Washington Wine

10 Top Winery Visits

To truly appreciate wine, sometimes you have to look outside the glass. Here are 10 must-see wineries for Washington oenophiles.

By James Ross Gardner, Jessica Voelker, and Lia Steakley Dicker August 17, 2010 Published in the September 2010 issue of Seattle Met

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Chateau Ste Michelle

Image: Kevin Cruff

Take in a Show at the Chateau

Chateau Ste Michelle, Woodinville

Like a Disneyish pentagon, the sprawling mansion at Chateau Ste Michelle serves as an imposing architectural reminder that this is Washington’s largest and most powerful winery. In summertime the chateau’s perfectly pruned lawns are dotted with picnickers, who come to take in concerts by Lyle Lovett, Elvis Costello, or Crosby, Stills and Nash as they sip on CSM bottles sold on the premises.  Even when there aren't concerts on the schedule, enjoy a plein aire repast at the enchanted castle. Just show up any day between 10am and 6pm, snag a bottle and some snacks at the shop inside, spread out your blanket, and enjoy. 14111 NE 145th St, Woodinville; 425-415-3300; ste-michelle.com

WHEN TO GO The summer concert series runs from late May to September.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE Woodinville’s oldest winery has a lot of new neighbors; winemakers from across the state are setting up tasting rooms there. Just up the road in the Schoolhouse District, check out new pour spots from Alexandria Nicole, Mark Ryan, and Dusted Valley, among others. 

Get to Know Homegrown Merlot

Northstar Winery, Walla Walla

In 1994, Ste Michelle Wine Estates-owned Northstar Winery set out to show that the world’s best merlot—a black grape traditional to France’s Bordeaux region—could be grown and blended in Washington state. Consider that point proven: In a blind tasting at the Food Network’s 2009 South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Northstar’s 2005 Walla Walla Merlot defeated five wines from France’s famed Right Bank region, securing our place in the merlot-making hall of fame.

A short drive from the Washington-Oregon border, Northstar Winery is perched on a large patch of lawn surrounded by 14 acres of vineyard and backdropped by the shadow-scarred Blue Mountains. Inside the tasting room, stacked stone and wood accents create a contemporary country-lodge atmosphere, and the tasting bar serves up wine flights and picnic platters featuring Mediterranean bites. If you have any merlot doubters in your midst order up the Northstar Experience flight, comprised of recent vintages and blending wines. They’ll convert before your eyes. 1736 JB George Rd, Walla Walla, 866-486-7828; northstarwinery.com

BE SURE TO SIP Don’t miss the 2006 Walla Walla Merlot, number 33 on our Top 100 list. (Editor's note: this refers to our list from 2010.)

WHEN TO GO The tasting room pours from 11am to 5pm Monday through Saturday, and 11am to 4pm on Sunday.

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Northstar Winery

Image: Kevin Cruff

Escape to the Gorge

Cave B Estate Winery, Quincy

The last Dave Matthews Band CD you bought may predate iTunes, but the group still sells out a set of shows every summer at the Gorge Amphitheater in Quincy, Washington. And every summer the DMB entourage buys out Cave B—110 acres of vineyard surrounding a Tom Kundigdesigned inn, its sloping half-moon roof mimicked in a smattering of private guest houses perched on the edge of a 900-foot basalt cliff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge.

You can see why they like it. It’s just a few hours from Seattle, but the sun shines 300 days a year in Quincy, and all there is to do at Cave B is have fun. When not kayaking the river, mountain biking, or hiking through the sage, guests bring a bottle down to the cliffside swimming pool; slip into the spa for a hot stone massage; or stroll up to the airy tasting room to drink through winemaker Freddy Arredondo’s reds and whites. (Arredondo is son-in-law to owners Vince and Carol Bryan but sometimes nepotism pays off—Cave B’s wines have never been better.)

There’s more wine during dinner at Tendrils restaurant where chef Joe Ritchie serves up delicate nests of homemade pasta topped with seared scallop, pork loin braised in cider, and citrusy salads anchored by greens grown in the onsite chef’s garden. 348 Silica Rd NW, Quincy, 509-785-3500; sagecliffe.com

WHEN TO GO Daytrippers should check the website for tasting room hours, which change with the season. When planning an overnight getaway, do like Dave Matthews and book well in advance.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE Consider “roughing it” in one of Cave B’s luxury yurts—complete with WiFi and iPod docking stations.

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Image: Col Solare 

Taste the Terroir on Red Mountain

Col Solare, Benton City

More than 10,000 years ago the Missoula Floods swept through the rocky landscape of Red Mountain, leaving behind nutrient-rich top-soil deposits and forging gently rolling slopes that tend to be warmer and receive more sunlight than other parts of the Columbia Valley. Italy’s famed winemaker Piero Antinori was so impressed with the unique terroir, he joined forces with Ste Michelle Wine Estates to create Col Solare, Italian for “shining hill.”

“We’re focused on creating wines with concentrated flavors, aromatics, and supple tannins,” says resident winemaker Marcus Notaro. “In Italy, that’s achieved by not overmanipulating the grapes. That’s an approach we’ve adopted.” 50207 Antinori Rd, Benton City, 509-588-6806; colsolare.com

BE SURE TO SIP The Wine Advocate consistently bestows an impressive 90 points upon the cabernet sauvignon.

WHEN TO GO No appointment is needed Wednesday through Sunday, 11-5. Check their website for details on private tastings and tours. 


Sip Through Storytime

Portteus Vineyards and Winery, Zillah

Belly up to the bar at Portteus, in the dense vineyards of Rattlesnake Hills, and owner Paul Portteus will ply you with samples of his acclaimed wines while he explains, not for the first time, why he snubbed California to set up shop in Yakima Valley.

The year was 1978 and Portteus had just sold his small Puget Sound music store chain Penny Lane Records. Already an amateur winemaker, he headed off to Napa to scout vineyard land. But the buzz about Washington’s budding wine industry drew him to Yakima instead. He ended up planting eight acres of wine grapes in 1981, a few years before the state’s first wine appellation received federal recognition, and Portteus Winery became Washington’s fourteenth vino maker. Red-wine lovers have been making the long and dusty drive ever since. 5201 Highland Drive, Zillah, 509-829-6970; portteus.com

BE SURE TO SIP The 2006 Old Vine cabernet sauvignon, produced from Portteus’s oldest vineyard block, recently won top honors in both the Seattle Wine Awards and Northwest Wine Summit.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE Don’t miss quirky Paradisos del Sol winery, or its giant wall of recycled wine bottles, just up the road on Highland Drive.

Slow Down in Walla Walla

Abeja Winery, Walla Walla

The scene outside the window of your room at the Inn at Abeja Winery plays like a shot from a Terrence Malick film. Wheat whips the air. The sky goes golden in the abating sunlight. A deer picks its way through the gardens as a bird lights on a grape vine. You reach for the field guide and binoculars, provided by the inn. You identify the feathered wayfarer—a yellow-breasted chat, say—then telescope your gaze out across the winery’s 35 acres. Fully-restored, century-old buildings—barn, carriage house, chicken coop—wed agrarian romance with twenty-first-century wine tourism.

Converted from an old wheat and dairy farm and opened in 2000, Abeja (Spanish for “bee”) is an eight-minute drive from Walla Walla. To visit the winery, you have to sign up as an overnight guest of the inn; the staff will greet you with a glass of cabernet sauvignon upon check-in. Your room may be the chicken coop—fully redesigned and refurbished, of course, with a wide-screen TV, WiFi, and a plush queen-size bed—or the bunk house, where, decades ago, farm hands slept off the harvest’s assault on their muscles.

Breakfast is in the former dairy barn, where the servers orbit the guests—up to 14 at a time—with plates of eggs. It’s also the site of the wine tastings, open to inn guests only. There Molly Galt (her title is marketing and public relations but she seems to do a little of everything) will ask you about you. How else will she know whether to pour the 2007 syrah or the 2008 voignier? “It’s not the kind of tasting room where you pop in and try some wine,” Galt says. “There’s so much you can talk about based on guests’ interests.”

So talk. Listen. Taste. 2014 Mill Creek Rd, Walla Walla, 509-522-1234; abeja.net

BE SURE TO SIP Abeja’s viognier has the acid to help it hold up against all kinds of food, making it a great pairing wine.

WHEN TO GO May 5 through 7 is their Spring Release Weekend, a chance to be among the first to taste their seasonal wines. Mailing-list members and guests of the inn are invited.


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Novelty Hill Winery

Expose Yourself in Woodinville

Novelty Hill-Januik Winery, Woodinville

The two wineries operate independently from each other but share a winemaker—Mike Januik—along with the facility. On weekends, Microsoftee crowds flock to the 360-degree bar, where $5 buys them a choice of four pours from 10 varietals available for tasting. Four flatbread pizzas are available for Saturday and Sunday lunch; they all pair excellently with Novelty Hill’s fruity 2007 Stillwater Creek sangiovese. 14710 Woodinville-Redmond Rd NE, Woodinville, 425-481-5502; noveltyhilljanuik.com

BE SURE TO SIP We love Mike Januik’s way with the white wines, especially his Stillwater Creek roussanne and chardonnay.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE Consider opting in to Cellar Circle (there are two membership tiers) to gain access to limited releases, waived tasting fees, and invitation-only parties and events. 

Live the Dream in Lake Chelan

Nefarious Cellars, Lake Chelan

If you’ve ever daydreamed your way out of a staff meeting and into a sun-drenched afternoon in wine country, the image in your head probably looked a lot like Nefarious Cellars. Topping a vine-bedecked hill overlooking sparkling Lake Chelan, the tasting room buzzes with hotspot energy but is unadorned with the tourist-trap bric-a-brac you’ll find at neighboring wineries—lest homemade jam and souvenir stemware distract from the wine itself.

Of course, no picture-perfect winery experience is complete without a backstory: Nefarious is run by a cute young couple—she (Heather Neff) is in charge of white wines, he (Dean Neff) makes the reds—who returned to their native Chelan after learning the way of the vine in Oregon. When you go, start by tasting Heather’s whites—her off-dry riesling (made with fruit from the Stone’s Throw Vineyard) her crisp, drinkable viognier. Then move on to Dean’s reds—an estate-grown syrah, a tasty cab made with fruit from Riverbend Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope. Before you leave, wander out to the deck to take in the lake and offer up a pet or two to Lucy, the golden retriever who greets guests sweetly as they enter and leave this little plot of paradise. 495 South Lakeshore Rd, Chelan, 509-682-9505; nefariouscellars.com

WHEN TO GO Visit the tasting room from April through October, hours vary depending on the season.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE If you’re looking for lunch, head to the opposite shore of Lake Chelan. The bistro at Vin du Lac winery has panini, pureed soups, and salads, plus more jaw-dropping views of the water.

Go Green in the Tri-Cities

Badger Mountain Vineyard and Powers Winery, Kennewick

Badger Mountain Vineyard, the first certified organic vineyard in Washington State, sits behind a quiet subdivision populated with identical houses. But its origins are anything but cookie-cutter.

Back in 1982, Bill Powers, an Oklahoma cattle rancher who moved to the Tri-Cities area in 1957, saw the potential in Washington’s burgeoning wine industry. He sold his family orchard and planted a 73-acre vineyard on the southern slope of Badger Mountain in the Rattlesnake Hills. But Powers grew increasingly concerned about the health of vineyard workers and nearby residents. So he switched to organic farming methods.

Over the years, the winery’s commitment to the environment has extended beyond producing organic vino. Tractors are fueled with homebrewed biodiesel made from restaurant cooking oil, and sunshine powers the winery’s cozy 900-square-foot tasting room. “Eventually, the winery, barrel room, and entire operation will be solar-powered,” says Powers’s son and winemaker Greg.

At the tasting room, pick from a staggering 20 varietals under the Badger Mountain and Powers labels. 1106 North Jurupa St, Kennewick, 800-643-9463; badgermtnvineyard.com

BE SURE TO SIP On our last visit, we couldn’t seem to stop drinking the 2007 syrah.

WHEN TO GO Consider arranging a trip during the annual Tri-Cities Wine Festival, held this year November 12, 2016.

Go Old School in Frenchtown

L'Ecole No 41, Walla Walla

You know the schoolhouse that’s on the labels of L’Ecole No 41 wines? The winery is actually inside that schoolhouse, which was built in 1915 in historic Frenchtown just west of Walla Walla. In fact, l’ecole means “school” in French, and if you’re serious about Washington wine, a field trip there is pretty much mandatory.

Founded in 1983 by Jean and Baker Ferguson, L’Ecole is now run by Megan and Martin Clubb, the couple’s daughter and son-in-law. “I like to say I learned in the cellar with glass in hand,” jokes Martin, who holds degrees in chemical engineering and management. “But actually the winemaking part came pretty easily because of my background in chemistry.”

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L'Ecole's tasting room

Image: Kirk Hirota

The academic theme is played up to great effect inside the tasting room—once fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade classrooms—where available wines are chalked on a blackboard. Visiting students line up at the slate-covered bar, eager to get schooled by the friendly staff as they sip through this Walla Walla Valley winery’s well-loved lineup. 41 Lowden School Rd, Lowden, 509-525-0940; lecole.com

BE SURE TO SIP Critics consistently give high marks to the Bordeaux-style red blends Perigee and Apogee and the refreshing blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc called Luminesce.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE Do not miss the chance to try wines at Rick Small’s renowned Woodward Canyon Winery just up the road. Remember, when visiting small wineries with a group of four or more, it’s best to call ahead and let them know you’re coming.

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