The best repurposing of a strip center surely has to be in Woodinville, Washington, where deserted malls have been repopulated with wineries – dozens and dozens of them. The proliferation of wineries has turned this once-sleepy community located 30 minutes east of Seattle into a veritable tasting room, with 107 of them in a city measuring 5.62 square miles.
WHERE WASHINGTON POURS
To put that number in perspective, there are some 800 wineries in the entire state of Washington. Woodinville, a town founded in the 1880s on a logging homestead along the banks of what is now the Sammamish River, is considered by some to be the doorway to Washington wine. And while the vineyards remain east of the Cascade Mountains, the wineries and tasting rooms flourish in Woodinville, beckoning hundreds of thousands each year to taste the grape. Woodinville’s four wine districts are bookended by the Warehouse Winery District, home to 48 wineries – many of them production facilities you can tour – and, a mere 2.8 miles away, the Hollywood Winery District where there are 35 tasting rooms as well as Washington’s founding winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle. In between are the West Valley Winery District and the Downtown Winery District. Each winery has its own distinct vibe, from Patterson Cellars with its urban warehouse feel and jazzy Pondera with piano and art gallery to edgy Mark Ryan Winery, home of Washington’s “Red Wine of the Year 2014,” Lonely Heart and JM Cellars, which looks more like an arboretum with its treescape, ferns and mass plantings, to William Church Winery, an elegant hole-in-the-wall where you can have edibles from the Purple Cafe next door delivered to your table to enjoy along with your wine selections. Wine lovers can sip and sample wines from Washington’s 13 wine-producing areas without ever leaving Woodinville. No need to drive across the mountains seeking your favorite varietal; in fact, there’s no need to drive at all. Guests staying at Willows Lodge can book a guided Willows Wine Venture. Every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the lodge’s luxury van wends its way into Woodinville Wine Country while the history of the area is narrated, stopping for personalized tastings at three wineries. At tour’s conclusion, guests may opt to be dropped off near the Hollywood Wine District, armed with complimentary tasting vouchers to continue their adventure.
AN OASIS SURROUNDED BY WINE
Located on five lush acres adjacent to the Sammamish River Trail in the heart of Woodinville Wine Country, Willows Lodge is rustic elegance that pays tribute to the heritage of the Pacific Northwest through its design elements. These include the landscaped shell of a 30-foot-tall cedar holding court near the lodge’s front doors and repurposed Douglas fir timbers for floors and staircase. Within the lodge and amidst its gardens is the artwork of Haida Native Americans, the first inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest: bronze and glass sculptures and oil paintings. Onsite dining includes the Barking Frog, cozy and rustic and known for its American regional cuisine zinged with Pacific Northwest influences; Washington State’s only five-star restaurant, The Herbfarm; and Fireside, a cozy-casual eatery whose doors open into the garden. The lodge has a spa, library, outdoor garden gazebo and relaxation pool. Bicycles are available for exploring area trails, including one running along a historic railroad bed. The gardens are made for leisurely strolls where you may run into Basil and Borage, the resort’s resident potbellied pigs, who enjoy stepping out (on leashes) themselves.
You simply cannot be within spittin’ distance of 100-plus wineries and tasting rooms and not offer a wine package. The Willows Lodge Winecation (starting at $440 per couple, through Sept. 13) includes overnight accommodations; a glass of Sommelier-select wine for two in Fireside; bicycles for cruising the trails; a pedi-cab ride to a local winery; and Le Picnic for two prepared by the Barking Frog restaurant and packaged in a souvenir backpack – delicieux! Woodinville Lavender Farm is located about a minute from Willows Lodge so it makes sense the two would partner for an only-here experience. The Woodinville Lavender Harvest package (starting at $390 and available until the end of August) includes overnight accommodations, a lavender gift, lavender drawn bath, transportation to Woodinville Lavender and two hours at the farm, which includes harvesting lavender with one of the farm’s owners.
“People love the fragrance and know it’s relaxing and are sometimes surprised to learn there are so many other uses,” said Tom Frei, owner of Woodinville Lavender. Bundle, haul and hang lavender while learning about the care and maintenance of this fragrant, versatile herb. You will see an essential oil distillation demonstration, using the farm’s authentic, hand-formed Alembic still, from the loading of buds to the production of the essential oil from the still.
Willows Lodge, www.WillowsLodge.com. Opened in 2000, it has 84 Northwest-style guest rooms and suites, amenity-laden and featuring stone fireplaces, soaking tubs designed for two and balconies overlooking the gardens.
The Herbfarm, www.TheHerbfarm.com: Open for themed multi-course dinners Thursday through Sunday (one seating), with each day’s menu finalized only hours before the meal. Reservations: 425-485-5300.
Chateau Ste. Michelle, www.Ste-Michelle.com: Summer Concert at the Chateau Amphitheatre: Gipsy King’s 25th Anniversary Tour, Aug. 22; Peter Frampton, Aug. 24; Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Sept. 12. Tickets are available in the Chateau Wine Shop daily between the hours of 10 a.m.-5 p.m. or call 800-745-3000.
ADVENTURE GUIDE TO DON’T-MISS MOMENTS
- Become a fly on sticky paper, at least that’s the way the esthetician at the Spa at Willows Lodge describes the lodge’s signature 60-minute Honey & Lavender Body Treatment that involves getting wrapped briefly in a cellophane-like cocoon. This delicious melange of potions – using local honey, salt and lavender – exfoliates, heals and nourishes the skin. You’ll float back to your room, your skin feeling renewed and your mind at peace.
- Roll to nearby wineries by pedi-cab, the Willows’ covered two-person rickshaw drawn by a bicyclist who will drop you off at wineries within a mile of the lodge, including Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Hollywood Winery District.
- Revel in a nine-course dinner at The Herbfarm, an internationally renowned restaurant (and one of America’s 52 AAA 5-Diamond Award recipients) tucked into an enchanting cottage amidst the gardens of the Willows. Sup on seasonal, locally sourced dishes reflecting the gastronomic bounty of the Pacific Northwest and paired with six wines of the region.
- Tour Chateau Ste. Michelle, gorgeous and massive and spread over 100 acres. This is where all the company’s white wines are bottled (the reds are bottled in Washington’s Columbia Valley region). Daily tours and tastings, plus bustling gift shops, chef dinners, wine and food classes and an outdoor summer concert series keep things hopping here.
- Breath in the scent of lavender while standing in a field of the fragrant purple herb at the Woodinville Lavender Farm, www.WoodinvilleLavender.com. This is where Willows Lodge gets lavender for its spa treatments and where visitors shop for lavender oils, bath salts, soap, sachets, lotion, herbs and seasonings for cooking – even ice cream bars (the cardamom and lavender one will make you daydream about enjoying this treat again). Travelers take note: You can buy a TSA-accepted Lavender Travel Pack that includes a 2-oz. lotion, 2-oz. liquid soap and either a sachet, eye pillow or floral water ($13-$24).
ADVENTURE GEAR TO TAKE ALONG
With more than 100 different wineries and tasting rooms in the very concentrated Woodinville Wine Country, chances are you’ll visit quite a few and will want to take pictures as you taste. For photographers relying on the camera in their phones, Kenu’s Highline for iPhone 5/5S, a clever case and leash system, will help you keep track of your phone. The clear snap-on case is made of tough polycarbonate and has a rugged rim for protection against drops, scratches and scuffs. An abrasion-resistant leash and loop system fastens to zippers, belt loops and purse handles; a Lightning Lock system plugs safely into the iPhone’s lightning port and locks to a tiny notch in the case. Viola! It’s a simple yet secure connection that will allow you to whip out your phone and snap away at each winery without losing it or leaving it behind.
Author, travel and lifestyle writer, and travel goods expert Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there’s just too much to see and do in the world. She can be reached at KathyWitt24@gmail.com or KathyWitt.com.