If you're planning a visit to
Washington State and the Pacific Northwest in general, you'll
probably be spending some time in Seattle.
And so a wine trail tour that
is close to downtown Seattle is a convenient opportunity for
you to enjoy some of the lovely wines that Washington is
increasingly becoming renowned for.
The nearby city of Woodinville
and surrounding area has a concentration of over 40 different
wineries, from tiny boutique wineries to the state's largest
winery, and so offers something for everyone wishing to go wine
touring and tasting.
This page provides an overview
of the Woodinville winery region, and talks specifically about
the larger wineries. The next page in the series talks
about the boutique type micro-wineries, also in the same area.
Where the Wineries are Located
largest number of the wineries that are conveniently close to Seattle are in
the Woodinville area, about 20 easy freeway driving miles north-east of
There are also a few wineries sprinkled around the rest of the
region. There's an excellent map on
this website that shows you many (but not all) of the
wineries and their locations.
We suggest you concentrate on the Woodinville region because you
have your greatest choice of wineries there.
Although people love to joke about Seattle's rain, the reality
is that Seattle has a welcoming climate, conducive to wine trail
touring pretty much year round.
Snow is very rare in the winter. Expect one or two brief
falls a year, and they will usually melt away within a day or two of falling, so
you're almost certain not to have snow problems if visiting in
The summers are warm to hot - temperatures will sometimes get
into the mid 80s but seldom much beyond that, so you'll not get
too hot in the summer.
And the rain, when it does fall, tends to be a light drizzle
rather than a drenching downpour.
You'll be parking close to the cellar door at most of the
wineries so even if there is a bit of a drizzle, you shouldn't
get too wet.
So you can plan a visit to the Seattle area at any time and enjoy your
wine touring free of major weather type constraints.
A helpful solution to the 'designated driver' challenge might be
to take an organized tour around selected wineries, with someone
else doing all the driving for you.
There are standard scheduled winery tours available, or, as an
alternative, you can charter your own vehicle of pretty much any
size and be driven around at your pace, and to your choices of
One company that specializes in private vehicle touring is the
company. The advantage of using this company rather than a
generic coach or limo operator is that they have some prepared
winery itineraries, ranging from $340 for a 16 seater coach on a
four hour tour and up from there - more of course for larger
coaches or longer tours.
A company with scheduled 'seat in vehicle' public touring is
Shuttle Express, operating a 5.5 hr tour on Saturdays for
$65 per person.
And here's an
excellent 'combo' tour that takes you to some of
the scenic highlights of Seattle's Eastside as well as to two
wineries for $70 per person. Definitely recommended if you don't want such a
heavy-duty wine touring/tasting and would like to combine it
with other sightseeing.
Two Touring Options
We suggest you choose from one of two different 'themes' to your
tours. The first theme would be to focus on the
larger wineries, the second would be to visit the
micro-wineries. Of course, if time allows, you can do one
theme one day and the other theme the next day.
The Major Wineries
There are two major wineries and several other large wineries,
all clustered close to each other on the south side of
In addition, there is also a mini-brewery (bigger than a
micro-brewery, but still a craft type brewery which brews
and serves its beer onsite), a good hotel to stay at, and food
options ranging from some of the very best in the Seattle region
to ordinary fast food choices, all no more than a mile or so
from each other.
If you chose to stay at the hotel, you
could simply walk the short distance between it, the brewery,
and the best three of the wineries, with other wineries only
slightly further down the road.
There is also a lovely walking or cycling trail along the
Sammamish Slough nearby (the Sammamish River Trail, an extension
of the Burke Gilman trail, which can take you all the way around
the top of Lake Washington, through Seattle, and to Puget Sound
in one direction, and to Issaquah in the other direction before
continuing on to Snoqualmie Falls and even to Snoqualmie Summit) and in the summer, balloon flights
operate in the area too.
Wineries to Visit
We recommend you visit Chateau Ste Michelle, Columbia Winery,
and Novelty Hill/Januik (two wineries sharing common
We recommend you do not visit Silver Lake Winery. If you
wish to visit more wineries, the Woodhouse Family Cellars would
be a very much better choice.
There are two other nearby wineries that on the face of it you
might consider visiting, but we recommend against those, too.
These are Matthews Estate and De Lille Cellars.
This winery is far and away the largest winery in Washington
State. In 2008 they produced about 60 million bottles of
wine, with the total wine production in WA state being about 102
Although it is a mega winery, they've gone to considerable
lengths - and spent substantial sums - to develop a
beautiful 'chateau' style environment in Woodinville.
Several different buildings are set in delightful park-like
grounds, and there is even an outdoor area for summertime
In terms of tasting, there is a nice and large series of tasting
rooms which do double duty as retail shops. Tasting is
expensive - $10 minimum, in return for which you get to taste
four wines. If you choose to buy any of the wines tasted,
you get a 20% discount as partial compensation for your $10
They have reasonably interesting winery tours that also give you
a wine taste as part of the tour. The tours are free and
last just over 30 minutes.
Our suggestion is not to buy the $10 tasting, but instead take
the free tour (assuming you haven't been on lots of winery tours
already). And then, if it is a nice day, you can also
spend time in the beautiful grounds - perhaps have a picnic
lunch on the lawn - even enjoy a bottle of wine (and we've
spotted people drinking on the lawn with their bottles of wine
not being from Chateau Ste Michelle).
website is helpful and gives details of opening hours, etc.
Normally they are open from 10am - 4.30pm daily.
This long established winery (est 1962) is another major player
in Washington State (and California too), and is located just
over the road from Chateau Ste Michelle.
One of the distinctive things about Columbia is that their
tasting room stays open until 6pm daily - the latest of the
wineries in the south Woodinville area, so it often makes sense
to visit them last.
They have a nice facility in nice grounds, but there aren't the
same opportunities for outdoor picnicking as there are at
Chateau Ste Michelle.
Tastings are $5, which can be applied to wine purchases if you
choose to buy some wine. You can taste any five wines from
a selection of usually eight or nine wines.
website tells you more about the company.
Hill Winery & Januik Winery
These two wineries share the same building and the same
The building looks ugly and stark from the outside, but inside
there's a lovely tasting area that won a design award, plus
outdoor areas, private rooms for groups, and views into the
storage and winemaking parts of the building too.
Staff are very friendly and very generous with their wine pours.
In theory, $5 buys you four wine tastings - you're given a list
of about seven wines to choose from - but we've had as many as
seven on some visits (including wines not officially on the
list), and could have had more if we'd wished.
As is invariably the case at the smaller wine makers, if you're
polite and friendly and appreciative, the staff will respond
They sometimes sell hot food snacks (ie pizza), and in
addition to selling wine by the bottle to take away, you can
also buy wine by the glass to drink on site.
This is our favorite of the large winery facilities for drinking
in; Chateau Ste Michelle is our favorite for enjoying the
There are websites for both wineries -
Novelty Hill Winery and
Winery. The tasting room is open until 5pm daily.
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.
Fortunately there's a smaller but still very nice winery close
by that is not too far to walk to. So if you'd like to add
another winery to a day of tasting (and if you've been tasting
at three wineries already, you've probably had something like
half a bottle of wine to drink so far, so be realistic about the
number of wineries you're visiting) here is a suggestion.
As a smaller winery, this company doesn't have its own building
but instead has space in a light commercial business park just
up the road from Novelty Hill/Januik.
Go inside and you find yourself in a very spacious and appealing
tasting room area.
Like many of Washington's small up and coming wineries, they are
rapidly growing and are currently doubling their production every year (6000 cases in
2008). They produce a variety of different wines under a
confusing variety of five different brands. The friendly
owner, Bijal, will be pleased to explain the rationale for each
different brand, however.
A tasting costs $5 and gets you four different wines, freely
poured rather than via a measuring device. One of the
unusual and positive features of this winery is that you will
probably get a chance to taste not only very recent wines but
also some much older wines too - when we visited in May 2009, he
was pouring a 2002 and 2003 wine. Other wineries were more
commonly offering 2006 - 2008 wines.
The winery is open until 5pm daily and has a Friday 'Happy Hour'
from 4pm - 7pm (when you can buy wine by the glass and some
light snacks and sit down in the tasting room area for an
extended stay rather than just visit for a tasting session).
More information can be found on their
.... And a Brewery Too
Located immediately next to Columbia Winery is the Redhook
Brewery, which can make for an interesting change of flavor
(assuming you choose to ignore the adage 'don't mix grape and
grain'). They also serve food.
The Redhook Brewery was established in Seattle in 1981 and has
grown to become one of the nation's largest craft brewers,
producing 360,000 barrels of beer annually. It has a
brewery in Woodinville and a second one now in NH.
The Woodinville Brewery has an adjoining brewpub, which is open
until mid/late evening (check their website for the seasonal and daily
variations in opening time). They serve average quality
normal pub snacks and meals; and it can be a convenient place to
break a day's wine tasting for a meal, or to go to when the last
of the wineries closes (Columbia at 6pm).
As well as serving their own beers, they also offer wine by the
glass or bottle.
If you've never been on a brewery tour before, you might find
one of their brewery tours interesting - they are available at least a
couple of times every afternoon.
More information can be found on their rather annoying
Wineries to Avoid
If you're looking at a map of nearby wineries, you'll see some
other wineries that, on the face of it, seem like they might
make for interesting visits. Here are three that we
suggest you consider avoiding - not necessarily because they are
bad, but rather because we feel they are not as good as the others,
so assuming you run out of time before you run out of
wineries, maybe it is best to avoid these ones accordingly.
Silverlake and other affiliated wineries
This is/was an ambitious project to provide a common retailing
facility for multiple wineries.
Unfortunately, we feel that the concept sadly fails - it has
become overwhelmingly commercial with no real winery type
ambience. You may as well go to your corner wine shop as
visit this facility.
They sell tastings for $5 - $10 for perhaps five wines.
Their website implies a lovely facility; the reality is a more
disappointing tiny tasting room on the corner of a drab commercial
The aloof and unfriendly man working in the tasting room seemed
to think that charging twice the going rate - ie $10 - to
taste four wines was fair and reasonable; indeed he strongly
implied we should feel privileged at the opportunity to leave so
much of our money behind in return for a chance of tasting his
Do the math : If four ounces of wine cost $10, a $26 oz
regular bottle is being valued at $65. We feel that to be
an unrealistically high price and object to being charged so
much. We do understand the commercial need to break even
on all the direct and indirect costs of wine tasting, and we
even accept that wineries should make a gentle profit, but we
feel that Matthews (and some other wineries) are being too
aggressive in their pricing.
For sure, you can sometimes find yourself paying up to $30 when
visiting wineries in the Napa Valley. But this is not the
Napa Valley, and we feel the most commonly imposed $5 fee
represents a fair win-win compromise for wine makers and wine
Curiously, Matthews has a second outlet in one of the business
park areas of Woodinville. When we visited that outlet,
they were only charging $5 rather than $10 for their samples
(which we found to be ordinary rather than exceptional).
So we asked why their other location was charging the
more reasonable $5. The aloof and unfriendly man looked annoyed and said variously
that it was a mistake and they shouldn't have been doing that.
So - ordinary rather than exceptional wine,
ordinary/disappointing facilities, unfriendly staff and over the
odds costs. With 40+ other wineries in the surrounding
area, there's no reason to visit Matthews.
De Lille Cellars
The main reason for avoiding this place is simply because it
will probably not be open. They are open only on a few
days each year, and so we've not visited them ourselves. They
can also open for tastings by appointment at other times of
We believe they probably have a fairly nice facility, and they
say their wines are very good, and charge prices (eg
$75/bottle) that makes one hope they are not just very good but
But if your main objective in tasting is to casually go to friendly
places and to affordably 'discover' some wines that you'd never
otherwise encounter and in an informal setting, this is
probably not the experience you'd get at De Lille.
A Place to Stay and Gourmet Food
Why not stay in the Woodinville winery area for an overnight (or
longer)? You can then solve the problem of drinking and
driving by walking between the wineries if you choose to stay at
the lovely Willows Lodge, which is right next to the Redhook
Brewery. You could also bicycle by hiring a bike from
Willows Lodge (assuming you were a guest) - but note that DWI
laws apply to cyclists as well as to motorists.
Willows Lodge offers 84 rooms and suites, all spacious and
furnished to a high quality.
In addition to the lodge, they have an indulgent spa - perhaps
just the thing after a hard day of wine tasting. There are
three restaurants in the complex - the Fireside Cellars (which
also offers wine tastings), the Barking Frog, and the renowned Herbfarm Restaurant, which is considered to be one of the top 20
restaurants in the country.
The first two restaurants have a la carte dining. The Herbfarm
provides a fixed nine course menu, complete with five or six
wine pairings, at a price varying between $179 - $195 per
person, inclusive of wine, but plus tax and tip. However, when expressed in terms
of cost per hour, the price may appear more reasonable - they
recommend allowing 4 - 5 hours for the dining experience.
Needless to say, reservations for dinner at the Herbfarm are almost essential,
and there can sometimes be a several month waiting list,
especially for weekend dining.
More details on the websites
A Suggested Day Tour
If a nice summer day, arrive late morning, go to Woodhouse
Family Cellars first, then either have a picnic lunch at Chateau
Ste Michelle (you'll have to bring your own picnic) or go to the
Redhook Brewery for lunch.
After lunch visit Chateau Ste Michelle if you're not already
there, then go to Novelty Hill/Januik for a leisurely afternoon
of sipping and drinking, moving on to Columbia Winery shortly
before 5pm (when Novelty Hill closes) to give you an hour or
slightly longer at Columbia.
five of a series on wine trail touring in WA, see
About the US wine industry in general
2. Wine making in Washington state
Wine touring in Washington state
4. Wine costs, pricing, and quality
5. Wine trail
tours and tasting around Seattle - the large wineries
boutique wineries in the Woodinville area
Wine trail tours
Wine tasting in
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29 May 2009, last update
28 May 2011
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