The wine buzz around the Puget Sound area has been all about the explosive growth of wineries and tasting rooms in eastern Washington and Woodinville. But urban wineries are blossoming, too, bringing closer to home the opportunity to taste—and buy—an impressive array of Washington wines.
“We thought about looking in Woodinville, but it’s pretty saturated,” says Sandi Stothers, who owns Stomani Cellars (stomanicellars.com) with her husband, Alex Manoni. Until recently, Stomani had been making its lineup of mostly Italian varietals at a co-op in the SoDo neighborhood near Safeco Field. Its first vintage was in 2006. But when urban renewal took their building, the couple began looking for a new space. “We live in Sammamish, so we even thought about looking for something on the road to Woodinville,” Stothers says, “but then it dawned on us that we’ve always wanted to move to the city.”
On Dexter Avenue North in the Westlake neighborhood, the couple found an ideal spot in a building dating to the early 1900s. It had been an auto repair shop in its most recent life. Stothers and Manoni found the oversized bays perfect for receiving fruit, and the towering ceilings allow them to stack barrels to dizzying heights.
One of the challenges for urban winemakers is to find adequate square footage that still makes sense economically. “We started out in 1,200 square feet and quickly outgrew that,” says Benjamin Smith, a former Boeing engineer who launched Cadence Winery (cadencewinery.com) with his wife, Gaye McNutt, in 1998, after buying land for a vineyard on Red Mountain in 1997. He described the warehouse in South Park, where Cadence has been making its age-worthy Bordeaux blends for the past two years, as the perfect size, capable of housing the entire production facility. On the second Saturday of each month and during release parties in the spring and fall, the couple pours wine right in the middle of the no-frills warehouse. “What we don’t have is glamour,” McNutt says. “We’re not Woodinville.”
However, these boutique urban wineries do offer the opportunity for some serious face time with the people whose wines you’ve come to taste. At one Saturday tasting, Bill Owen of OS Winery (oswinery.com) invited a small group of tasters into the barrel room to sip samples of his 2009 Cabernet Franc, which he considers Washington’s best varietal. OS is also in South Park, just north of Cadence and around the corner from Nota Bene Cellars (notabenecellars.com), so it’s easy to do a park-and-walk tour of these three members of the South Seattle Artisan Wineries group (ssaw.info).
By taking a short drive across the Duwamish River into Georgetown, tasters will find two more members of that association: Fall Line Winery (falllinewinery.com) and Laurelhurst Cellars (laurelhurstcellars.com). Laurelhurst was launched by Gabe Warner, Greg Smallwood and Dave Halbgewachs in Warner’s Laurelhurst garage in 2004. They’ve been in a warehouse space off Seventh Avenue South for two years now, tucked away in a location where the tasting bar is set up on portable tables. Their elegant wines more than make up for the spartan surroundings, especially the spicy Cabernet Franc made with fruit from Boushey Vineyards near Red Mountain.
At Domanico Cellars in Ballard (domanicocellars.com), Jason and Jill Domanico used found materials from the former auto repair shop to create an impressive tasting bar, where they pour whimsically named blends such as Le Monstre, a Cab powerhouse, and Le Flirt, a Merlot/Malbec blend.
There’s even been a welcome development at Seattle’s oldurban winery. While Paul Beveridge and Lysle Wilhelmi continue to run Wilridge Winery from the tiny basement of the Madrona house where they once lived and later ran the Madrona Bistro, the space upstairs is now home to Bottlehouse. This stylish wine bar features Wilridge and other wines, and also serves a number of small-plates selections. After sipping at Bottlehouse, wine tasters can easily stroll to a half-dozen restaurants in the Madrona neighborhood—a distinctive perk of the urban wine-tasting experience.
For organized tours of some of Seattle’s in-city wineries, contact the 106 Pine wine bar (downtown, 106 Pine St.; 206. 443.1106; 106pine.com).
Leslie's Wine Picks
Cadence Winery 2007 Bel Canto, Cara Mia Vineyard ($55)
This blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot comes on big and brawny, but opens up nicely in the glass. The intense fruit is balanced by spicy notes and a minerality showing its Red Mountain roots. This one’s sure to get better in the cellar. Pairs with: a standing rib roast for a special occasion.
Laurelhurst Cellars 2008 Cabernet Franc ($28)
Dark and intense, this Cab Franc explodes in bright raspberry and dried cherry flavors that linger on the palate with a hint of pepper. Pairs with: grilled meats, especially lamb chops and roasted root vegetables.
OS Winery 2008 Champoux Vineyards Riesling ($15)
This lovely wine could pass for a topnotch German Riesling. It’s made with grapes from 30-year-old vines that bear incredible fruit, which impart a snappy, crisp character. At 9.5 percent alcohol, it’s a perfect picnic wine. Pairs with: oysters on the half shell.
Wilridge Winery 2009
Melange blanc ($18)
Wilridge’s blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Roussanne and Viognier is the first release from the venerable producer’s biodynamic estate vineyard on Naches Heights near Yakima. It’s got a bright quality with hints of citrus and tropical fruit. Pairs with: a rich carbonara.