New Discoveries in Woodinville Wine Country

By Kori ~ November 24th, 2009.

Kori and John talking with viticulturist Dr. Alan Busacca at AlmaTerraWoodinville has definitely become a must-visit destination in Washington wine country. Home of the state’s oldest, largest, and most well-known wineries, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Winery, the Woodinville area is also home to over 40 wineries and tasting rooms, with new ones opening all the time. Woodinville now boasts the second largest concentration of Washington wineries after Walla Walla and is located just 17 miles northeast of Seattle. I am not aware of another place in the U.S. where there are this many fine wineries so close to a major city.

Last Saturday, we spent the afternoon visiting ten wineries or tasting rooms in Woodinville that we had not previously visited. In many cases, we had not tasted any or many of their wines either. Our ten stops included AlmaTerra, Guardian Cellars, XSV, Des Voigne, William Church, Cuillin Hills, Barrage, Covington, Hollywood Hills, and Isenhower. In the process, we made several exciting new discoveries.

Wines from Hollywood Hill VineyardsHollywood Hill Vineyards, located a couple of miles from downtown Woodinville on Hollywood Hill, was founded in 2004 by Steve and Becky Snyder. Hollywood Hill Vineyards is the only winery in Woodinville that also has their own vineyards, where they grow both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their primary focus is on producing Rhone-inspired wines from Eastern Washington fruit, but they produce a small amount of estate grown wines as well. We had the pleasure to meet Becky and taste their wines in their tasting room located down the hill from their winery in the Apple Farm Village. We tasted four of their wines, three different Syrahs as well as a Mourvedre/Syrah blend, and thought they were all excellent, rating all four of them as 4 stars (out of 5).

AlmaTerra is a unique project dedicated to making wines from diverse Washington AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) with the goal of expressing terroir. AlmaTerra is the brainchild of geologist/viticulturist Dr. Alan Busacca and winemaker Robert Smasne. Their first releases featured 2006 Syrahs. In the winery, Robert made each wine in exactly the same way, the only difference being where the grapes were sourced. They produce three single-vineyard Syrahs, one each from Minick Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, Coyote Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, and Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain. We enjoyed all of their wines but thought their best wine was the 2006 Coéo Syrah which is a blend of their three single-vineyard wines. Alan happened to be in the tasting room on Saturday so we had the opportunity to learn about these wines from the viticulturist himself.

2007 William Church MalbecWilliam Church Winery was founded in 2005 by Leslie and Rod Balsley. The winery is named after both of their fathers. We were welcomed at the winery by volunteer extraordinaires, Bob and Diane Schumacher. The Balsleys are fortunate to have such friendly, helpful folks “working” in their tasting room. Our favorites of the wines we tasted were the 2007 Malbec and the 2007 Syrah.

Here’s a breakdown of the wines that we tasted in Woodinville. Under each Quality heading, the wine name and region in Washington State will be listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
2006 AlmaTerra Coéo Syrah, Columbia Valley, $48, QPR: 5

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2007 William Church Syrah, Yakima Valley, $25, QPR: 5
2007 Covington Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35, QPR: 5

2005 Hollywood Hill Vineyards Yakima Valley Syrah, Yakima Valley, $28, QPR: 4
2006 Hollywood Hill Vineyards Red Mountain Syrah, Red Mountain, $30, QPR: 4
2007 Hollywood Hill Vineyards Rattlesnake Hills Syrah, Rattlesnake Hills, $32, QPR:  4
2007 Hollywood Hill Vineyards DIst 83 Mourvedre/Syrah, Red Mountain, $32, QPR: 4
2007 Cuillin Hills Shackled Red Wine Stillwater Creek Vineyard, Columbia Valley, $35, QPR: 4
2007 William Church Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $30, QPR: 3
2007 Barrage Cellars Secret Weapon Boushey Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley, $40, QPR: 3
2006 AlmaTerra Syrah Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain, $56.25, QPR: 2

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2007 Cuillin Hills Riff-Raff Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $17, QPR: 4
2007 Isenhower Wild Alfalfa Syrah, Columbia Valley, $25, QPR: 4
2007 Isenhower Batchelor’s Button Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $29, QPR: 4
2007 Covington Cellars Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $30, QPR: 4
2007 Isenhower Road Less Traveled Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $25, QPR: 3
2007 Isenhower Red Paintbrush Bordeaux-style blend, Columbia Valley, $25, QPR: 3
2007 Guardian Cellars Chalk Line, Columbia Valley, $25, QPR: 3
2007 Des Voigne The Duke Red Wine Zinfandel Blend, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: 3
2007 Cuillin Hills The Dungeon Syrah, Columbia Valley, $29, QPR: 3
2007 William Church “2 Spires”, Columbia Valley, $29, QPR: 3
2006 Covington Cellars Starr Syrah Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, $29, QPR: 3
2007 Des Voigne Solea Red Wine, Red Mountain, $30, QPR: 3
2007 Barrage Cellars Outcast Boushey Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $35, QPR: 2
2007 AlmaTerra Coéo Viognier, Columbia Valley, $26, QPR: 1
2006 Smasne Malbec Phinny Hill Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, $35, QPR: 1
2006 AlmaTerra Syrah Minick Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $50, QPR: 1
2006 AlmaTerra Syrah Coyote Canyon Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, $53.75, QPR: 1

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2007 William Church Bishop’s Blend, Columbia Valley, $19, QPR: 4
2007 Des Voigne San Remo Ciel du Cheval Sangiovese, Red Mountain, $26, QPR: 3
2003 XSV Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $38, QPR: 3
2008 Cuillin Hills Derby Girl Rosé, Columbia Valley, $17, QPR: 2
2006 Covington Cellars Rough House Red, Walla Walla Valley, $29, QPR: 2
2008 William Church Viognier, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 1
2006 Guardian Cellars Gun Metal, Columbia Valley, $35, QPR: 1
2004 XSV Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $36, QPR: 1

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2008 Isenhower Snapdragon White Wine, Red Mountain, $17, QPR: NR
2004 XSV Chardonnay, Wahluke Slope, $18, QPR: NR
2008 Des Voigne Menina Flor Viognier/Roussanne, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: NR
2008 Covington Cellars Dress White Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc Klipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain, $20, QPR: NR
2006 Des Voigne The Emcee Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $28, QPR: NR
2007 Des Voigne Montreux Syrah, Columbia Valley, $30, QPR: NR
2004 XSV Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $35, QPR: NR

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Malbec, Merlot, Red Wine, Rose Wine, Sangiovese, Shiraz/Syrah, Vineyards, Viognier, Washington State Wine, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25, Zinfandel

Reader's Comments

  1. @nectarwine | November 24th, 2009 at 10:36 am

    How in the world do you taste 45 wines in 1 afternoon. Amazing. We only visited one of the ones above when we were there. Quick question, how do you approach these folks, when your tasting in their presence? Do you reserve your opinion for when you are back home blogging about it?

  2. Cynthia Daste | November 24th, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Great article. Thank you for visiting Woodinville. We are very proud of the quality of wines produced in Woodinville and we are thrilled you had a great experience. Cynthia Daste’ Executive Director – Woodinville Wine Country.

  3. Kori | November 27th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    How do we tasting 45 wines in one afternoon? We spit! 🙂 When we visit wineries, we try to go in and taste just like any other customer. We don’t go in and tell them who we are. Sometimes, they ask if we are in the trade when they observe us spitting, taking notes, and asking questions. If they ask or if we really like their wines, I’ll give them a card before we leave. But I reserve my opinions about their wines until I’m home blogging about them. Different wine bloggers and wine writers do it differently, but that’s how we do it when we are visiting wineries like we did in Woodinville. There are other times when we’ve made an appointment or been invited by a winemaker to visit and taste and so they know who we are. But, even then, I reserve opinions for when I’m writing about the wines.

    We had a great time in Woodinville. I’m excited to see how much the area is growing and the quality of wines coming from there. Keep up the good work.


  4. Leslie @wmchurchwinery | December 3rd, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Glad you and your group had a good experience at the winery and enjoyed both the wines AND our wonderful volunteers. We want each bottle to have a positive memory behind it that can becomes part of the story when it is opened. We have a fantastic group of people that are dedicated to helping us and we are grateful for that – we could not do it without them. Sorry we missed you – next time.

  5. Kori | December 3rd, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for commenting. We had a great time at William Church. Hope we get a chance to meet the next time we visit. Cheers!