The Woodinville Winers visit Mark Ryan Winery

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

If you know the Woodinville wine scene, then you probably know the name Mark Ryan Winery.

The winery was started in 1999 with the goal of making the best wines in Washington state.  The winery settled in the Woodinville area in 2003 and largely due to Mark’s personality (and great wines), made a quick impact on Woodinville Wine Country.

Mark quickly linked up with five other high-quality wineries (Baer, Darby, Gorman, Guardian and Sparkman) and dubbed themselves the “Grape Killers.”

Speaking of funny names, most of Mark’s wine names originate from Pearl Jam songs. Welcome to the whacky world of Mark Ryan.

Mark Ryan’s tasting room is located in the north outbuildings of the Hollywood Schoolhouse in the Tourist District. It is a funky space, with concrete floors, walls of wine and outside seating for those sunny days.  To bring the outside in, the front wall is mostly garage doors which can be opened on nice days to make one big wine tasting space. One of his trademarks is that he usually keeps some type of vintage motorcycle in the tasting room.  In short, it’s all Mark in character.

We were greeted by Nate Test who poured us five wines.

The first was the 2011 Voignier, which has grapes sourced from Red Willow, one of the very first vineyards in Washington state. We then moved on to Wild Eyed which is 100% Syrah which was spicy with hints of mocha and vanilla. We decided it was “a delicious party in your glass.”

The last three wines were all blends, namely The Dissident, Long Haul and Dead Horse. All were outstanding and received nines and tens on our own personal palette (this doesn’t happen very often with The Winers).

There is a reason that Mark was named the 2011 winemaker of the year and that Paul Gregutt of The Wine Enthusiast named Mark Ryan Winery one of the new “Cult Wineries” of Washington state.

So who is this Mark Ryan character? Actually, his name is Mark McNeilly, but he thought using his middle name for the winery sounded better.  We asked Nate for his favorite story and he chuckled that Mark was well known for being a transient winemaker when he arrived in Woodinville, meaning that the first vintages of Long Haul and Dead Horse were produced, crushed and pressed in garages of friends and family.  When he ran out of garages, he was finally forced to rent a warehouse so that he could actually live with the wine.

We also have a Mark story which we directly experienced ourselves when our good friend Lance Baer tragically passed away five years ago at age 39. It was Mark McNeilly who was one of the first to volunteer his time to look after the Baer Winery vintage that Lance had aging in barrels.  That is who this Mark McNeilly character really is.  He combines great wine with an overdose of personality and passion, and the industry is better off for it.

If you would like to get to know Mark better, stop by his tasting room, which is open from noon-5 p.m. seven days a week.  The address is 14810 NE 145th Street Building A-1 in Woodinville.  Tastings are $10 and his wines are priced from $28 to $52. Don’t get out of there without meeting Mark — as you too will be better off for it.

The Woodinville Winers visit Patterson Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

Patterson Cellars is located in the remodeled Chevron gas station (now called “The Station”) in the Tourist District of Woodinville.  John Patterson, who has been in the wine making business for over 20 years, owns this venture with his father Jack.

John started out working for Quilceda Creek, one of Washington’s premium wineries, and in 2000 started doing his own production in Monroe under the name of Washington Wine Company.  Washington Wine had their first release in 2003, and the Patterson Cellars label and winery was started in 2005.

The tasting room in this newly renovated facility was well appointed but at the same time simple in décor, which is perfect for wine tasting and mingling with friends.  The floors are concrete and garage doors open to the outside area. The building has been enhanced with exterior stone cladding, and a water feature greets you at the main roundabout.

An exterior deck makes for an inviting space on a nice day where they have plenty of extra seating.

We had a chance to try several varieties of their self described “New World” wines. The term New World wine is used quite literally to describe wines coming from New World wine producing countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa or Argentina.

New World wines are typically more “fruity” (or fruit forward) and in general more varietal driven. Jarod, who happened to serve us this day, helped us through the tasting giving us background and tasting notes on each wine we tried.

The 2011 Forbidden White was a very good blend of several grapes, including Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Voignier. It was one of those whites that the longer you try it the more you like it. Our favorite red was the 2008 BDX, Bordeaux Blend, with a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc and 11% Merlot, all from the Columbia Valley. It had a deep red color with hints of eucalyptus, wild violets, Asian spice and boysenberry on the nose. The longer we let it sit in our glasses, the better it tasted (of course that could have been the great atmosphere affecting our experience as well).

One thing we learned about Patterson is that they have always integrated their customers into the details.  Wine club members and regulars play a big role in this business from helping in the design of the tasting room to assisting in the wine making process. If you are interested in being a volunteer and crushing a few grapes, Patterson may be the winery for you. Expect to have fun and get dirty.

Patterson Cellars had a wide variety of wine to taste, ranging from white blends to Rose to big bold reds. Most of their whites range from $13 to $20 and the red from $15-32.  You can visit tasting room daily from 12-5 at 14505 148th Ave. NE, Woodinville.


The Woodinville Winers visit Garrison Creek Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

The first time we stopped by Garrison Creek Cellars ( in Walla Walla we were immediately surprised by the attention to detail at both the vineyard and the winery itself.  The second time we visited it we brought some friends from Spokane who had the same initial impression that we did.

This unique well maintained boutique winery with impeccable vineyards is a must when visiting this part of the state.

This winery started based on a friendship of three young boys (Michael Murr, David March and Larry Harding) that goes back many years when they actually worked as farm hands in the 50s and 60s on the very land their winery is on today.

During our two visits David not only inspired us with his tales of the past but also let us sample right out of the barrel of what’s to come.

The winery itself is the replica of a barn that actually exists in Oregon. This is no ordinary barn.  This is a high- end facility built with a lot of planning, craftsmanship and care.

There are sections built with timbers that are more than 150 years old.  The barn alone is worth the trip and you really need to see it in person to understand its significance (photos are on their website).

Garrison Creek grapes come from the “Les Collines” vineyard in Walla Walla and experiencing them in person underscores the winery’s deep commitment to excellence.  David was clear that they want to have full control over their grapes and do what is necessary to produce the best grapes in the state.  David said they sell a majority of their grapes to other wine makers but keep the best of the best of those grapes for their own wines.

Garrison Creek Cellars is a boutique winery making only a limited number of cases per variety each year.

Their wines are slow to arrive to market as they will not release anything before its time. We tasted and bought the now sold out 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (only 392 cases) and the sold out 2007 Zinfandel (only 150 cases).

The 2006 Cabernet was distinguished by an early, hot summer allowing the grapes to reach full ripeness by mid-October. After 10 days of primary fermentation, they pressed the new wine off the grape skins into new French oak barrels to begin the long, slow aging process. The wine was in the barrels for 31 months before being bottle aged for another 30 months before release.  This wine was nothing less than fabulous.

The 2007 Zinfandel had 19 months in the barrel and another 18 months of bottle aging before it was released. It was one of the best Washington Zinfandels have ever tried.

Garrison Creek Cellars might be one of the many newer wineries in the state, but they are quickly becoming one of the premier wineries in Washington as well.  Another unique aspect to Garrison Creek is that David makes an incredible pate that we enjoyed while tasting some of their fabulous wines.

Tastings are by private tour or appointment only.  You can arrange a tasting or tour by contacting David March by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Tastings are $10 each and are applied toward any purchase of wine.  Their wines run $45 and up but are well worth it.

They also offer some of their earlier library editions for those who missed out on their original release.

October is Arts Crush month

  • Written by Deborah Stone
It’s official. Arts Crush, the annual month-long festival of exciting and innovative arts events, has begun.  In its third year, the festival offers over 150 activities representing all disciplines of the arts (music, visual art, literature, dance and theater) at dozens of venues around Puget Sound.

More than 130 arts groups are represented including Book-It-Theatre, Seattle Storytellers’ Guild, Splinter Dance Company, Seattle Pro Musica, UMO, Global Heat, Brownbox Theatre, Pacific Play Company, Theatre Puget Sound, The Mahogany Project, Frye Art Museum, Seattle Girls’ Choir, Ottoman Belly Dance, Words of Welcoming Salmon Homecoming Project, Taproot Theatre Company and many more.

They will be producing once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated events that are outside of the standard gallery shows, theatre performances and dance recitals.

“We chose these activities based on specific criteria,” says Sam Read, Arts Crush director and deputy director of Theatre Puget Sound, the producing organization for the festival.

“They had to involve a collaborative effort between two or more entities, engage the community in a unique manner and, of course, be highly innovative and unique.”

The festival will offer a series of free feature events, pay-what-you-can performances, two-for-one date night ticketed shows and a number of free, ticketed activities that will be available via a ticket lottery. There’s even a special Kid Crush, with dozens of youth/family-oriented programs featuring hands-on workshops, demos, participatory performances and original productions.

“We have something for everyone,” adds Read, “hundreds of creative arts adventures that have been developed with the aim of reawakening the senses.”

Arts Crush evolved from Live Theater Week, an event geared toward celebrating Seattle-area drama.

“It was very successful,” comments Read, “but we began to get all sorts of arts organizations that wanted to participate. After five years, we ended Live Theater Week and launched Arts Crush with the intent to increase awareness and public involvement with the incredible arts scene we have in this region.”

Last year, over 12,000 enthusiastic “Arts Crushers” participated in the festival, up from 10,000 the first year.

The response, according to Read, was overwhelmingly positive.

“People eat it up,” he says. “They relish the experience of doing something different, like watching a play being performed in a hotel bedroom, for example, or seeing acrobats in the windows of a downtown business.”

He adds, “I think it’s more about the out-of-the-box experience than the actual content of the performance that gets them excited.”

Other interesting locales for the events include the kitchen of the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, Third Place Books, the streets of Seattle’s International District, Northwest African American Museum, Epiphany Parish, Des Moines Library and Freeway Park. Venues from Bellingham to Olympia are involved, allowing people all over the region to participate.

“This is an all-encompassing festival,” remarks Read, “and as it grows, the arts community is getting hooked on connecting with the public in new and different ways. Organizations are seeing the need to get in touch with our communities, as they are beginning to see the audience, not as passive viewers, but more as active collaborators. I think in the long term this will have an impact on audience engagement and hopefully ticket sales.”

Arts Crush runs through the month of October. For more information:

The Woodinville Winers visit Airfield Estates

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

Besides enjoying a tasting room, our visit to Airfield Estates ( had the added bonus of being a bit of a history lesson – almost as if we were visiting both a winery and a museum in one. That’s because the first thing you notice when entering the tasting room is a historical aviation and military theme.

The reason for this is that all of the Airfield Estate vineyards are situated near an old World War II airbase at the foot of the Rattlesnake Mountains in the Yakima Valley. Construction of the airbase commenced in the latter part of 1941 and the buildings erected on the site included a 70-foot water tower, several airplane hangars, a mess hall, barracks and several smaller storage buildings. Three dirt runways were also formed, each of which was over a half mile long. The pilots trained primarily on bi-winged Stearman Airplanes. The airbase continued operations until the mid 1940s. Shortly after World War II came to an end, the buildings were auctioned off to the highest bidder and the only bidder was H. Lloyd Miller. Little did the Miller family know – the Rattlesnake Mountains were destined for growing grapes.

The first grape vines were planted by Don Miller in 1968. Today, the vineyards now span over 860 acres and include 27 different varieties of grapes. This means that all of the wines that Airfield offers are 100 percent estate grown fruit with a little bit of aviation history thrown in. In fact, to this day two of the original airbase hangars still exist and are used as a workshop and storage facilities.

Greeting us at the tasting bar was Ellisa, who poured us four whites and four reds. The wines all have really interesting labels with a historic aviation theme.  Ellisa also introduced us to Ross, who had a picture of all four of his sons on the wall —  all from different branches of the military. To complete the theme, tasting next to us was Jim, a United States Marine. We felt honored to be tasting wine with such an impressive group of people.

Our favorite white was the 2011 Flygirl White, which is a blend of Viognier, Semillon and Pinot Gris.  This is a red wine drinker’s white as it wasn’t overly sweet. Instead it is crisp and dry with flavors of melon and citrus fruit. It would make a great wine on a hot day with lighter food such as salad, seafood or poultry.

Also of note was the 2010 Reserve Chardonnay which is aged in oak for 11 months. Flavors of citrus, lemon and cream were apparent. If you like a sweeter wine, try the 2011 Riesling.

Of the reds, there was a tie for our favorite. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from 20-year-old vines and showcased layers of cherry, blackcurrant and toasted oak. This wine is fruit forward and full bodied so would pair well with a good steak or foods with more robust flavors. Also a favorite for us was the signature Aviator blend. This Super-Tuscan blend had hints of both cherry and spice.

Airfield is located on the southeast corner of the main roundabout in the Tourist District of Woodinville. Tastings are $5 per person and they are open from 12-5 p.m. on weekdays and 11-6 p.m. on weekends (Fri, Sat, & Sun).