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Columbia celebrates 50th anniversary

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Columbia first courtesy
Columbia Winery in Woodinville is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Photo courtesy of Columbia Winery
From its humble beginnings in a small Laurelhurst garage to its current 50,000- square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Woodinville, Columbia Winery has made great strides over the last 50 years.

Considered a leader in Washington’s wine industry, the winery has established a reputation for producing high quality Washington wines and boasts an extensive wine selection, with a production of 140,000 cases a year.

In addition to crafting such notable red wines as syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, Columbia also makes distinctive dry white wines including chardonnay, semillon and pinot gris, as well as the popular riesling and gewürztraminer.

“We’re best known for our cellar masters riesling,” says Scott Wallace, vice president of operations for Ascentia Wine Estates, the parent company of Columbia.

“That’s really our flagship wine and comprises about half of our overall production.”

This year the winery is celebrating its golden anniversary, a milestone that Wallace speaks of with pride.

“In terms of age, 50 years may not sound like a lot of time when talking about wineries, especially when you compare it to some of the older ones from Europe, but for the Washington wine scene, it’s notable. It’s a celebration of the history and heritage and it’s a signpost or marker along the journey as we continue to evolve and get better and better.”

He adds, “It’s a journey of exploration to develop a better understanding of the dynamics of growing grapes and making the best expressions of the wine.”

Columbia took root back in 1962 when 10 friends, six of them wine-loving professors at the UW, started making batches of wine in Dr. Lloyd Woodburne’s garage.

Originally known as Associated Vintners, the group believed that classic European vinifera vines would thrive in the Washington climate — and they did. The results of their initial trials exceeded the winemakers’ expectations and fueled their enthusiasm and passion to build a wine industry in the Northwest.

In the late 60s, the group brought their operations to Bellevue and then in 1987, the company moved to the winery’s permanent home in a charming Victorian mansion in Woodinville.

“Columbia is a true pioneer, the granddaddy of the Northwest,” comments Wallace. “It’s gone from a grassroots, humble beginning to being an integral part of a sophisticated wine industry here in Washington and we have much to be proud of, and much to celebrate on this fiftieth anniversary.”

To mark the occasion, Columbia head winemaker Kerry Norton has developed a special 2009 vintage cabernet sauvignon, using the very best grapes from the top vineyards. The winery is also offering several special events and activities throughout the year.

Every Thursday night, there’ll be live music by internationally acclaimed musician, Enrique, who is a master of classical and jazz and a soulful interpreter of flamenco. On Saturday afternoons, the winery will hold interactive seminars with senior wine educators who will provide intimate tour and wine tasting experiences.

There’s also the Wine Education Series, a one-of-a-kind opportunity for wine aficionados to explore the diversity of wines being produced from around the world.

Upcoming sessions will delve into the major viticultural regions of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Chile.

The golden anniversary bash is slated to be held on September 16.

Winemaker Norton will be on hand to sign bottles of the special vintage he created and there will be music and food and wine pairings.

Guests will be able to write messages of their own to put in a time capsule that will be buried in the English Garden on the grounds of the winery.

As the years go by and changes occur, one thing stays consistent at Columbia. “The focus remains the same,” says Norton. “Make approachable wines that stand the test of time.”

For more information or to make a reservation for any of the upcoming special events at Columbia Winery, call (425) 482-7381 or visit: www.columbiawinery.com.

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