The Woodinville Winers attend the Golden Grape Awards

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
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The six winners of the 2012 Golden Grape Awards, pictured from left to right, are Chris Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars, Jody Elsom of Elsom Winery, Sean Boyd of Woodinville Wine Cellars, David Lawson of Covington Cellars, Alicia Hanson of Page Cellars and Darby English of Darby Winery. Courtesy photo.
Two weeks ago, we sat in a conference room at the Willows Lodge and watched some of the best Woodinville winemakers spit out multiple tastes of outstanding Woodinville wine. What was going on? Don’t winemakers like their own wines?  It was the second annual Golden Grape Awards. If you are not familiar with the Golden Grape Awards, don’t feel bad.  It is a relatively new event sponsored by the Willows Lodge in search of the best Woodinville wines and winemakers.  Matt Davis & Jennifer Schmitt ran the show and did an outstanding job.

Any area winemaker can submit their wine in one of six categories, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rhone style varietals/blends and Bordeaux style blends. The catch is, if you submit a wine, you have to be a judge in one of the blind tasting panels.  (Try doing a blind wine tasting with your friends – it’s really a lot of fun).

We heard about this event through Mike Sharadin, of Northwest Totem Cellars, who during the Syrah blind tasting exclaimed, “I have just tasted the best Syrah of my life, and I know it wasn’t mine!” That caused much speculation over the last two weeks about who made this incredible Syrah (keep reading).  The next week, we attended “blend night” and watched 25 winemakers blind taste about 30 wines.  That explains all the spitting going on.  You can’t taste that much wine in one sitting without influencing your palette. Luckily, we weren’t among the judges, so we were allowed to swallow.

In all, 33 wineries participated in the contest and submitted 92 wines in the six categories.  The blind tastings were held over three nights – about 30 per night.  Each wine was ranked on a rating card by each winemaker on six different scales – Color/Clarity, Bouquet/Aroma, Flavors/Taste, Body/Texture, Balance/Finish, and Overall Impression. Nobody knew which wine they were tasting at any time, as the glasses were simply labeled with numbers. A perfect score was 25 points. In all, 919 rating cards were collected and tabulated.  We still don’t know how Matt and Jennifer kept track of it all.

Without further ado, here are the winners:

1) Sauvignon Blanc – Pearl, Sparkman Cellars ( – This is the second year in a row that Sparkman has won this category. Congratulations to Chris Sparkman, dad, winemaker and head janitor, who spent a couple of decades as sommelier and wine buyer before starting Sparkman Cellars.

2) Chardonnay – Autumn Chase, Page Cellars ( – Congratulations to Jim Page who started Page Cellars in 2000.  Jim is also a corporate pilot who balances both full time jobs.

3)  Syrah – Aunt Lee, Darby Winery ( – Congratulations to Darby English, a former professional golfer, who launched his winery in 2005.  This was the 3rd vintage of this wine and the second Golden Grape award that Darby has taken home.  Darby mentioned that Syrah is really his winemaking passion.

4)  Cabernet Sauvignon – Indomitable – Woodinville Wine Cellars ( – Congratulations to Sean Boyd, who we have been following since he joined Woodinville Wine Cellars in 2002.

5)  Rhone Varietals/Blends – Ma Belle – Covington Cellars ( – Congratulations to David and Cindy Lawson, who we wrote about in a previous column. Cindy came up with this blend. Covington has now won three Golden Grape awards in just two years – keep your eye on this winery.

6)  Bordeaux Blends – Isabella – Elsom Cellars ( – Congratulations to Jody Elsom on her first year entering. This wine is named after her six-year-old daughter.

And now for the grand winner – the wine of the year as rated by the winemakers themselves.  This is arguably the most prestigious local award you can win – as it comes directly from Woodinville winemakers.  Turns out, it WAS that Syrah that we were trying to figure out for the last couple of weeks. The winner of the King’s Cup was Darby’s Aunt Lee Syrah. This wine is named after Darby’s aunt, who passed away seven years ago. So here’s to Aunt Lee and all of the winners of the 2012 Golden Grape awards.

The Woodinville Winers visit Obelisco Estate

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
Obelisco Estate ( is located in the North Warehouse District of Woodinville and is in the heart of Area 2 of “The Woodinville Warehouse Wineries” (  Area 2 is home to over 30 wineries in just one Industrial Park, which also now boasts a new distillery.  The address of the Industrial Park is 19500 144th NE.  Basically, you turn north onto 144th NE Woodinville Way and after 300 yards look for winery signs on the left.

If you see signs for Area 51, you are in the wrong state, turn around and come back to Woodinville!

The warehouse wineries have special events all the time, so check out the website before you go.While many of the Warehouse wineries produce their wines onsite, Obelisco’s wines are produced at their winery just outside of the Tri-Cities area.

The Woodinville location is primarily a tasting room designed to showcase their wines. Walking into it was inviting from the minute we stepped in the door.  It was getting late in the day but the staff behind the tasting bar was as pleasant and upbeat about their wines as if we were the first tasters of the day.

The tasting room, which opened about a year and a half ago, has warm colors and is inviting.  There is a larger room at the back of the tasting room with a large table in the middle that is used for winemaker’s dinners and other events.

It was a pleasant surprise to be greeted by Bob Farnus, the best elementary school teacher my kids have ever had (5th grade at Wellington).  Bob, now retired, can often be spotted pouring wine at Obelisco Estate. He says he was lured to Obelisco by their incredible Red Mountain wines, but what keeps him engaged is working with great people and staying connected to families and former students from the Northshore community.

Bob is clearly passionate about education and told us the Obelisco story as he introduced us to their wines.

Bob introduced us to Doug Long, the owner, who is a 40-year industry veteran as a grower and winemaker out of Napa Valley.  In fact Doug was temporarily retired from the wine business when he first moved to Seattle but just couldn’t seem to stay away.

His two brothers continue to own two other wineries in Napa Valley under the label of David Arthur Vineyards and Montagna respectively.

Doug got educated in Washington wines and ended up starting his vineyard and winery located in one of the top grape growing regions of Washington, Red Mountain.  Obelisco Estate had their first release in 2007.

As suspected, the wines we tasted were awesome. They offer several wines to try, a Syrah, Estate Malbec (which is exceptionally good), a 2008 and 2009 Estate Reserve Merlot (both of which reminded us why Washington Merlots are so good), a 2009 Cab., and the 2009 Electrum (which won double golds at both San Francisco and Seattle competitions).  In fact, most Obelisco wines have won numerous awards in different competitions.

Based on this tasting, Malbec may be our new favorite Washington grape – at least for this week.Obelisco wines run between $30 and $65. The tasting costs $10 and was well worth it. The cost is applied toward any bottle purchased, which we did.

There is no doubt in our minds that this winery is one of the up and comers of Washington state.

The Woodinville Winers visit Brian Carter Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
Brian Carter Cellars ( is located in that “Little Yellow House” that you see next to the southern roundabout in the Tourist District as you drive on the Woodinville Redmond Road (just in front of the Purple Café).  The house has a great outdoor deck to the south with sweeping views of the Sammamish Valley and Mount Rainer (on a clear day).

As we entered the building, we immediately got a warm and inviting feeling as we were greeted warmly by Ken and his daughter Laura.  The inside of the house is separated into two sections, one for public tastings and one for private tastings and events.  Ken and Laura were pouring five wines that day, each containing some of the best Washington grapes.  They were expertly handling the full tasting room of eager winers.

Before we were even able to sample our first wine, we ran into Mike Stevens, who founded Brian Carter Cellars in 2005 along with its namesake winemaker, Brian Carter.  We asked Mike what his favorite part about founding the winery was, now that he has been at it for seven years. He immediately said it was making interpersonal connections with people – which seems to go hand in hand with drinking wine.  He sometimes even gets pictures from customers sent to him of places they are enjoying Brian Carter wines. In what other industry do customers send you pictures of them using your product?

During the wine tasting, Laura poured us five different wines, one white and four reds. All Brian Carter wines are blends. In fact, their tagline is “A Passion for the Art of Blending” and these wines certainly have passion.  Each wine’s name matches the painting on the label in some way. Oriana (Latin for “Golden Lady”), is a while blend of grapes from the Yakima valley.  This might be the ultimate red drinkers white wine. It is easy to picture having a bottle on a sunny day from the deck of the tasting room.  My favorite Brian Carter red was the 2007 Le Coursier, a Bordeaux-Style blend that is representative of just what Brian can do with outstanding Washington grapes.

Mike and Brian seem to be doing quite well after just a few short years in business together as they are already winning industry acclaim.  The wines are produced just down the street at the Columbia Winery building, since Columbia moved production to Sunnyside a couple of years ago.  What a great example of coop-etition among Washington wineries.

Our experience at Brian Carter Cellars was outstanding.  The wines, the people, and the tasting room are all very inviting.  Prices range from $15 to $50.  The tasting fee was $10, but is applied to any purchases that you make.  The tasting room is open daily from 12-5.

The Woodinville Winers visit Covington Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
Covington Cellars ( is located in the North Industrial area of Woodinville which is home to about 40 wineries. T

his group refers to themselves as the “Woodinville Warehouse Wineries” and even has their own website (

Covington Cellars can be accessed by turning onto 142nd Street from N. Woodinville Way and then looking for the winery A-board signs. Or better yet, download the map from the website as there are no signs from the main road.

The Warehouse Winery area is a wine tasting paradise.  In reality, a serious wine taster could take several days in this area alone to go through all the tasting rooms.

Don’t be fooled by the exterior appearance of a business park.

This area is full of tasting rooms and in many cases small production wineries. Each stop is a unique experience.

When we first pulled up to Covington Cellars, we could hear sounds of people having a great time with much laughter and conversation going on behind the warehouse doors.

As we walked into the building the paradigm was immediately transformed from being in a business park.

The owners have done an incredible job of transforming this space into a full production winery and event space.The tasting room was inviting with the tasting bar near the front door. As you look around you immediately notice that this is more than a tasting room.  The entire facility takes up six warehouse bays and includes full wine production capability as well as a full commercial kitchen.

We were greeted by Cindy Lawson (Cindy and her husband David are the owners) who spent time with us telling us about the wines and history of Covington Cellars.

Because of Cindy’s passion for food they have combined the two into this unique experience.

They offer several lunch type entrees (made daily by their in house chef Trinity) which can easily be paired with a variety of wines that are produced onsite.

They also do a winemakers dinner once a month as well as private events.

Cindy was a terrific host.  You can see her passion for this winery and the food they serve.

She shared some great stories like how they actually started making wine in Covington in their garage.  Their friends encouraged them enough to open their winery in Woodinville in 2005.

She said their biggest reward since opening this winery is all the friends they have made from all the visitors over the years. Cindy considers her customers to be an extension of her own family.

We tried several of the wines they were tasting that day.

Our favorites were the 2007 Prima Micela, the 2007 Reserve Syrah and the 2007 Cabernet.

All of these wines are made in small quantities by artisan winemakers, sometimes less than 100 cases.

Their wines range from $16-$48 in price.

The tasting room is open Fridays from 1–5 p.m., Saturdays from 12 noon – 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 – 5 p.m.

In addition, you can order wine by the glass and kitchen specials on Friday evenings from 5 – 9:30  p.m.

The winery has a Facebook page that posts the specials each week.

The Woodinville Winers visit Alexandria Nicole Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
Alexandria Nicole Cellars is located in the basement of the Hollywood Schoolhouse at 14810 NE 145th St. in Woodinville right on the main roundabout in the Tourist District. Its location is in the same area as several other tasting rooms all within walking distance from one another.

When first walking into the tasting room you get the feel of a different era. They did a great job turning the basement of this old schoolhouse into a warm and inviting place to taste wine.

Everyone was upbeat and we were warmly greeted as we entered.  Along the back wall of the tasting room is a rock wall with a surprise.  The surprise is that it contains a secret sliding door, which connects to a special wine club room with another tasting bar and a kitchen.  This is the room where special events are held (every Friday evening from 5-8 p.m. for wine club members) and also serves as a place for wine club members to congregate.  What a clever addition to this quaint tasting room.

In tasting wines it is always a bonus when expectations are exceeded. We had the opportunity to try five different wines. Being the white wine snobs that we are, we were pleasantly surprised how much we enjoyed the Viognier which seemed like the perfect wine with a light meal or on a warm summer evening. The other wines we tasted were Shepard’s, Quarry Butte, Malbec and the 2008 Destiny. All of them were enjoyable, so much so that we even had to buy a bottle.

Derrick, who did the pouring, was informative and offered insight about the wines. His knowledge about the winery and the people who work there to produce these fine wines added perspective to the tasting.

We asked Derrick about one of his favorite things about working in the winery and he said, “you get to meet fun people” and “no one gets mad at you.”  How many of us can say that about our jobs?

The winery itself is in Paterson, Washington at the Destiny Ridge Estate high on a butte near the Columbia River. One of the more impressive accolades that the winery has earned is that they were selected as the 2011 Washington Winery of the Year in the Spring 2011 edition of Wine Press Northwest.

Our overall experience with Alexandria Nicole was outstanding as they delivered on the three most important things that make wine tasting fun.  They have a great tasting room, staffed with really friendly people and pour great wine. The tasting is $10 which is applied to any wine purchase. The wines we tasted were in the $20-$40 range.  Tasting room hours are from 10 a.m. -5 p.m. Thursday to Monday.