Vines and Fine Wines
EXPLORE LAKE CHELAN, WASHINGTON’S HOT NEW AVA
Distance from downtown Seattle: 180 miles; 3 hours, 15 minutes
Back in 1998, independent apple grower Steve Kludt was up to his sun leathered elbows in debt and about to lose his sloping orchard overlooking Lake Chelan. Kludt, an energetic baby boomer partial to silky golf shirts and lace-up comfort shoes, started thinking back to a pioneering viticulturist he’d met years earlier who had explained to him that his apple fields would be ideal for growing grapes. In a Hail Mary move, Kludt pulled up his trees and planted vines and, in 2001, he bottled the region’s first wine under the name Lake Chelan Winery. Today more than a dozen wineries dot the 55-mile-long lake, with over 260 acres of farmland devoted to wine grapes—enough to convince the federal government, in April 2009, that Chelan merited status as an independent AVA (American Viticultural Area). If you plan to visit several in a day, consider hiring a limo. Harvest season is a time for celebration at Lake Chelan, and there is no shame in leaving the driving to someone else (Lakeside Limousine Tours, chelanlimo.com).
Housed in a terra-cotta-roofed replica of a Mediterranean villa, complete with a fountain in front and twin wrought-iron lanterns flanking the entrance, Benson Vineyards Estate Winery (754 Winesap Ave, Manson, 509-687-0313; bensonvineyards.com) is the place to begin a Chelan tasting tour. After you sip through the current releases, linger on the terrace to take in the long rows of vines leading down the hillside to the glistening glacier-fed lake.
Just a short drive down winding Winesap Avenue is Lake Chelan Winery (3519 State Route 150, Chelan, 509-687-9463; lakechelanwinery.com) where Steve Kludt gives guests a great little tour, weaving a rich and folksy narrative of Chelan as he guides you through field and factory.
Heading back toward town, stop at Vin Du Lac Winery (105 State Route 150, Chelan, 866-455-9463; vindulac.com) for an afternoon snack—the buttery yellow bistro there charms via platters of cheese and charcuterie, fresh salads, crepes, and panini, all designed to be washed down with the house’s gentle whites and meticulously blended reds.
Along the southern side of the lake Nefarious Cellars (495 S Lakeshore Rd, Chelan, 509-682-9505; nefariouscellars.com), run by young winemaking couple Dean and Heather Neff, contrasts notably with the country-kitsch aesthetic of the older wineries. Here customers leave with chilled whites (the aromatic viognier is a winner) and hunks of Beecher’s Flagship instead of wine cozies and custom-labeled jars of chutney.
The hospitality industry is still catching up with Chelan’s wine tourist trade, but the best bet in town is Campbell’s Resort (104 W Woodin Ave, Chelan, 800-553-8225; campbellsresort.com), boasting a private lakefront beach (complete with a piña colada station where the bartender bops around to Bob Marley), clean, comfortable rooms, and an in-house spa.
Cross the resort parking lot to the Veranda Bistro and Bar, where a breakfast of heaping scrambles and honey-laced bacon clear up any cloudiness caused from yesterday’s sipfest. In town, The Vogue Liquid Lounge (117 E Woodin Ave, Chelan, 509-888-5282; thevoguelounge.com) is the spot for cappuccino or a fresh sandwich and a belt of local wine. Serving up a fancier feast, Winemaker’s Grill at Wapato Point Cellars (200 Quetilquasoon Rd, Manson, 509-687-4000; wapatopointcellars.com) will remind Seattleites, not unpleasantly, of a time when fine dining meant a hunk of rib-eye and an oversize chalice of some densely concentrated merlot.
WINE AND DINE ON WHIDBEY
Distance from downtown Seattle: 36 miles; 1 hour, 10 minutes
Chef Matt Costello left the Library Bistro at the Alexis Hotel—smack dab in the center of downtown Seattle—to be head toque and general manager at The Inn at Langley (400 First St, Langley, 360-221-3033; innatlangley.com), a lazy-days retreat perched above Saratoga Passage on the southeast side of Whidbey Island. It may have seemed like an odd move, but think about it: Penn Cove, famed for its mussels, is on Whidbey. Locally farmed ingredients such as beefy Rockwell beans abound, but are often eaten up by residents before they ever make it to the city. Up the road in Coupeville, other chef castaways include Steve Hansen, formerly of Cascadia, at Captain Whidbey Inn (2072 Captain Whidbey Inn Rd, Coupeville, 360-678-4097; captainwhidbey.com), and Seattle native Sieb Jurriaans, who owns Prima Bistro with wife Jenn. Watch Costello scamper about the herb garden in the inn’s front yard or poke around in its well-stocked wine cellar, and any doubt will disappear: This chef has found his farm-to-table home on Whidbey.
Just an hour-and-change journey from Seattle, Whidbey has always been a calm retreat for strung-out urbanites in search of a sleepy afternoon and spectacular maritime vistas, but today it is home to a cluster of restaurants, anchored by Costello’s own kitchen, that make this quiet island community an ideal gourmet getaway.
Plan a tasting trip to Langley on the first Friday of the month, when the town hosts Friday Night Flights. For $20 you get a wine tasting and small-plate pairing at Prima Bistro (201 First St, Langley, 360-221-4060; primabistro.biz), The Edgecliff Restaurant and Lounge (510 Cascade Ave, Langley, 360-221-8899; theedgecliffwi.com), and the Chef’s Pantry (112 Anthes Ave, Langley, 360-221-2060; chefspantryonline.com). On your way in from the ferry terminal at Clinton, stop by Whidbey Island Winery (5237 S Langley Rd, Langley, 360-221-2040; whidbeyislandwinery.com) for a quick tasting and a vineyard tour.
Whidbey’s pairing pièce de résistance, however, is the six-course tasting meal at the Inn at Langley ($150 per person with wine pairings). Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (and Thursdays during the season; check with the inn for details), Costello matches up dishes with premier Northwest bottles picked from his enviable collection: lamb loin with sweet corn polenta and chanterelles is augmented by a 1998 Andrew Will merlot, a cheese course of whipped Mt. Townsend camembert with rhubarb and roses is rounded out by a late-harvest viognier from Mount Baker Winery. Costello begins the evening with a chatty introduction to the ingredients and bottles about to be served, setting a tone for casual conversation to accompany the formal meal to follow.
On weekends, a two-night stay is usually required at The Inn at Langley, which boasts magnificent vistas of Saratoga Passage and the mountains beyond—leave the door to the deck open, weather permitting, and let the lapping waves lull you to sleep. Fans of all things country-cozy will relish the teddy-bear-on-every-bed approach of the Saratoga Inn (201 Cascade Ave, Langley, 360-221-5801; saratogainnwhidbeyisland.com) where water views are also in ready supply.
With a heated deck and a thoughtful list of wines, many available in three- and six-ounce pours as well as by the bottle, Prima Bistro is the place to sip something new alongside straightforward French-inspired fare like hanger steak frites and roasted chicken. The excellent Oystercatcher (901 NW Grace St, Coupeville, 360-678-0683; oystercatcherwhidbey.com), meanwhile, merits a trip north to Coupeville, 26 miles away.
Art of the Blend
MEET THE WINEMAKERS OF WOODINVILLE
Distance from downtown Seattle: 20 miles; 30 minutes
Have you ever wondered why there are so many wineries in Woodinville (over 50, including behemoths Columbia Winery and Chateau Ste. Michelle) and so few grapes grown there? The answer is: The drinkers live here—nearly half of Washington’s population lives in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area—and Woodinville draws them in with tantalizing tasting rooms and relaxing woodsy retreats.
In addition to the well-tramped grounds of Ste. Michelle and DeLille, Woodinville is home to edgier young tasting rooms that serve up some of the best wines in the state. At Mark Ryan Winery (14810 NE 145th St Bldg A1, Woodinville, 206-910-7967; markryanwinery.com) you’ll find compelling artwork, an old Oriental carpet befitting the baroque style of a rock and roll recording studio, and Mark (Ryan) McNeilly’s palate-bending vinos.
Just down the road is Efesté (19730 144th Ave NE, Woodinville, 425-398-7200; efeste.com), a small winery whose winemaker, Brennon Leighton, a SoCal skater type (at age 41) with tattoo sleeves, likes to go native, from a fermentation point of view, with delicious results—sauv blanc lovers won’t leave without a bottle of his 2008 Feral.
From there, it’s a three-mile jaunt over to Novelty Hill–Januik Winery (14710 Woodinville Redmond Rd, Woodinville, 425-481-5502; noveltyhilljanuik.com) where design geeks will fall for the cast-concrete building and manicured grounds, though the wine alone would be worth the trip.
At lunchtime, Barking Frog restaurant at Willows Lodge (14580 NE 145th St, Woodinville, 425-424-2999; willowslodge.com) has many a fancy plate on offer, or you can opt for a turkey sandwich on baguette and a side order of compulsively consumable shoestring fries. Even simpler pleasures await guests of the Forecasters Public House at the Red Hook Brewery (14300 NE 145th St, Woodinville, 425-483-3232; redhook.com). It’s probably not necessary to mention how good the beer is.
For dinner, Barking Frog neighbor The Herbfarm (14590 NE 145th St, Woodinville, 425-485-5300; theherbfarm.com) turns out some of the most acclaimed meals in the Northwest. Diners request a reservation well in advance based on the themed dinner of their liking (see website) then cash in a savings bond for the occasion.
For a somewhat less formal take on a multicourse pairing meal, plan a trip around one of Barking Frog’s winemaker dinners, when chef Bobby Moore and wine director Jeffrey Dorgan (see his wine picks) team up with a local winery to create an intimate multicourse meal served around a round chef’s table with a fireplace centerpiece.
A room at the lodgey-luxurious Willows Lodge is a short stumble across the parking lot from either the Herb or the Frog, and the thing to do there after dinner is wrap yourself in a bathrobe and slippers (provided), grab a half-bottle of 2008 Poet’s Leap riesling standing at attention by the minibar ($19), and let your fingertips pucker in the jewel-toned waters of the absurdly romantic Jacuzzi.
The Next New Thing
KIRKLAND’S GOT A BRAND NEW BIN
Distance from downtown Seattle: 10 miles; 20 minutes
Kirkland’s wine moment started with Bin Vivant, the self-described “vinocentric” restaurant in the basement of the Woodmark Hotel (1200 Carillon Pt, Kirkland, 425-822-3700; thewoodmark.com). Chef Lisa Nakamura and wine director Dawn Smith (see her wine picks) worked in tandem to create pairings that lured the oenophiles across the lake. But when both women opted to move on last year, Kirkland’s time as a wine lover’s destination seemed to be over.
But then, they came: Three wineries of varying scale and scope opened tasting rooms. And late this summer Bin got its groove back with brand-new digs in the view-boasting space formerly housing Yarrow Bay Grill and chef Scott Lents now confidently at the helm.
Today K-town’s wine attractions can be covered in an afternoon and an evening, but that’s not a bad thing for those in search of a speedy mini vacation.
By far the biggest thing in Kirkland wine right now is Grand Rêve Vintners (12514 130th Ln NE, Kirkland, 425-549-0123; grandrevewine.com), a collaboration between entrepreneur Paul McBride and Ryan Johnson, vineyard manager for some of the most sought-after real estate on Red Mountain. They planted fruit at Ciel de Cheval vineyard, one of the warmest in Washington, then paired up varietals with all-star winemakers—Mark McNeilly made a sangio, the syrah is the work of Ross Andrew Mickel. Taste the results in their navy-and-chrome tasting room, open each Saturday from 1 to 5pm and by appointment.
A few suites down the strip of offices from Grand Rêve is Pondera Winery (12806 NE 125th Way, Kirkland, 425-825-3917; ponderawinery.com), where a father-son team crafts wines more modest in scale and ambition, but with promising blends and a proletarian spirit. Case in point: You have to walk through the dusty family framing workshop to get to the tasting room. Pondera is open most Saturdays; call ahead to check before you go.
About a minute and a half up the road is Northwest Cellars (11909 124th Ave NE, Kirkland, 425-825-9463), best known as a private label operation that makes those custom bottles you see at corporate events. But Bob Delf also blends unpretentious, affordable wines that easily outperform those weekday reds and whites on sale at the grocery store. It’s $5 to taste five wines, and the fee is waived when you buy a bottle.
It’s hard to argue with The Woodmark Hotel’s perfectionist approach to luxury—plush towels, magazines arranged in a just-so row, homemade chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk to welcome you to your room at night. The lakeside views, meanwhile, are sparkly on a sunny day and cozy on a wet one.
See if you can’t beat the bloggers to just-opened Bin on the Lake (425-803-5595; binonthelake.com), the second incarnation of Bin Vivant. If you’re staying two nights, on the second hit up Holly Smith’s nearby Café Juanita (9702 NE 120th Pl, Kirkland, 425-823-1505; cafejuanita.com) for dazzling Northern Italian fare and an amazing list of wines from the boot to boot.