In 1976 Ste. Michelle Vintners built a palatial estate in Woodinville and rebranded itself Chateau Ste. Michelle. The move also rebranded the semi-rural town 30 minutes outside Seattle as the center of Western Washington wine. The area’s industry bubbled slowly at first, then burst like a sparkling wine geyser in the early 2000s. Woodinville has always offered an eclectic tasting experience, from the luxe grounds of the chateau to amiably shabby Warehouse District wineries. But this latest evolution promises the biggest change since grapes arrived over five decades ago.
The town has no fewer than four new tasting districts either fully formed or percolating. The sea change started in late 2019 when DeLille Cellars opened a three-tiered tasting room in the old Red Hook Brewery. Unlike traditional belly-up-to-the-wine-bar experiences, this space offered sit-down tastings and an emphasis on the whats and whys. “We think there is a need for an experience like there is in California and Oregon,” where those approaches are more common, says DeLille CEO Tom Dugan. The following year, fellow Woodinville winery Sparkman opened a space next door that focuses on events.
Historically, Woodinville’s downtown has maintained separation from the 130 tasting rooms that ring the town’s outer edges. No more. A new mixed-use development called Woodin Creek Village sprinkles roughly a dozen into its landscape of cafes, restaurants, and apartments. “There are enough businesses to have some synergy between different folks,” says Brian Carter, who recently moved his Brian Carter Cellars tasting room into the complex.
A few blocks away, a historic schoolhouse that’s been vacant for years is filling its halls with some big names from Walla Walla, the center of winemaking on the eastern side of the state. The two-story Schoolhouse No. 23 will be home to Walla Walla Steak Company and Crossbuck Brewing, plus additional tasting facilities for L’Ecole N° 41 (one of Walla Walla’s founding wineries), newcomer Valdemar Estates, and others.
Meanwhile four high-wattage producers—including Mark Ryan and Long Shadows—are building ground-up tasting rooms next to DeLille and Sparkman. Their arrival, late this year, will create a vinous murderers’ row, and give visitors little reason to stray from this part of town.
Most ambitious of all, though the furthest from fruition, is a development known as Harvest that’s been in the planning stages for the last 15 years. This project—if it finally happens—will include tasting room spaces for more than a dozen wineries as well as multiple restaurants, a luxury hotel, and hundreds of residential units.
At Ste. Michelle, the chateau that started it all, the future’s somewhat unclear after news surfaced this summer that it might sell part or all of its property. But the prognosis for the rest of town is as excellent—and as varied—as the wines it pours.