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The boutique 'micro wineries' around Woodinville give you a very up close and personal exposure to the wine making process.

You'll usually be chatting with the wine maker/owner himself, and will be encountering some interesting and distinctive wines often quite unlike those for sale in your local supermarket.

 
 
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Woodinville, WA Boutique Winery Touring and Tasting

Getting as close to the leading edge of the wine making process as possible
 

Wow - count the sandwich boards lined up alongside the entrance to this business park in Woodinville, then get ready for some serious wine tasting, with more than 20 wineries all sharing the same business park.

Part six of a series on wine trail touring in WA, see also

1.  About the US wine industry in general
2.  Wine making in Washington state
3.  Wine touring in Washington state
4.  Wine costs, pricing, and quality
5.  Wine trail tours and tasting around Seattle - the large wineries
6.  Touring the boutique wineries in the Woodinville area near Seattle

7.  Wine trail tours around Leavenworth
8.  Wine tasting in downtown Leavenworth

 

 

When you choose to visit wineries, you'll soon discover a very different experience when going to a small winery, compared to visiting a mega-winery.

The mega-wineries may have elaborate tasting areas, and much seeming sophistication, but the chances are that no-one you'll meet there or talk to has been personally involved in the wine making process.  They're just hired help - yes, often friendly and expert knowledgeable people - but they're not the people who have hand crafted the wine you drink.

And the wine itself may be good, but it is seldom surprising or exciting.

Boutique wineries are very different, and the differences add to rather than detract from your wine touring and tasting experiences.

Note - see also the preceding article about Woodinville's larger wineries

You should visit our article about Woodinville's larger wineries which also offers general information about getting to Woodinville, the Woodinville wine industry in general, and other things to see/do and where to stay/eat around the Woodinville area.

The Boutique Wineries around Woodinville

Washington's wine industry is notable for having many small wineries and only a few larger wineries.  The boutique or micro-wineries are the essence and soul of winemaking in Washington, and you'll want to experience this as fully as you can.

Fortunately, it is very easy to do this, and once you've got to the major concentration of boutique wineries, there is very little (or completely no) driving needed between wineries.  You'll find about 20 wineries all in the one business park (the exact number varies and is steadily increasing), with another six or so in a nearby business park.

You can drive to this concentration of wineries then walk from winery to winery - many of them being immediately next to each other, requiring no more hassle than simply walking out one door and into the next.

Getting There

The main cluster of boutique wineries and the secondary cluster are close to each other, but perhaps a bit far to walk between.

Both are close to the SR522 freeway and to downtown Woodinville and are easy to find.

Sample addresses for the two business park clusters of wineries are

  • 19495 144th Ave NE, Woodinville, WA 98072 for the larger cluster

  • 18580 142nd Ave NE, Woodinville, WA 98072 for the optional smaller cluster

All of these wineries are in the business parks around these two addresses (same side of the road as the street numbers given, maybe plus or minus a few street numbers for the different lanes in the business parks) and once you get close, you'll see sandwich boards pointing you to some (but not all) of the wineries.

To get to these addresses, we suggest you plan a route using, eg, Google Maps.

Note also our suggested 'bonus' visits below to one more winery and possibly a micro-brewery too, as part of planning your complete touring route.

The Business Park Benefits

For us, as casual wine tasters, there are obvious benefits to finding a place where twenty or more wineries are all clustered together.

There are benefits for the winemakers, too.  Many of these very small wineries - some producing no more than 500 cases of wine a year - and can't justify the purchase of a complete set of winemaking equipment.  What is the sense in buying expensive equipment that might be used for two or three days a year, and which then needs to be stored somewhere for the rest of the year?  And so, the wineries tend to informally or formally cooperate and share some of the more expensive specialty equipment between themselves.

Another advantage is that some of them also pool together their grape shipments so as to have them trucked in fewer but larger loads, reducing the freight cost to bring their grapes from the vineyards in Eastern Washington to their wine making location.

This can also help with subsequent distribution, making it easy for a distribution company to collect and distribute small amounts of wine from many different wineries all at the same time.

Another advantage is that there is a pool of talented people all working close to each other.  The employees (and note that many wineries don't have any full time staff at all, just the winemaker/owner and his/her spouse, plus occasionally a part timer) sometimes float between working at several different wineries on an 'as needed' basis.

The concentration of wineries has also created a critical-mass synergistic effect whereby visitors stumble across the different wineries there (and sometimes literally so after tasting one too many samples already), discovering more wineries.  Each winery gets to share in the growing prominence of the business park without having to spend impractical amounts of money on their own marketing.  A sandwich board or two is all that some of the wineries need to spend money on, and in return they get a steady stream of visitors and potential customers each week.

Most of the wine makers see each other in the business park as allies rather than as competitors, and they generally work cooperatively together to help each other succeed.

Best of all, the many benefits make it easier for new startup wineries to get established, and this encourages more people to make more wine, and to take greater 'risks' with the wines they make and the styles they experiment with.

The bottom line for us is uniformly positive.  More wineries, all conveniently located together, more innovation, and business efficiencies that may also flow through to lower selling prices for the wine they make.

How to Tour the Business Park and What to Expect

The first thing to do is to clear your mind of traditional images and expectations.  Don't expect to visit beautiful French chateaux in an idyllic rural setting, surrounded by long rows of vines.  You are visiting wine makers, not grape growers.

Often (elsewhere) the wine making is done at the same places the grapes are grown, but this is absolutely not necessary or essential, and has no real connection to the quality of wine that is produced.  In the case of these business park wineries, they've decided to locate themselves close to their markets rather than close to their raw materials, with the resulting greater accessibility an outcome that greatly benefits us.

You're going to be visiting a plain and not particularly appealing business park populated with single story high-ceiling tilt-slab concrete warehouse buildings.  The large buildings are sliced into a series of bays, each one of which is rented by some sort of light industrial business entity.  Some of these spaces are wineries, other spaces contain all manner of other businesses.

Which leads to the serendipitous delight of touring through these boutique winery business parks.  You never really know what to expect, and you absolutely can't judge each winery from its outside appearances, or even from inside appearances once you walk into the winery.

Indeed, sometimes it seems that the less prepossessing the exterior and interior, the better the wine and more interesting the characters are that we meet.  The owners have simply focused more on their product and less on their presentation.

So, stroll around the business park, and go into wineries on a semi-random basis.  Remember, there are way more wineries than you can possibly visit in a day or two, no matter how hard you try.  Don't even try to visit them all, unless you're tasting 'professionally' - ie, not swallowing, and only very selectively sampling some of the wines.

Even a professional taster will admit to getting 'palate fatigue' after a while.  You are better advised to slowly savor a few wines - maybe do a 'double taste' at some wineries - than to rush through as many different wines as possible.

Amble around the business park as you wish, maybe tossing a coin as to which wineries to visit and which ones to leave alone.

And when you're in the wineries, engage the winemaker (for it is usually he who will be serving you) in conversation, and learn about his wines, his business, and what makes it special to him and perhaps to you too.  Most of these winemakers are doing wine as a hobby business, and they enjoy the chance to interact and share their interest with people like you.  They can sometimes be wary, because some of the people who visit are occasionally rude, drunk, and offensive, but once you show yourself as polite and pleasant, they'll be delighted to tell you a great deal about their winery, their wines, and why/how they make wines the way they do.

Boutique Wineries Are Unpredictable

Here's an important concept.  The larger corporate wineries seek to offer continuity and certainty in their wine styles so that you come to rely on a certain brand and label of wine being reasonably similar from year to year.  They provide year-round continuous supply of wine to their distributors and in turn on to restaurants and wine retailers, and many times the general public doesn't even notice the vintage year on the wine label, and doesn't really care.  This works to the advantage of the large wineries, who build up a following of brand loyal drinkers, and so they make only slow and small changes to their wines.

But it is completely different for smaller winemakers, who don't have the same considerations or constraints, and who aren't seeking to market 'wall to wall' year-round identical wines.  As a vivid example, we visited one winemaker, Patterson Cellars, and sampled two vintages of the same wine.  The wine had the same name, but whereas one vintage contained 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Sangiovese, the other year, immediately consecutive to this year, had the proportions completely swapped around.  The two wines had quite different characters.

We say this not as a criticism.  It is part of the vibrant excitement of the micro-wineries.  They are not afraid to experiment, and they are not bound by the chains of corporate branding.

Even if the winery isn't choosing to do some brave experimentation, most of the wineries you'll visit are still very new, and may have only released three or four vintages so far.  In such cases, they're still refining their processes and ingredients, and so for this reason too there is likely to be appreciable change from year to year.

Some Personal Favorites

We hesitate to offer this section to you, for fear that by directing you to some wineries, you might overlook other wineries which potentially might be as fun, as enjoyable, and with wines that are every bit as special as the wineries and wines we particularly enjoyed on the specific occasions we visited and tasted.

But perhaps you came to this page wanting some direction as to which of the many wineries you should visit, so we'll offer you a few personal favorites, in semi-random order.

Cuillin Hills Winery

Sometimes the wine maker is the star attraction, and sometimes it is the wine.  In reality, for most of us, after visiting three or four wineries, we're more likely to remember the wine maker than his wine!  One very strong example of this can be found at Cuillin Hills Winery where winemaker Derek Des Voigne (yes, related to the nearby Des Voigne Cellars winery) entertained us, variously consciously and unconsciously, during the entirety of our visit, with his raw and unfiltered - not wine, but commentary on wine and the world in general.  Besides which, by the end of our visit, he had decided to sell us one of his nine remaining bottles of a special vintage he had earlier made, so he's got to score highly.  Thanks, Derek.

Cuillin Hills Winery is a very small winery (only 600 cases produced last year).  They have a loosely enforced $5 tasting fee, which seems to get you about four or so wine samples, potentially poured in generous measure.  And there could well be some more wine 'under the table' that might be brought out and offered - you never know what Derek mightn't have about the place.  They're probably open on Saturdays until 4pm.

Baer Winery

We stopped by a small winery at the far end of the business park one time and were rewarded for doing so by being presented with a very distinctive red wine to taste, for free.  Such is the serendipitous nature of things.  This winery is Baer Winery, and they were tasting just one wine, their Ursa wine.

The 2006 that we tried contains an appealing mix of 50% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot - wow, a broad range of different flavors, that made for a lush and complex wine.  Well worth stopping by and sampling.  Unfortunately they are rarely open to the public, but of course you're in the area anyway, so why not walk down to their location and see if they're open (they're sometimes open 'unofficially' even if their website suggests they're not open).

Edmonds Winery

Boutique wine makers often feel themselves to be completely unconstrained by winemaking convention, and will create very distinctive blends that you've probably never encountered before.  The most free-thinking of all the wineries we've visited (so far - who knows what our next winery visit may not offer us!) would have to be Edmonds Winery.  Our $5 tasting of four wines (plus an off-list bonus) saw us being introduced to things like a 76% Sauvignon Blanc/24% Semillon blend, an 82% Merlot/18% Malbec blend, and a 58% Chardonnay/42% Sauvignon Blanc blend that did a good job of being 'the best of both worlds'.

One other very distinctive wine we sampled combined 53% Petit Verdot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Cabernet Franc.

These are all fascinating taste experiments and add a wonderful new level of experience to a visit around the wineries.  They are to be commended for their original thinking.

The wine drinking experience at Edmonds Winery was also different to at most other places.  We were taken into the winery itself and sat down at one of several tables - in our case, sharing a table with three other people who we struck up a pleasant conversation with - and had wine poured tableside to us as we were ready for each new taste.  It made for a relaxing nice change of pace from the typical arrangement of standing around a bar area.

Patterson Cellars

A good example of expecting the unexpected occurred at Patterson Cellars.  The visit started off ordinarily enough, and we were being served not by the wine maker but by an employee who seemed to be at least equally a beer enthusiast as he was a wine enthusiast - but that was a good thing, it gave us twice as much to talk about.

However, before too long he introduced us to Jack, the gentleman who with his son owns the winery, and then things really started to pick up, with Jack giving us a personal tour of the winery and a huge slug of wine direct from a barrel as a bonus.  A friendly chat with him about life in general, and his wines in particular, together with plenty of wine ($5 tasting fee for notionally 5 wine tastes) made for a convivial visit.

Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards

This winery is based in Eastern Washington, but has opened a tasting room in the business park complex.  They offer reasonably good wines and a tasting of four wines is $5, refundable on the purchase of wine.

The main reason for visiting Gordon Brothers, however, is not so much for the wine as it is for the glasses they serve it in.  If you've not heard of, or not tried, the amazing new Eisch breathable wine glasses, you should go to Gordon Brothers, because they serve their samples in these glasses.

The breathable glass claims to rapidly aerate a wine, enabling it to 'open up' its flavor in a couple of minutes, rather than requiring an hour or more for this to happen in a decanter, and many hours in a wine bottle.

This lack of breathing time is always a challenge when tasting wines which many times are out of very recently opened bottles.  So a 'breathable glass' is a great idea for wineries and their sampling rooms, and also a great idea for you at home too.

Try the wine in the breathable glasses at Gordon Brothers and see for yourself.

A Bonus Winery if Time Allows....

If you're walking around the area, you're somewhat limited as to how far afield you can conveniently roam.

Woodinville Wine Cellars

This is a lovely winery obscured by a plain seeming business exterior.

It is located more or less on the route to the two business park clusters of wineries, just off the SR522 freeway, and so makes a nice place to start or finish your boutique winery touring.

The winery has a pleasant and spacious tasting room and a very nice outdoor seating area where you can relax and enjoy your wine.  Tastings are $5, refundable against any wine purchases you make while there.  They sometimes offer tours of their wine making/storage facilities too.

The winery is open mainly on Saturdays until 5pm.  Current hours can be found on their website.

.... And Another Micro-Brewery Too

Wine and beer make for an unusual pairing, but many times wine enthusiasts enjoy a distinctive handmade beer as well.  And so here's a nearly brand new micro-brewery that opened in May 2009 for your consideration, and one which is already winning the enthusiastic approval and support of the local micro-brew enthusiasts.

Black Raven Brewing Co

Also located in a business park, but a few miles south of Woodinville on the northern tip of Redmond, this micro-brewery is so far acting as a case-study perfect example of how to do everything right in opening up a micro-brewery.

They've created a nice tasting room/pub, and are brewing a wonderful range of full flavored beers, with some interesting experimental beers in the pipeline.  Definitely a brewery worth visiting and keeping an eye on as it grows and develops into the future, and not too far distant so as to be convenient to include into a self-drive Woodinville boutique winery tour.

They are currently open six days a week (closed Mondays).  Get latest opening hours and other details from their website.

Part six of a series on wine trail touring in WA, see also

1.  About the US wine industry in general
2.  Wine making in Washington state
3.  Wine touring in Washington state
4.  Wine costs, pricing, and quality
5.  Wine trail tours and tasting around Seattle - the large wineries
6.  Touring the boutique wineries in the Woodinville area near Seattle

7.  Wine trail tours around Leavenworth
8.  Wine tasting in downtown Leavenworth

 

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Originally published 29 May 2009, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
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