Conjure up an image of Washington’s landscape, and snow-capped peaks, fir trees, rocky coastlines, and oyster beds might come to mind. Yet east of the Cascade Mountains, acres of lush farmland roll out under a reliable sun—all under the heady scent of grapes ripening on the vine. This is Washington Wine Country, where long, hot days and cool nights yield some truly incredible wines. Though the wine scene is still relatively young, Washington is already the country’s second-largest producer of premium wine, with more than 900 wineries across the state.
Thanks to winemakers like Leonetti Cellars and Quilceda Creek, cabernet is the varietal that first thrust Washington wine onto the national stage. Since then, the state’s wine reputation has been burnished by top-flight chardonnay, riesling, syrah, and a burgeoning crop of Bordeaux-style blends.
While much of Washington’s wine comes from eastern grape-growing areas like the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, it’s never been a better time to be a wine lover in Seattle. Between great bottle shops, restaurants with hyperlocal wine lists, and an influx of new tasting rooms and wineries within city limits, there’s plenty to sip and savor.
SoDo Urbanworks, a collection of highly regarded winemakers just south of downtown, have turned a rambling industrial building into a cluster of tasting rooms. There’s plenty of parking, and former loading docks now serve as open-air patios for tastings. The only official connection between the nine wineries that have opened here is a sense of camaraderie between the owners, and a general identity as some of the most exciting members of Washington’s new generation of winemakers. Start at Sleight of Hand, where everything from the syrah to riesling to rosé is impressive and winemaker Trey Busch’s love of music is evident in the photos of famous singers that hang on the wall (and the racks of merch from local label Sub Pop Records in the back). Then continue south along the building’s perimeter for Rhône-
style blends at Rôtie, bold pours from Latta Wines, and complex, layered offerings at Kerloo Cellars, which houses both a tasting room and an actual production facility. Tucked in a corner, online retailer Full Pull Wines lets members pick up the bottles advertised in its daily newsletters, but also pours tastes of its own in-house wine label.
Many of these winemakers set up shop in Seattle because the urban-industrial vibe suited their personalities. Case in point: Charles Smith, a rocker turned winemaker. The founder of House of Smith Jet City relocated the higher-end labels in his portfolio from Walla Walla to a former Dr. Pepper bottling plant in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, where tastings happen beneath 21-foot-high ceilings and come with a view of planes landing across the street at Boeing Field. Between the pours of Smith’s superlative Sixto chardonnay and the stylish environs, it’s a quintessentially Seattle wine destination. Plus, both the upstairs and downstairs tasting rooms offer a peek at the actual winemaking facilities in back.
Dinnertime is another fantastic opportunity to explore local wines. Seattle restaurants’ emphasis on local food also extends to their wine lists. At Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Lounge, wines are organized very pointedly by “Washington” and “Outside Washington” bottles, making it easy to find your way to a food-friendly grüner veltliner from Syncline Wine Cellars, or go big on a masterful syrah from Reynvaan Family Vineyards. Purple Café and Wine Bar downtown features a dramatic wraparound spiral staircase and a vast menu that includes tasting flights from prominent Washington winemaking regions like the Walla Walla or Yakima Valleys. If you can score a reservation at Canlis, you’re in for not only one of the town’s seminal fine-dining experiences, but also an 88-page wine list that includes some of Washington’s scarcest bottles. The wine program is so prolific that it earned wine director Nelson Daquip a James Beard Award in 2017. Downtown RN74 showcases its dedication to its home in Seattle with a wine list featuring bios of Washington winemakers. You’ll find knowledgeable staff members at each restaurant, but RN74’s lead sommelier, Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, even moonlights as a winemaker. His WT Vintners label makes impeccable syrah and explores less-common varietals like mourvedre.
Local bottle shops can be another incredible resource to learn more about Washington wine. Esquin Wine & Spirits sources small-lot wines and rare bottles you can’t find anywhere else in the city. In the heart of Pike Place Market, 43-year-old Pike and Western Wine Shop has been around for every stage of the state’s wine scene and is particularly good at explaining the nuances of Washington wine in the context of West Coast and Old World wine regions. And Bottlehouse is a charming wine-bar-meets-bottle-shop featuring pours from the Pacific Northwest.
But, of course, there is no better way to immerse yourself in the local wine culture than during March, also dubbed Taste Washington Wine Month. Throughout the month, local restaurants, tasting rooms, wine shops, and even hotels host special promotions and events. It all culminates in Taste Washington, a four-day event that has become the nation’s largest gathering of wine and food from a single region. Taste Washington has expanded far beyond the grand tasting at Lumen Field Event Center to encompass parties, tours, and even food- and wine-themed trips that fan out across the state’s agricultural regions. Cheers to that.
Small-scale vintners have been quietly making great wine in Seattle for years, from Eight Bells Winery—a hidden gem in Ravenna that’s home to a particularly compelling syrah—to Elsom Cellars, whose three-year-old SoDo facility offers live music and even the occasional yoga class alongside its memorable malbec and rosé. Recently, though, some well-known names in Washington wine have moved their production to Seattle from more traditional hubs like Walla Walla.
Winemaker Charles Smith decided to move some of his small-lot labels to his sleek House of Smith Jet City space in Georgetown, in part to get his most attention-getting wines in front of people in Seattle (both visitors and locals) who might not make the trip to Smith’s tasting rooms in Eastern Washington. At Kerloo Cellars, owner Ryan Crane spun off a side project called SoDo Cellars. His Wingman blend—an uncommon syrah-malbec combo—shows off the same level of finesse as Kerloo’s sought-after bottles, but with a budget-friendly $15 price tag.
With the exception of Charles Smith’s showy destination winery, urban winemakers tend to be small, out-of-the-way operations. They’re incredibly charming once you find them, often off the beaten path. Enter Seattle Urban Wineries, a collective of roughly 21 spots around the city.
The organization provides a helpful map of its members, plus various updates and events that showcase all the great wine being made within Seattle city limits.
For another take on the urban winery experience, look no further than nearby Woodinville, a 30-minute drive away, which features 100-plus tasting rooms and wineries among two main touring areas. While some of the expansive tasting rooms in the Hollywood District (such as Chateau Ste. Michelle) are decidedly less industrial than urban wineries found in Seattle, Woodinville’s Warehouse District offers some gritty flair, with up-and-coming winemakers perfecting their craft in refurbished warehouses. Drop by for a taste, and you might just come face to face with the winemakers themselves.
Bottlehouse 1415 34th Ave; bottlehouseseattle.com • *Canlis 2576 xAurora Ave N; canlis.com • *House of Smith Jet City 1136 S Albro Pl; houseofsmith.com • *Chateau Ste. Michelle 14111 NE 145th St, Woodinville; ste-michelle.com • *Dahlia Lounge 2001 Fourth Ave; dahlialounge.com • Eight Bells Winery 6213 Roosevelt Way NE, Ste B; 8bellswinery.com • Elsom Cellars 2960 Fourth Ave S; elsomcellars.com • Esquin Wine & Spirits 2700 Fourth Ave S; madwine.com • Full Pull Wines 3933 First Ave S, Ste A; fullpullwines.com • Kerloo Cellars 3911 First Ave S; kerloocellars.com • Latta Wines 3933 First Ave S; lattawines.com • Pike and Western Wine Shop 1934 Pike Pl; pikeandwestern.com • *Purple Café and Wine Bar 1225 Fourth Ave; purplecafe.com • *RN74 1433 Fourth Ave; michaelmina.net • Rôtie 3861 First Ave S, Ste F; rotiecellars.com • Seattle Urban Wineries seattleurbanwineries.com • Sleight of Hand 3861 First Ave S, Ste G; sofhcellars.com • SoDo Cellars kerloocellars.com • SoDo Urban Works 3901 First Ave S; sodo-urbanworks.com • *Taste Washington tastewashington.org • *Taste Washington Wine Month wawinemonth.com • *Woodinville woodinvillewinecountry.com
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