by Andy Perdue | Photo © Kent Derek
The decision to put Chateau Ste. Michelle in the then-unincorporated town of Woodinville did not involve extensive studies of consumer preferences or traffic patterns. There was no master plan, and there was no wine culture to speak of in Washington.
So why was Chateau Ste. Michelle built on the estate of a former Seattle lumber baron? Because the man running the winery wanted to live in Seattle, not in Eastern Washington.
It was as simple as that.
When the chateau opened in 1976, there were no expectations of who would trek all the way around Lake Washington from Seattle each year just to taste wine. Would it be 10,000? Maybe 25,000?
In the first year of operation, a stunning 100,000 people visited Chateau Ste. Michelle, and that number grew each year. Today, 300,000 visitors come to the tasting room—and that doesn’t include the thousands who arrive for the 30 concerts that are held each summer at the winery’s amphitheater.
A visit to Chateau Ste. Michelle is an original experience. Upon entering the gates, you’ll drive between rows of wine grapes before walking down a bucolic path to the chateau. Along the way, you might meet one of the peacocks that live on the grounds. You’ll pass buildings that have stood since lumber giant Frederick Stimson lived here during Prohibition.
Today, Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington’s oldest and largest winery. It produces more riesling than any other winery in the entire world (yes, even more than any winery in Germany). Forty years later, it remains one of the truly great wine tasting experiences in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, check their website at ste-michelle.com. The tasting room is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.
Across Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho, roughly 2,000 wineries are in operation. That’s a lot of places to visit. Here are a few more favorites that have become part of our Pacific Northwest wine touring heritage, each worth putting on your must-visit list.
L’Ecole No. 41
As you drive along Highway 12 into Walla Walla, the town of Lowden is home to one of the most beautiful wineries in Washington.
L’Ecole No. 41 launched in 1983, making it the third-oldest in the valley. It’s also in the old Lowden schoolhouse, which turned a century old in 2015 and stopped being a school in 1974. Lowden was known as Frenchtown in the late 1800s because it was settled by French Canadian fur traders. Thus, when Baker and Jean Ferguson launched L’Ecole, they named it after the French word for “school.”
Today, the Fergusons’ daughter, Megan, and son-in-law, Marty Clubb, own and operate the winery, producing some of the best red wines in the Northwest.
L’Ecole No. 41, Lowden, Washington, lecole.com. Open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.
Just a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle is Bainbridge Island, home to one of the state’s oldest wineries.
Gerard and JoAnn Bentryn launched Bainbridge Vineyards in 1977, and they later championed the establishment of the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area, a federally recognized grape-growing region that stretches from south of Olympia to the Canadian border.
Today, Betsey Wittick and fellow employees have purchased the winery and farm from the Bentryns, who have retired after nearly 40 years. Most of the grapes for Bainbridge Vineyards’ wines are grown right on the farm, and the rest are from elsewhere on the island.
It is a beautiful and tranquil setting, and the wines are superb.
Bainbridge Vineyards, Bainbridge Island, Washington, bainbridgevineyards.com. Open noon to 5:00 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
In 1972, the modern Oregon wine industry was just getting started, and David Adelsheim was one of the first to venture into the northern Willamette Valley and plant pinot noir.
Today, Adelsheim still is hard at work, and his wines are better than ever, thanks in no small part to his 11 estate vineyards, most of which are in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, which he helped to establish a decade ago.
Throughout the years, Adelsheim Vineyard has expanded and evolved, with new production facilities being built in the 1990s and a tasteful and modern visitor center opening nearly 10 years ago. One thing that hasn’t changed is David Adelsheim’s commitment to crafting some of Oregon’s most thoughtful pinot noirs.
Adelsheim Vineyards, Newberg, Oregon, adelsheim.com. Open 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily.
Valley View Winery
Deep in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley, the Wisnovsky family—now led by brothers Mark and Michael—has been quietly growing grapes and making wines since the early 1970s. But Valley View Winery’s history started much earlier than that.
In fact, the original Valley View opened in the 1850s, prior to statehood. But founder Peter Britt died in 1906, and his dream went with him until it was revived nearly 70 years later.
Valley View is near the charming and rustic town of Jacksonville, not far from the California border.
Valley View Winery, Jacksonville, Oregon, valleyviewwinery.com. Open 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.
Elk Cove Vineyards
The Campbell family came to Oregon’s Yamhill County in the early 1970s, planted Elk Cove Vineyard, then launched their award-winning winery.
The tasting room is set amid a forested area near the town of Gaston that’s a favorite location for weddings and other family gatherings. Today, second-generation winemaker Adam Campbell runs Elk Cove Vineyards.
Thanks to owning most of the vineyards he uses, Campbell is able to better control the quality and quantity of his grapes. Today, he’s making some of the best wines in Oregon. His vineyard-designated pinot noirs and his pinot gris and pinot blanc are superb examples of what Oregon wine is all about.
Elk Cove Vineyards, Gaston, Oregon, elkcove.com. Open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.
- Erath Winery, Dundee, Oregon. Now owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Erath began in 1972, making it one of Oregon’s oldest wineries. It has a rich history, thanks to the pioneering work of founder Dick Erath. erath.com
- Eyrie Vineyards, McMinnville, Oregon. Founder David Lett was known as Papa Pinot because he planted the first Pinot Noir in Oregon. Today, his son Jason carries on the tradition of great wines. eyrievineyards.com
- Barnard Griffin, Richland, Washington. Rob Griffin has been making Washington wine for 40 harvests, and he continues to make some of the best in the heart of Washington wine country. barnardgriffin.com
- Kiona Vineyards & Winery, Benton City, Washington. John Williams had the vision to put grapes into the sagebrush-covered soil of Red Mountain in 1975. Today, this three-generation winery continues to be one of the best in the state. kionawine.com
- Sawtooth Winery, Nampa, Idaho. One of Idaho’s oldest producers, Sawtooth is one of the Snake River Valley’s top wineries, thanks to the skills of winemaker Meredith Smith. sawtoothwinery.com