Woodinville wineries can fill a busy, happy day

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WOODINVILLE -- Premium grapes don't grow here, and that supposedly sacred terroir rule apparently doesn't apply, because every month, some winemaker inquires about opening a winery or tasting room in "Woodinville Wine Country."

It's partly to take advantage of Seattle tourism and partly to piggyback on the area's oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, which has been here since 1976 and remains the anchor.

The result is that Woodinville, about 20 road-miles northeast of downtown Seattle, has become a major wine-tourism destination. In the last three years, the number of wineries and tasting rooms has nearly doubled, to about 50, with more coming.

Along with a major craft brewery, some of the region's top restaurants, and one of Puget Sound's best-known greenhouse/nursery operations, there's plenty to keep you busy for a full (and filling) day:

9 a.m. Stretch your legs

Start with a stroll or bike ride on the Sammamish River Trail. (You'll feel less guilty later after a day of imbibing.) The 10.9-mile trail stretches from Marymoor Park in Redmond to Blyth Park in Bothell, where it connects to the Burke-Gilman Trail. For this outing, start off at Wilmot Gateway Park (17301 131st Ave. N.E.), Woodinville's main park near downtown.

10 a.m. Frog for breakfast

Head to Barking Frog at Willows Lodge, 14580 N.E. 145th St., for breakfast (or weekend brunch). Barking Frog is best known for its elegant dinners and extensive wine list, but you'll save money by eating breakfast here and your bigger meals in one of the town's popular (and less expensive) Italian restaurants.

While at Willows Lodge, ask the front desk for a free map of its art-and-garden walking tour, and check out this swanky resort.

11 a.m.: Wine time

The must-stop place is Chateau Ste. Michelle, 14111 N.E. 145th St., the state's second-largest winery, with an immaculate French-style château. Take a 35-minute tour through its cellar and barrel-aging room, followed by a tasting, at no charge (ste-michelle.com).

Hard to beat the Chateau's tony ambience, but in June 2007, Novelty Hill-Januik opened a spectacular, contemporary-design tasting room and cellars with garden and outdoor fire pit, nearby at 14710 Woodinville-Redmond Road N.E.

Those two wineries give the Napa Valley feel that most mainstream tourists expect, but most tasting rooms here are more modest and informal.

For instance, Brian Carter Cellars, 14419 Woodinville-Redmond Road N.E., is another must-stop, especially if its spectacular Solesce Bordeaux-style blend is available for tasting. Nearby, Woodhouse Family Cellars, 15500 Woodinville-Redmond Road, Suite C600, features a rare Tempranillo wine.

Two of the area's best wineries, Betz Family Winery and DeLille Cellars, don't hold regular tasting hours, though they do hold special events or take appointments sometimes.

Other tasting rooms to visit: Columbia Winery, 14030 N.E. 145th St.; Matthews Estate, 16116 140th Place N.E.; J. Bookwalter, 14810 N.E. 145th St., Bldg. B; and JM Cellars, 14404 137th Place N.E.

For a more structured day, sign up for wine seminars that many cellars offer. Or take a half-day cooking class at Woodhouse, woodhousefamilycellars.com; Novelty Hill-Januik, noveltyhilljanuik.com; or Matthews Estate, matthewscellars.com.

1:30 p.m. Lunch

Many wineries sell cheese, sandwiches and nibbles to ease your growling stomach, or offer food-and-wine pairing.

On weekends, Novelty Hill-Januik serves pizza in the tasting room for $12. Or stop by the Purple Café and Wine Bar, 14559 Woodinville-Redmond Road, for a sit-down lunch. For pub grub, hit Redhook Ale Brewery, 14300 N.E. 145th St. For $1, you can also tour the facilities, sample ales and get a souvenir glass (redhook.com).

2:30 p.m. Wine in a box

On weekends, head for the town's north-end "Warehouse District" wineries, for more chances to meet winemakers one on one. They will often greet you, double as your server during the tasting, and regale you with stories about how the wines are named after family members, songs or pets. It's a great way to learn about wine.

These boutique wineries, usually run by a husband-and-wife team, make around 1,500 cases and are open only on weekends because the winemakers have day jobs, such as police officer or IT manager.

Don't underestimate the quality, though. First-rate winemakers include Mark Ryan of Mark Ryan Winery, 19501 144th Ave. N.E., Suite F900. In the same complex: Guardian Cellars, Suite F1100, and Edmonds Winery, Suite D500. Worth a stop: Ross Andrew Winery, 18512 142nd Ave. N.E.

5 p.m.: Nursery hour

The only thing that draws more tourists than Woodinville's wineries is Molbak's, 13625 N.E. 175th St., a nursery mecca, where hummingbirds hover over the mahonia shrubs and cactus comes in bright orange and yellow. (And for goodness sakes, stop teasing the Venus flytrap.) The nursery's weekly hourlong workshops take on topics such as "Create your own terrarium" and interior gardening.

You can easily get lost in this 15-acre spread that includes a restaurant by a garden, gift shop, garden store, floral shop and patio furniture shop.

6:30 p.m.: Sip and sup

To sit and sip, the best place remains Village Wines, 14545 148th Ave. N.E., a cozy basement wine shop around the corner from Chateau Ste. Michelle where locals and winemakers gather to taste wine every evening. One of the city's best wine scenes.

Or stop by Fireside Cellars at Willows Lodge, where from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4 to midnight Friday and Saturday, you can sample some vintage reserve and yet-to-be-released wines. Fireside also offers happy-hour food and wine from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

For special occasions, reserve a table at The Herbfarm restaurant or the Barking Frog, both at Willows Lodge, and both as good as any high-end dining establishment in Seattle.

Or you can save money by eating at two popular Italian restaurants that locals and winemakers frequent. Ristorante Italianissimo, 15608 N.E. Woodinville-Duvall Place, in the Stallion Hill Center, is a fine-dining favorite. For something cheaper, try Pasta Nova, 17310 140th Ave. N.E., especially for the prawn linguine with scallops and Dungeness crab meat.