Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What to like in Woodinville

Welcome to Silver Lake!
Photo by Meg McKenzie
When I was in Seattle a few weeks ago, I made sure to budget some time in Woodinville, which is just east of the city and consists of a lot of wineries clustered along Route 202 (via many confusing roundabouts). It being Thursday, several of the ones I was most eager to visit were closed, which surprised me as it was the week after Thanksgiving. It now being December, many are only open on the weekend, so check ahead before you go (Silver Lake being the exception: It's open every day!).

Of course I hit the huge ones (see my previous post), Ste. Michelle and Columbia, first. But if you've been following my blog, you'll know I tend to view the huge corporate wineries as necessary evils, luring wine lovers to a destination that then offers up its small, delectable tasting rooms for your wine-drinking pleasure.

Silver Lake's holiday display
Photo by Meg McKenzie
And thus it was in Woodinville. 

My first stop was at Silver Lake Winery, which also has a sister winery in Zillah (see my earlier posting on the Zillah Fruit Loop outside of Yakima, Washington). The Woodinville branch is in a handsome, modern building just off Woodinville-Redmond Road not far after you turn off 405; inside, it's clean, nice-looking and dotted with merchandise. I arrived just as a couple was completing a purchase. As I waited for the pourer, a quirky dude named Frank, I chatted up an affable gentleman of Asian extraction who seemed quite conversant on all things Silver Lake and had a pretty good sense of humor (after we both tried 2006 Leone Vin Dolce Cab Franc, he suggested we call the pourer "Cab Frank.")

According to Cab Frank, Silver Lake was started by three professors at the University of Washington and is now owned by 1,200 shareholders. With 60 varieties, it is one of the state's largest locally owned wineries. Its primary source of grapes is in Zillah, in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. 

Now you see him, now you don't: "Cab Frank" ducked
below the counter just as I snapped this photo.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I gave Cab Frank my blogger card and requested to take a picture. And he did something really weird (something I guess he's done before, since it happened in the blink of an eye). As I aimed the camera and pushed the button, he ducked below the counter quick as a bunny, so all I got was my Asian pal leaning against the bar. Ha ha! However, he did give me an industry discount on the tasting, so I guess I'll just chalk it up to quirky Cab Frank's irrepressible hijinks.

The tasting flight offered that day consisted of five tastes for $5 and 12 tastes for $10 -- which, considering you get four measly samples for $10 down the road at Ste. Michelle, is a really good deal. The wines ran the gamut from the gold-medal winning 2010 Silver Lake Riesling (awfully sweet, which Rieslings tend to be) and the 2007 Silver Lake Syrah (really dry but with a nice bouquet). Other choices include several Merlots, a Pinot Gris, a 2006 Sangiovese and the aforementioned Cab Franc.

Silver Lake has a wine club with two levels (Discover, with two bottles, $10-15 each, shipped each quarter from the cask series) and (Voyage, with two bottles, $15-25 each, from the cask or reserve series).

Apple Farm Village
Photo by Meg McKenzie
As this was my first stop in Woodinville, however, I pressed onward, ever onward. And I was glad I did, because my last stop of the day was, in fact, my favorite. I stopped off for lunch and dallied at the big two, then headed east.

Here lay a busy commercial stretch with another confusing roundabout, which shot me north. But as I sped past, I spied a quaint wooden ("woodin"?) building, called the Apple Farm Village Shoppes, that looked to host a variety of different wineries. I turned back and parked, then headed down the steps to the first cute place I came to, which was Cougar Crest. 

As I toured the small but adorable tasting room, a light bulb went on over my head. I had tasted Cougar Crest wines in Walla Walla at their ginormous new tasting room! This was familiar territory, and I was here for new experiences. However, Sam Worden, the handsome tasting room manager, graciously poured me two tastes of their Estate Merlot to test a theory of mine -- that 2007  seemed an incredibly better year than 2006. Sure enough, the '07 Merlot ($35 retail) sang, while the '06 merely hummed. Thanks, Sam!

Zerba tasting room manager Shawn Chandler and Blue
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I took my leave and continued down the steps to the next cute shop I found, which turned out to be Zerba Cellars. I was met at the door by a huge shaggy Australian shepherd-border collie mix named Blue (for his bluish eyes, I guess) and greeted from behind the counter by Shawn Chandler, the personable tasting room manager, whose card says "Family & Manager." 

With its twinkling fairy lights, folksy atmosphere and Adele playing on the stereo, Zerba's atmosphere is like being invited down to the cellar of a (well-off) friend and getting to sample the best bottles they have. Which is my favorite kind of tasting room experience! As I tasted, we chatted. Shawn told me a lot of people think it's Zebra wine and not Zerba wine. I wanted to say, "Maybe it's because there's a zebra on your label," but I wisely kept my trap shut (for once). (Actually, the zebra is only on the bottle I got; the rest have a big, huge "Z.")

Zerba's lineup of tasty wines
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Zerba Cellars, Shawn told me, is actually an Oregon winery located just over the border from Washington in the Walla Walla Valley. It was started by Cecil Zerba. The talented winemaker is Doug Nierman, a UC Davis grad who worked at Pepper Bridge before joining Zerba.

I have to say, there wasn't a wine there I didn't like. The '07 reserve blend ($50 retail) called Equilibrio had a peppery Sangiovese kick to it. Another big seller is their '06 Late Harvest Syrah Port ($30). But the wine I warmed to (and in fact ended up buying a bottle of) was their 2008 Wild Z Red Wine, a Northwest Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot ($20 retail). Thinking about that yummy bottle makes me wish I'd bought two!

Zerba holiday display
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Zerba Cellars
14525 148th Ave. NE
Woodinville, WA 98072
www.zerbacellars.com; (425) 806-BRIX
Open Friday-Saturday, 11-6, Sunday noon-5 p.m.

Small, intimate, charming -- with a down-to-earth, knowledgeable pourer, and the fluffiest, most disarming dog in the world. All this and delicious wine at reasonable prices. What more could a person want?

Cougar Crest Estate Winery
14545 148th Avenue, Suite 211
Woodinville, WA 98072
www.cougarcrestwinery.com; 9425) 806-1700
Open Thursday-Saturday, 11-6; Sunday-Monday, noon-6 p.m.

A quaint, charming offshoot of the huge Cougar Crest winery in Walla Walla. Sam, the tasting room manager, is cute and nice. The wine is fairly priced, dependably good with that oomph you can only find from Walla Walla vintages.

Silver Lake Winery
15029 Woodinville-Redmond Road
Woodinville, WA 98072
www.silverlakewinery.com; (425) 485-2439, ext. 109
Open Monday-Saturday, 11-5, Sunday noon-5 p.m. (tastings end at 4:45 p.m.)

Silver Lake Winery is definitely worth a stop if you're in Woodinville wine country. It's easy on, easy off the well-traveled Woodinville-Redmond Road and open daily. A dozen tastes for $10 is a bargain, and "Cab Frank" is a hoot

My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five grapes (excellent) and are based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.

1 comment:

  1. Will you be coming back to your blog soon? I'd love to hear more from you!