“A bottle of wine begs to be shared; I have never met a miserly wine lover.” ― Clifton Fadiman
This celebrated quote was never truer than at this year’s St. Nick’s holiday wine tasting event hosted by Woodinville Wine Country. The spirited two-day event was kicked off Friday evening with a very special open house at Columbia Winery.
“This weekend was a great success,” said WWC Director Sandra Lee. “St. Nick's weekend has become a Woodinville community tradition that underscores the quality and variety of Washington wines available here.”
The elegant Friday evening tasting event served as a showcase for over 30 Washington wineries, and new to the affair this year was the VIP Library Tasting in Columbia’s Barrel Room. VIP ticket holders experienced a very rare opportunity to sample library wines from 15 Woodinville wineries, including Pondera, Robert Ramsay, Mark Ryan, Woodinville Wine Cellars, Lauren Ashton and Efeste.
Many of the select and vintage bottles were paired with the added delight of being poured from the winemakers themselves. Both the wine and the artisan told stories. The winemaker spoke of the journey, the crush and the work involved. The wine told us about the fruit, the growth of the winemaker and the powerful Washington Terroir.
Tim and Erica Blue of Adams Bench Winery offered a vertical of cabernet that showed how unique and beautiful the different years were for them and their wine.
Chris Gorman treated the attendees to several of his library wines, including “Pixie,” his 100 percent Syrah from 2003. This wine was elegant, well balanced and intense. The wine offered me a peek into the past and the future with a single sip.
As someone who very much appreciates this offering from the Gorman lineup and knowing the wine well, this taste for me showed what a powerful winemaker Chris was when he bottled this treasure and highlighted how incredible he has become.
The event honoring Woodinville wine was warm, festive and inviting. I am hopeful to see more utilization of this format for future events. Kit Singh, winemaker for Lauren Ashton Cellars and board member for WWC, said it well, calling the event “one incredible Woodinville Wine Country VIP wine tasting experience that was right-on-track for delivering future world-class events that showcase some of the finest wines produced in the country while bringing together our flourishing wine community.”
The fine people of Woodinville Wine Country “poured” a holiday heaping of love into this very special occasion, and it was truly a night of sharing that warmed the heart.
“We know guests always discover new wineries over the weekend, giving them inspiration to plan a return trip to Woodinville over the holidays or in the new year.” says Lee.
The St. Nick’s Open House affair this year was quite simply, a proper celebration of Woodinville wine! For more information about future Woodinville Wine Country events, visit woodinvillewinecountry.com or like us at www.facebook.com/woodinvilledecanter.
Photo by Shannon Michael, Kristin Scheelar is the head winemaker for Robert Ramsay Cellars. The winery is located in the Warehouse District.Quick: Name some of the most influential women who’ve helped make Woodinville a must stop destination for wine lovers.
If you’re like me – a casual fan of many of the wineries dotting the Woodinville area, chances are you didn’t even realize that several women have and continue to be very influential in the history and current production of wines not only in this area but in the state as well.
Go way back to the start of Chateau Ste. Michelle (CSM) in the late seventies and early eighties. Two women – Kay Simon and Cheryl Barber Jones – put the winery not only on the state map, but the American and international maps as well.
Simon, who joined CSM in 1977 as an assistant winemaker, became the first winemaker to run the CSM River Ridge facility (now Columbia Crest) in Patterson in 1982. She believes she and Joan Wolverton of Salishan Vineyards in La Center, Wash., were the only women head winemakers during what she calls the beginning of the modern era of winemaking in the state.
"There was a woman who ran a lab post-Prohibition many years ago," she said.
Simon went on to open Chinook Wines with her husband Clay Mackey in 1984 in Prosser. To this day, she finds it a novelty when visitors to the winery are surprised to learn it is she, not her husband, who is the winemaker.
When Jones became head winemaker at CSM in 1984, there were only three other wineries in Woodinville and only 47 in the entire state of Washington.
Under Jones’ direction, the winery was named "Best American Winery" by Tasters Guild and "Best American Winery" by Wine Country Magazine in 1988, and "Best of the Best" wineries by Wine & Spirits Magazine in 1989, according to CSM’s website.
Today, the GoTasteWine.com website states there are 693 wineries operating in Washington state.
According to the Washington Wine Commission, there are more than two dozen women head winemakers, several more assistant winemakers, and many who own their own winery, own their own vineyard, or are vineyard managers, highly sought after winemaking consultants or marketing experts.
At Washington State University, about 30 percent of the certified Viticulture and Enology (study of wine and winemaking) undergraduate students are women, according to Deborah Schwenson, principal assistant for the WSU Viticulture & Enology Program. Those numbers have remained at that level for the past four years.
Many women, such as Jody Elsom of Woodinville’s Elsom Cellars, a 2003 WSU Enology Certificate graduate, are not only a head winemaker, but owner, too.
Being a winemaker is not the glamorous part of the industry. Just ask Kristin Scheelar, head winemaker at Robert Ramsay Cellars in the Warehouse District.
"About 90 percent of my day is spent moving things around and cleaning. The floors. The equipment. The tanks, and even the walls," Scheelar explained, adding, "You have to maintain meticulous cleanliness in a winery."
The other 10 percent of her time is spent using science and math to come up with the perfect formula for great wine.
The physical demands – Scheelar is a petite woman – coupled with her personal fears of being competent in science and math, were her biggest hurdles to overcome.
She gives a lot of credit for her success to mentors John Patterson of Patterson Cellars and his dad Jack Patterson. She and John were in the same enology class at South Seattle Community College. "He saw I was really willing to learn and work hard, so he asked me to intern for him," she said.
While there, Jack Patterson taught Scheelar how to use the forklift, an indispensable piece of equipment at any winery. "He was so patient and never stressed when I made a mistake," she said.
Now, Scheelar pays it forward for other women breaking into the industry by annually hiring two to three paid interns who are women. And, for the second year in a row she heads an all-woman team at Robert Ramsay, thanks to the support of owner Bob Harris.
Meanwhile, both Jones and Erica Orr, a former assistant winemaker at Matthews Cellars, have moved from the daily winemaking business to wine consulting. Orr runs a one-woman wine lab in the Warehouse District, lending her analytical services to local winemakers, while Jones has a lab in her home’s basement.
After leaving CSM in 1990, Jones was encouraged by her husband to start her own consulting business because so many wineries were calling her to come work for them.
She was hired as a consultant at Silver Lake Winery in 1991 when Brian Carter called to ask her to take over his consulting role there. She consulted for them until 2003, and she is a regular consultant today for other wineries.
"The services I provide are: walking the vineyard to determine if the grapes are ready, analyses of grapes and wine, and working with the winemaker to make the best of their wines by blending. I also enjoy making my own wine," Jones wrote in an email interview.
Orr finds the job of wine chemistry very detail-oriented. "It doesn’t have the glamour or macho, but I can make a living on my own," she said.
"In general, people in the wine industry are very interesting people," Orr added as another benefit of choosing this as her career path.
She credits a chance encounter with Aaron Pott, who was head winemaker of Beringer Estates in the Napa Valley at the time, in steering her career towards wine. "He gave me the great advice to work a harvest before deciding to enter the master’s program at UC Davis," she said.
She took his advice and said that experience made the course work more relevant.
Jones began as a lab technician at CSM under head winemaker Joel Klein. "He encouraged me to taste the fining trials that I set up for him. When he left, Pete Bachman promoted me to white wine maker in 1982. To be promoted within the company was something I worked very hard to do," she said.
In general, the women interviewed for this story stated they have experienced many more positives than negatives as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
"Regina Daniel of South Seattle Community College’s program told me, ‘Wine is filled with wonderful people,’" said Scheelar. "People in the wine industry are there because they want to be there, and they love the product that they produce, market and sell."
So, what should women consider before choosing a career in winemaking?
"Take some science courses in chemistry and microbiology, and you need to maintain your physical fitness," suggested Simon.
"Don’t let your fears stop you, don’t let your age stop you, and don’t let inexperience stop you, because you can get all of those things," offered the 50-something Scheelar, who didn’t foray into the wine industry until 2006 when she became a sommelier.
"If winemaking is your passion, then understand that the possibility of making it rich is very small, but I am a firm believer that in a job you should have two out of three requirements: 1) love your job; 2) love the people you work with; and 3) get great pay. If you have two of those things, it will work. If not, try something else," wrote Jones.
Fidelitas Wines has opened a new tasting room in Woodinville and owner/winemaker Charlie Hoppes will be on-hand every Saturday in August to welcome guests and pour wine.
Fidelitas’ Western Washington tasting room is centrally located in the heart of Woodinville Wine Country’s tourist district at 14467 Woodinville-Redmond Road, close to the Hollywood Schoolhouse.
The tasting room will be open from noon to 6 p.m. daily; the $10 tasting fee is refundable with a wine purchase.
"Our wines are now almost exclusively grown on Red Mountain," explains Hoppes, "and our daily tastings will give guests the opportunity to learn more about this incredible appellation and the diversity of its vineyards."
Hoppes crushed his first grapes in Washington in 1988 and is one of the most acclaimed winemakers in the state.
Recent awards include recognition as "Winemaker of the Year" in the August 2013 issue of Seattle Magazine.
For more information, visit fidelitaswines.com or Facebook.com/FidelitasWines.
As the number of tasting rooms and wineries in Woodinville continues to grow, a few wineries from outside of the state are starting to realize that Woodinville is the place to be for their tasting rooms. One of these is Lachini Vineyards (www.lachinivineyards.com), which specializes in Pinot Noir grown in Oregon.
Ron and Marianne Lachini have a 45-acre vineyard just outside of Newberg, Oregon where they grow and make premium Pinot Noir. In 1997, they moved to Oregon from Northern California where they bought their vineyard. Their passion then, as it is today, is to grow the grapes on their estate to make premium Pinot Noir. In 2001 they had their first limited vintage.
Caryn Wheat, their tasting room enthusiast, poured us several vintages of their Pinot. She was very helpful in explaining all the wines she poured while giving us a brief background of the winery and vineyard. The different Pinots we tried highlighted the different clones of grapes from the Oregon estate, with some being more feminine and some more masculine in character, as Caryn explained.
The 2007 Lachini Family Estate Pinot was exceptional, with hints of smoke, earthy tones and spice. This particular Pinot received 93 points from Wine Enthusiast. After tasting several Cabs that day (yes, we know we should try the Pinots before the Cab) this Pinot was actually refreshing to try as one can easily tell the difference of the light side of a Pinot from the big fruit of the heavier Cabs. Caryn told us some funny stories of Washington wine enthusiasts claiming not to like Pinots, who after trying those from Lachini ended up buying multiple bottles.
We also had a chance to try the 2010 Family Estate Pinot which was every bit as enjoyable as the 2007. They also poured a 2010 La Cruz Vineyard Pinot. They contracted those grapes from that vineyard near Petaluma, California. Needless to say everything we tasted made it worth the stop. What was a first for us was trying a Pinot Noir Port, which we normally find too sweet and syrupy. This one was neither and was so good we ended up buying a bottle of this perfect dessert wine. Guess we are also a couple of Washington wine enthusiasts who continue to be proven wrong with our wine stereotypes.
The tasting room is located in the Hollywood Vineyards Center near the main roundabout in the tourist district at 14455 ‘A’ Woodinvill- Redmond Road, Woodinville. It features roll- up garage doors, concrete floors and two levels of tasting room luxury, decorated with wood trim and a very unique wooden bar. It is a great place for an event – which Ron and Marianne occasionally host onsite. We heard stories of the most recent event, featuring Pinot, Pigs, and Poker. We think we might have to attend that one next year.
Tasting room hours are Thursday 2-6:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday noon - 7:30 p.m. and Sunday noon -5:30 p.m. Their wines run mostly in the $40-$60 range with the Port at $32.
On a nice day, we made the trek to the Olympic Peninsula to check out some of the wineries on the other side of Puget Sound. We came across an interesting winery just south of Discovery Bay called Eaglemount (www.eaglemountwinery.com).
Unlike Woodinville wineries, Eaglemount’s tasting room is located right at a working farm which was started on an 1883 homestead. The winery is somewhat difficult to find and includes a mile-long drive on an old dirt road before arriving at the tasting room and farm.
The homestead tradition is continued by harvesting variety apples from the old orchard to make apple cider. All ciders are made from certified organic or sustainably produced apples, pears and other fruits and don’t contain sulfites.
We entered the tasting room, located in an old house, and were greeted by Piper Corbett who convinced us we needed to taste both the ciders and the wines. The tasting room is decorated as an old traditional farmhouse. It almost seems to be frozen in time, reminding us of what life was like over 100 years ago.
We started our tasting with three of the seven available ciders. The first was the homestead dry, made from heirloom apples. We were pleasantly surprised at the subtle taste, as we were expecting cider to be much sweeter. Next was the quince cider, a curiously aromatic one-of-a kind cider. But the most unique cider we tried was the Boot Brawl, which is hopped with Washington state Cascade hops. It was an interesting cross between a cider and a beer. We’ve never tasted anything like it.
But this is a wine column, so we also tried the Eaglemount wines, which were added in 2006. Grapes for the wines come from small vineyards in Eastern Washington. This is due to the fact that the climate on the Olympic Peninsula, much like Woodinville, is not really great for growing quality wine grapes. Washington state is really interesting in that 99 percent of all wine grapes are grown in Eastern Washington, but a significant number of wineries are located in Western Washington. We don’t know of any other area of the world that trucks so many grapes over a mountain range to bring them to production wineries.
We started with the Eaglemount red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. It was both earthy and woody in taste. The Cabernet Sauvignon was our favorite – a traditional Washington Cab – fruit forward and rich in taste. This wine won a silver medal in the Sunset International competition.
Eaglemount is located at 2350 Eaglemount Road, Port Townsend Wash. Tasting room hours are Thursday-Monday from 12 to 5 or by appointment. Wine prices range from $20 to $40.