When coming off of a 19 hour stretch on the road, typically the first thing I want to do is head straight to my hotel and relax. The last thing to cross my mind would be making detour into wine country before the final three hours drive to my destination. This is exactly what Erin and I did when we flew from Taipei to Seattle en route to the Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference this week. Why just hop in the car and drive North to Vancouver when Woodinville, Washington and its over 50 wineries are on the way?
Never one to take such an undertaking lightly, a little research in advance found that the biggest winery in the region, Chateau Ste. Michelle, opened at 10AM. This was well before we’d be able to arrive from Seattle, so we wouldn’t have to wait at all to get started. We made this our first destination of the day, so we’d have a chance to get our bearings on the Woodinville area, and taste a little something from the Robert Mondavi of Washington State. While this may sound like something good, this was actually a mark of trepidation for us, as we expected this would mean the tasting would be a rushed, impersonal affair in which we would feel like we would need to be indebted to the staff for taking the time to allow us to taste their wares.
This turned out to be far from reality, as we had a truly wonderful tasting experience there. It started when we first arrived at the winery, as we were stuck by the sudden appearance of what seemed to be two large estates on either side of the road, and as we turned into the one marked Chateau Ste. Michelle, we continued in awe at the gorgeous grounds that came into view. After parking, we walked past some historical old farm houses and outer buildings, the outdoor stage where they hold their summer concert series, and up to the visitor center and tasting room.
Inside the tasting room, we were immediately offered the option of the free tour of the facility and grounds, which we unfortunately had to pass up this trip due to our time constraints, but were given free rein to wander the retail area or wander back to the tasting bar. At the tasting bar, we were warmly greeted and walked through the specifics of what the tasting would entail. Throughout the tasting, we tried ten wines and received an incredible wealth of information from our tasting coordinator, Barb. The wines we tasted covered a range of styles, from crisp, summer-sipping whites through a large selection of robust Rhone, Bordeaux and even Portuguese-style reds.
Barb also provided us with the location of a perfect bistro nearby where we could grab some lunch, which turned out to be within a couple hundred feet from two of the other local wineries we wanted to hit on out visit. She even actually used to work at one of these not too long ago. Visiting these showed the true spirit of what Woodinville is. As you drive from Chateau Ste. Michelle into the Visitor’s district of Woodinville, you find yourself in what at first glance seems like any suburb in modern America, with country-style strip-malls, adorned with exposed wood vs. concrete. At closer glance, however, you see the stores populating these strips are not just drug stores and nail salons, but a wide selection of winery tasting rooms representing over 50 wineries from a of the wine regions of Washington state. As much as we wanted to try them all, we had to resign ourselves to just a couple of stops and lunch at the Purple Café.
When all was said in done, we experienced three wonderful winery tastings, had a case of wine shipped down to Erin’s parents in California, and purchased a selection of wines to enjoy between our “mellow” evenings in our hotel room at TBEX and back home in Taiwan. We still made it to Vancouver in time to enjoy a few hours of the pre-conference meet-up at the Dockside Restaurant on Granville Island. And best of all, we had a wonderful experience in Woodinville that leaves us longing for a return to try many of the other wineries represented here, and to continue to broaden our appreciation of the wines of the US outside of California.