My girlfriend and I were recently in Seattle. She had to attend a business meeting and I tagged along as baggage handler and tour guide. We decided to add a couple of days on to the end of the trip to do some sight seeing. While researching the area, I discovered there are several wineries in and around Woodinville, just twenty miles north east of the city. This seemed like the perfect place to go since we both love wine and wine touring. I found out that there was a brewery in the area as well. Excellent! We both just happen to love beer too. The B&B was booked and I eagerly planned our itinerary for that weekend.
As I was mapping out the wineries we would visit, I pictured vast vineyards with various styles of wineries. Some would be small and quaint, some large and lavish. All would be in relatively rural settings. I don’t know why this vision was in my head. It just was. Perhaps because that’s what the Finger Lakes wineries are like. Perhaps the movie “Sideways” influenced me. After all, Washington is the second largest wine producing state in the country and its west coast. How else would it look?
When we arrived at our first winery (Distefano Winery), I immediately noticed two things. First, there wasn’t a grape vine in sight. Second, the winery was in what looked like a small industrial park. I was a bit disappointed, probably because it didn’t fit the perception I had about Washington State wineries. But, here we were, parked outside a winery on a beautiful day. How could we go wrong? As it turned out, we couldn’t. We had a great time and tasted several excellent wines.
We learned that most of the Washington grapes are grown in the eastern part of the state. This is due to the fact that the climate in the west isn’t suited for grapes like it is on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. So why are there so many wineries in Woodinville? Because it’s close to the customers. There are as many people in the greater Seattle area than in the rest of the state where the grapes are grown. Woodinville is twenty to forty minutes from Seattle by car. You can bike there in two hours. As it turns out, many people do ride their bicycles to the wineries. The vineyards are three to four hours from Seattle by car. Not exactly a day trip. Not like the Finger Lakes are to the people in Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca, and Binghamton. The other reason there aren’t many vineyards in Woodinville is because the land is much more expensive there than it is on the other side of the mountains.
As we visited other wineries, we noticed a trend. Some tasting rooms were in buildings that looked like they housed dentist offices. Some were in small strip malls. Others were in small buildings that looked like a typical Finger Lakes winery. Each of the wineries we visited was excellent. The wine was great, the people were friendly, and the atmosphere was what you expect when wine touring.
Columbia Winery and Chateau St Michelle are the area’s larger wineries and are similar to the larger Finger Lakes wineries. These wineries have large, elegant buildings and sprawling, ornate grounds. Still no grape vines in sight, however. Three Finger Lakes wineries come to mind when I compare them to Columbia in terms of size (of the building and grounds, not production) and proximity to a large city. These wineries are Casa Larga in Fairport, and Ventosa Vineyards and Belhurst Winery in Geneva. Each of these wineries is within an hour’s drive of Rochester. As a matter of fact, all of the Finger Lakes wineries can be reached by car in an hour and a half or so.
As it turns out we had a very enjoyable experience visiting the wineries of Woodinville. We met some very interesting people, tasted many excellent, world class wines, and got a first hand look at west coast wine touring. I would recommend visiting the area to anyone heading out to Seattle. While the venue wasn’t exactly what I had imagined, it turned out to be exactly what I had hoped for. The people of Seattle are lucky they have so many excellent wineries within their reach. I feel that the people of the Finger Lakes region are even luckier because we have even more wineries within our reach that produce world class wines and offer world class experiences. Most of the wineries are located in the rolling hills surrounding the beautiful Finger Lakes and not in strip malls or office parks. Plus, it’s hard to visit a Finger Lakes winery without seeing a vineyard.
I had romanticized the wineries of Washington State and realized after seeing them first hand that I didn’t have to travel so far to have a truly romantic wine experience. That experience is waiting for us all in the Finger Lakes.