On August 4th I posted a story about a trip for two that I won to the 2017 SOMM Summit International Wine & Spirits Symposium in Seattle, Washington. My story highlighted the symposium sessions and events that had the most impact on my wine education, journey and palate. You can read about it here.
As part of the three-day conference, my friend Susan Sheppard and I attended an offsite to Washington’s Woodinville wine country, just outside Seattle. Here’s where this part of my journey picks up and ends—for now anyway.
All Aboard! Woodinville
As I was tasting New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs at the final trade tasting on Day 3 of the SOMM Summit, I got the urgent “call” to get on the shuttle bus, which was about to embark on a tour of Woodinville wineries, courtesy of Sandra Lee, executive director of Woodinville Wine Country, and our trusty driver Cleave Butler, who went above and beyond the call of duty (I can’t tell you how or I’d have to take away your wine).
Woodinville wine country is 30 miles northeast of downtown Seattle and is nestled in the small, yet scenic Sammamish Rivery Valley. The area boasts more than 100 wineries—one of which is the historic Chateau Ste. Michelle—and tasting rooms, as well as restaurants, microbrews and distilleries.
Most of the wineries here source grapes from Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley, Washington’s largest viticulture region with a bit under 11 million acres. Woodinville contains four districts: Hollywood, West Valley, Warehouse and Downtown. We visited four wineries—one located in the Hollywood District; three located in the Warehouse District—each of which treated us not just to wine but also to a spread of cheeses, charcuterie and more. Here’s the short of it.
Novelty Hill–Januik Winery
Novelty Hill-Januik are two independent wineries that share a destination tasting room and production facility under the direction of Mike Januik, former head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle. Novelty Hill-Januik was the largest of the four wineries we visited, and is designed for wine making and hospitality on a large scale.
Mike’s son Andrew Januik works with his father and also has his own label, aptly named Andrew Januik.
Our three-wine flight included a Merlot. I often find it challenging to find a decent Merlot, but the 2014 vintage (shown below) did not disappoint. The blend is primarily Merlot with 4 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 3 percent Cabernet Franc from four vineyards in the Columbia Valley: Weinbau, Alder Ridge, Champoux, and Shaw Vineyards.
With 2014 being a warmer year in the Columbia Valley, the wines tend to be more aromatic with more concentrated flavors. The 2014 Januik Merlot is well structured and medium-bodied with aromas of red currant, red cherry and plum followed by lengthy flavors of fresh black fruit and chocolate.
Wineries of the Warehouse District
Lots of tasting rooms have cool décor. At W.T. Vintners it was the Merlot vine, more than 20 years old, that got my attention. I love photographing old vines because they have so much character, if they could speak, oh the stories they’d tell.
Let’s not forget the wine. The Stoney Vine Syrah and the Stoney Vine Red Blend from Walla Walla Valley, Oregon, also turned my head. The former is elegant on the palate, with notes of black olive, black cherry, red flowers and cracked pepper. The latter has aromas of black cherry, marionberry, raw meat, white pepper and smoke. Structured minerality and flavors of blackberry, violets and Kalamata olives dance among soft tannins.
Jeff Lindsay-Thorson, owner and winemaker, gets inspiration for his Syrahs from the Northern Rhone Valley. His winemaking approach involves the use of used oak for texture; and whole cluster fermentation for greater structure, and savory flavors and aromas.
Winemaker Shane Howard, Pondera Winery, hosted a tasting of four wines, accompanied by a scrumptious buffet.
A culinary spread prepared by Amato Catering consisted of Italian meat balls with shaved parmesan cheese, croissants croquembouche filled with wild mushrooms and ricotta cheese, sausages and baby potatoes stuffed with blue cheese, Focaccia bread caprese squares, and a Mediterranean plate with classic humus, babaganoush and pickled vegetables with warm pita bread.
Chef Danilo Amato was spot on when it came to pairing the croissants croquembouche with the Pondera 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc. Goat cheese, rather than Ricotta, is a likely pairing for Cab Franc, but the Ricotta worked—must have been the wild mushrooms. I definitely had one too many, croissants that is.
2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc tasting notes: The nose exhibits black pepper, leather black currant and hints of licorice. The palate expresses low acidity, bright raspberry flavors and a touch of dark chocolate.
Our last stop was Patterson Cellars where we met winemaker and owner John Patterson. More nibbles, more wine and lots of laughs ensued. The tallest guy in the cellar, John worked the room, seeing to it that no one’s glass was empty, not even his own.
Once again, the Syrah was a hit. Deep purple with intense aromas of smoked meats, cocoa and blackberry pie dominate the nose. Flavors of black fruits, a hint of vanilla, dark chocolate, and sage round out the palate with bold acidity.
Our Woodinville excursion was a pleasant, informal break from the more structured, educational conference. And while I could have explored another winery or two, the time had come to say good-bye, but not farewell. The wine trail is long but the industry is small, and the friends and colleagues you make along the way are priceless. Until then, cheers!