Winemakers—and wine-lovers—come to their passion from different places. In Woodinville, some winemakers started their careers in the tech industry, some in aerospace, and others worked in the arts. Each winery has a story to tell, and each wine is a tale of renewal.
John Bigelow started making wine in his garage in 2006 while still working in tech, naturally taking inspiration from his brother-in-law Mike Januik, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle. Over the next decade, a hobby became a business. Now, JM Cellars graces one of the most beautiful hilltops in Woodinville, and one with a rich past: This once was a brothel, with a madam who lived—and died—upstairs in a murder that was never solved.
The fertile grounds evolved into a dairy farm, then an arboretum. On our visit, the soft rain reminded us why we live in the Northwest, with moss covered trees sheltering us among rhododendrons the size of minivans. Tasting wines aged in the barrel room the Bigelows built, looking out into the gardens, and hearing these stories of history and transformation, we could feel the spirits of those who came before.
If Bigelow was a true “garagiste,”or winemaker who makes small batches in a garage, Shane Howard of Pondera Winery might be called an “artiste,” since he literally made his first batch of wine in the frame shop of his parents’ gallery in Kirkland.
“I was sitting at a restaurant in Paris,” he said, “and I had that wine epiphany—it was Barolo.” Barolo—an ethereal Italian wine made from Nebbiolo grapes—has triggered many a wine reverie, but this one took root, and Howard returned to try his hand at making wine. He eventually moved from the gallery into his new winery in Woodinville’s Warehouse District—now he’s now a “garagiste,” too.
The winery’s walls are covered with incredible paintings from Howard/Mandville Gallery’s collection of American and international artists. You’ll want to sip the chardonnay, Bordeaux-style cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend, and other delightful wines slowly as you take in the colors and vision that lend extra meaning to the winery’s name. (Pondera means “depth” in Italian.)
Musician Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery was in a band in a former life and displays his guitar collection at his tasting room across the street from the Hollywood Schoolhouse. Gorman makes about 8,000 cases of award-winning wines, with names that reflect their intensity. The Evil Twin is a powerful syrah/cabernet blend, and The Bully is a dark and robust cabernet/petit verdot blend. The Big Sissy, his only white, is a lush chardonnay with delightful aromas of brioche and fresh apple. Pair them with a pizza from Vivi Pizzeria two doors down, and enjoy it all on the Gorman patio.
With more than 100 wineries, plus eight distilleries and cideries and more than two dozen restaurants, Woodinville has two main destinations for tasting wine. The center of wine country is the area near the historic Hollywood Schoolhouse, where you’ll find dozens of swanky tasting rooms with large windows, stained concrete floors, and colorful art—all very Uptown. The Warehouse District has a more Downtown feel. Here, with wineries and tasting rooms literally in warehouses and tastings that take place next to stacked barrels and fermentation tanks, you feel like you’re getting a behind-the-scenes look into the process of winemaking.
An overnight stay in the area makes it a mini-vacation. The Heathman in Kirkland (just a short drive from Woodinville) is a perfect headquarters near restaurants, galleries, and quaint shops. Or stay at The Willows Inn, where you can visit wineries within walking distance. For brunch, the Barking Frog at the Willows Inn is top notch, with a spectacular Caesar salad done right, to-die-for mac and cheese with truffle oil, and a spicy Sasquatch Bloody Mary with a crispy slice of bacon amongst the garnishes.
Down the road, don’t miss Tandem Wine Bar, with its savory pasta dishes, perfectly cooked duck with risotto, and fresh basil-and-tomato salad. The patio is the place to be in summer, sipping wine and enjoying the long evenings.
If You Go…
14404 137th Place NE
19501 144th Ave. NE
19501 144th Ave. NE, B-400
19501 144th Ave. NE, C-500
The Station Tasting Room:
14505 148th Ave. NE
Accommodations & Restaurants
Tandem Wine Bar
15029 Woodinville-Redmond Rd. NE
Willows Lodge / Barking Frog Restaurant
14580 NE 145th St.
The Heathman Hotel Kirkland
220 Kirkland Ave.
Shannon Borg www.shannonborg.com is a wine and travel writer living in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Her most recent book is The Green Vine: A Guide to West Coast Sustainable, Organic & Biodynamic Wines (Mountaineers, 2011).