.

We also tried a lovely Mourvedre based rosé, and their excellent lineup of red wines.  My favorite red was the Harrison Hill, a Bordeaux style red made mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon.  I thought it was a good example of a wine that straddles the fence between domestic Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux.  There was plenty of ripe black currant fruit, maybe leaning a little toward blackberry, but that was all balanced out by complex layers of black olive, tobacco, green peppers, dried leaves, and cedar.  The wine did see 100% new oak, but as Chris explained, he takes the wine out of the oak barrels and transfers it to neutral barrels so that it doesn't take on too much of the oaky character.

Chris seemed devoted to letting the grapes make the wine rather then futzing too much with them in the winery.  He spoke passionately about wines and winemakers around the world that he loved and respected, and I was inspired by his fervor.  He's been making wine since the 70's and began Delille in '82.  You could easily consider him one of the pioneer winemakers in Washington.  He and his wife were proud to tell us that their wines are enjoyed at the White House, especially by Michelle Obama, who is partial to their rosé.  His hard work and dedication are obvious in his beautiful wines.

Matthews:  Stop number two was Matthews less than half a mile from the Delille Tasting Room.  In fact, they were recommended to us by the folks at Delille.  We found Warren, our taster, doing some work in the wine-making room behind the counter when we arrived on this quiet Tuesday afternoon.  He was a really pleasant guy who patiently answered lots of my questions, and even showed us around the winery a little.  I was fascinated to learn about the egg-shaped concrete fermentation vessels that they are using to make Sauvignon Blanc.  We weren't able to taste any, due to it being sold out for the vintage.  I had never seen or heard about anything quite like these things before, and it seems they are a new trend in wine-making.

Matthews Estate wines were delicious.  They were polished and had a finesse and elegance that I associate with some of the most expensive domestic red wines, but for a fraction of the price that they usually carry.  The oak was nicely incorporated, and again there was a level of restraint that I admired.  Of the three reds that we tasted, my favorite was their Syrah.

Warren explained that a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the Syrah go to charity, which I thought was quite noble.  I can't imagine that this small winery makes a ton of money, and to see them donating to a worthy cause was nice.  The wine itself was delicious.  There were juicy blackberry pie notes with a bit of peppery spice on the finish, yet it was focused and not over the top or jammy.  We bought three bottles to take with us.

Novelty Hill and Januik:  This stop included two wineries in one.  Both wines are made by the same winemaker, Michael Januik, formerly of Chateau Ste Michelle.  Laura, our taster, was congenial and outgoing.  The deal for tasting there is that you can pick any four wines to taste for $5, making it the best deal of the day as far as tasting fees are concerned.  We let Laura chose for us, and were glad we did.

I liked the Viognier and Sangiovese that she let us taste from Novelty Hill.  Both wines were delicious and easy to drink.  Being modestly priced, they had an impressive expression of varietal character, and were surprisingly complex.  Of the Januik wines, We tasted the Merlot and the Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both were also very good.  Again, they had restraint, but they were the most opulent in terms of fruit expression of the wines for the day.  I thought they both delivered in spades.

The tasting facilities and winery at Januik/Novelty were beautiful in and of themselves.  It was designed by a local Seattle firm and had a sleek and open feel to it.  There were large glass windows where you could watch the goings-on in the storage room full of barrels, and the tanks where the fermentation took place.  Laura told us that it had become a popular place to have weddings, and I could see why.  There was some obvious care taken in the decor and the layout of the grounds, which include a Bacci court, that made you want to stay a while and enjoy the afternoon there.  It was lovely.

Red Hook Brewery:  The final stop of the day was at Red Hook Brewery, producer of one of Seattle's local and most noted beers.  We had a bite to eat at the pub while we waited for the 4:00 tour to start.  What we didn't know is that we would be drinking five different beers over the course of the tour.  It was quite a surprise considering that the tour costs $1!  Our guide had a dead-pan delivery when he told jokes that made us smile from ear to ear.  We saw the fermentation vats and the way cool bottling line and he told us a little bit about this history of the brewery and how beer is made.

The most fun part of the tour however was that over half of the crowd had attended it before and they were not shy about drinking the beer that our guide was pouring and pouring and pouring.  This must be the best deal in all of Woodinville, Seattle, Washington, and possibly the entire country to get a good buzz on for cheap.  We didn't mind hopping on the bandwagon in this case with all of the delicious beers there were to taste.

All in all, a great day spent in Woodinville.  I was very impressed with the overall quality of the wines we tasted and convivial spirits that we met.  We learned a lot, tasted some great beer and wine and had fun in general.  It's beautiful country and we even had good weather in the rainy, and sometimes dreary Pacific Northwest.  It was an afternoon to remember.


  1. Thanks for the write-up. Glad you enjoyed your visit to Novelty Hill-Januik, CQ. Hope we see you again soon, and to Dot, we look forward to welcoming you. The team at Novelty Hill-Januik.

  2. thanks Katie for reading my blog. We had a lovely time visiting you!

  3. You picked a good set of wineries to visit in Woodinville. Just a quick comment, the Chaleur Estate Blanc is typically about 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc and 1/3 Semillon.

  4. thanks! i have amended this in my post above.