Pre-pandemic, Matthews offered farm-to-table wine dinners on an actual farm. Photo by Brandon Hill.
In 1976, when Ste. Michelle Vintners set down in Woodinville, it brought a postcard vision of wine lifestyle, with groomed lawns and picturesque trees and a French-style chateau, which became part of the name. A few more wineries joined. Come the late 1990s and early 2000s, wineries popped up in less idyllic but highly functional settings: the town’s office parks, where many remain in the area known as the Warehouse District. During the 2008 recession, an influx of Eastern Washington wineries opened tasting rooms, while the Hollywood Schoolhouse—a district around an old eponymous school (and current wedding venue)—flourished with roundabouts and restaurants and winery spaces more amenable to relaxed tastings than sometimes windowless office parks.
Now Woodinville is rolling through another wave of change.
Last year, DeLille Cellars moved its tasting room into the renovated old Redhook Brewery. (Sparkman Cellars came, too, but at the time of press hasn’t opened yet.) The result transformed the visitor experience, and created a better space to teach about wine, says DeLille CEO Tom Dugan. The winery now has a majestic, three-floor tasting room, complete with roof-deck views of Mount Rainier. In a town where you'd generally belly up to taste at a bar, DeLille turned to seated tastings, mostly by reservation. It’s even spacious enough to welcome a number of parties in this socially distant year.
Other area wineries are also embellishing on the bare-bones-tasting-room experience: Matthews Winery started in 1992. In 2015, it added an adjacent farm. “A lot of people figured this out long before we were here, but the whole Sammamish Valley is amazing at growing food,” says Bryan Otis, Matthews’s proprietor. The farm sells herbs, flowers, and vegetables to local restaurants and, before the pandemic, was offering farm-to-table wine dinners, the most compelling winery experience in Woodinville. (Until such dinners are safe again, it’s slinging vegetable boxes.)
Some producers are simply leaving. They’re turned off by Woodinville’s rising land costs or its existing excess of tasting rooms or the difficulties of building a winery in a town that favors farming and warehouses. Last year a group of long-time Woodinville wineries took their operations a few miles down the road to Maltby (but most keep Woodinville tasting rooms). Others have eschewed the town altogether, opting for Seattle’s SoDo. Woodinville’s vineyards are mostly decorative anyway—why not get closer to the population center?
Across the world, and across industries, this has been a year of radical flux. Who knows where any of this will go. But a long-planned development called Farmstead, approved late last year, might give us a glimpse of the future. If it finally happens, the development will house wineries, restaurants, retail, and a luxury hotel. And, much like DeLille and Matthews, it will help change Woodinville into a place where the setting deserves as much appreciation as what’s in the glass. Kind of like the chateau that kicked things off over 50 years ago.