Wednesday, June 13, 2012

FoodTrek: The Drunken Prom I Never Had

For those about to wine/spirit taste their way through Woodinville... we salute you. I think that should be the gladitorial sendoff for any bacchanalian bender. For some, it was a lazy weekend afternoon, for myself and a few brave souls, it was a trial by alcohol fire, the passing of our livers and self-respect through the Valhalla of about a half-dozen different wineries and distilleries. We came out alive on the other side, fuzzy-headed, a bit hungover and craving greasy eggs and bacon. But alive. And victorious.

If I were a purple octopus, I would have looked exactly like this - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Woodinville seems to be on the blog's radar lately. Not for any reason beyond the fact that it's not miserable winter, and there's quite a bit of stuff out there to discover, if you've got the spirit of adventure in you. Or just a desire for distilled spirits, they have those too, along with a ton of wineries/tasting rooms -- the city is literally drunk with the good stuff! Some friends had out-of-town guests staying for a long weekend and they wanted to do something fun, so a plot for a wine tasting excursion was hatched. I have to say the most crucial thing for such a plot is summed up in two words: Safety First, aka, Party Bus. Yes, hire a car and driver for the day. We used a company called Seattle Green Limo; great drivers (ours was Todd, who was 100% Awesome) and their cars use biodiesel, which means the vehicles, much like myself, run on French Fries. It's win-win, having a wine country-knowledgeable driver safely behind the wheel, plus your loved ones and the local authorities will thank you for it. If it's a group as big as ours -- we had 10 people -- they have mini-buses that are like a prom on steroids, complete with disco lighting and coolers to keep your Dom or $5 bottle of Cook's chilled like a rap superstar. There's even an easy plug-in dock to attach your iPhone so you can blast that douchey playlist full of Color Me Badd and Vanilla Ice retro favorites. I see you nodding your head in "aw, hells yeah" agreement -- this is a good time.

Kicking things off at Novelty Hill - drunken parkour lessons to follow - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Our first stop was the Novelty Hill Winery. This is probably my favorite tasting room space -- it's beautiful with its modern-Northwest architecture, plus it has a full kitchen and on weekends you can order food like flatbread pizzas to go with your tastes. It does get busy on the weekends, so if there's a big crowd (like us) just be patient, wander the place and play some bocce in their outdoor patio. Their summer rosé is very refreshing, but in general, I tend to stick to their reds (Merlot, Petit Verdot), specifically the Januik wines for the rich flavors, but that's just my preference. This was a great winery to start out because it's so picturesque and for people coming from out of town, it's a strong start to the Pacific Northwest wine experience. It's also really close to the mainstays, Chateau St. Michelle and Columbia Winery, but on this day, there was a huge car show going on at the Chateau, so we didn't want to hassle with all that. And because the Novelty Hill location is so stunning, it's a great place to start out when you're dead-sober, so you can appreciate it before the wine buzz starts to kick in, and you start doing bad parkour off their outdoor benches.

Wonderfully weird times while wine and spirit-tasting - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We could somewhat customize the tour, so we requested Novelty Hill  as well as a visit to Woodinville Whiskey Company, which is just down the road from the winery. It's a nice thing to balance out the tour with things the fellas can appreciate. Not that girls don't like whiskey, of course, but for a  mix of people and their respective tastes, it's nice to keep things interesting. They've started to sell their barrel-aged bourbon and rye whiskey, beautiful packaging and the color is lovely -- gift quality, if you're thinking of Father's Day ideas. I like their rye in particular, I need to pick up a bottle of that when we make some room in our overstuffed liquor cabinet/shelf/cupboard. The skies were overcast and a little chilly that day, so the little sips of whiskey were just what Dr.Happiness ordered.
Party Bus means the drivers will have a list of places they usually hit, generally the Warehouse District of Woodinville, which has the greatest concentration of tasting rooms from the local wineries. Industrial parks are affordable, they have the space to accomodate the wine or spirit makers' equipment, and even though the exterior may seem innocuous, the interiors are always unique to the owner's creative whims. While it may not be as picturesque as some Mission-style wine kingdom in the gilded hills of Napa, Woodinville's Warehouse District is more like where the cool kids go. And you wanna be cool, don't you?

They don't let you play drunk ping pong or smooch taxidermied foxes in Napa - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We visited a few more wineries nestled in the Warehouse area -- Cuillin Hills and Patterson Cellars. I made a quick personal stop at Matthews Estate's satellite tasting room to pick up a bottle of their 2009 Claret before joining the rest of the group at Cuillin Hills. I particularly like Cuillin Hills because I'm a sucker for labels and wine names. With ones like The Dungeon (Syrah) or Shackled (blend of Syrah and Mourvedre), it would be great to have those for a game night with our Dungeons and Dragons friends. Yes, we're one of those weirdos, but no we don't dress up like Hobbits. Patterson Cellars is always a popular favorite, so by the time we got to their tasting room, it was full of people, but we managed to get a few sips in. I've had their Forbidden White, a nice clean blend of about six different grapes, including Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc; it's a nicely balanced summer sipping wine. I wasn't too fazed that the Patterson experience was so busy, luckily their wine is easy to find in restaurants, but I do want to spend more time browsing more of the wineries in that area. There's like 40 different wineries in that maze of buildings, many of them small, whose wines aren't available in wine shops, so this is the place to get the bottles direct from the people who made it.

Excellent question - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The darling of our Warehouse tour was Project V Distillery. And yes, I realize they're not a winery. I'd met them at an Eastside Bartenders Association event ages ago and was really excited to see more craft distillers setting up shop, especially so close to where we live. Wait, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Their Single Silo vodka is from Washington wheat, it goes through a pretty meticulous process using stills they built from the ground-up, to make a clean, yet flavorful product. I know that sounds weird, describing vodka with a taste, but I think people get used to super-filtered ones like Grey Goose, which is great for mixing, but as many have called it before, it's Drunk Flavored Water. Single Silo has a bready sweetness from the wheat, a natural sugar retaining a whisper of the ingredient that was used to make it, and it's just a fine product. The chai infusion vodka was popular, where you infuse their vodka with a house blend chai -- the Mister liked that in particular, so we took their chai infusion set home as a souvenir. But even on its own, Single Silo is good, and Project V's setup is as impressive as it is entertaining.

V is for Vodka, that's good enough for me - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The tastings at Project V ranged from tasty to knock-your-socks-off drunkfacewater. They wanted to show the balancing of the flavors, easing back on the heat of the alcohol to help develop their signature product, but whew, what a lesson; my liver still whimpers a little at the thought of it. But it does make you appreciate the care that goes into the bottle with their name on it.

Spending a day tasting local wines and spirits was as much for us locals as it was the people visiting. Sure, we had our fun being rowdy, drunk hooligans in a party bus, but life's not just about killing ourselves one brain cell at a time. I think the gang had a great experience discovering how many wineries are less than a half hour from their homes, these places are run by people who truly love what they do, and it crafts a story around each bottle. We see things on store shelves, they're more product than creation. Closing the gap between big industry and a small, independent company redefines what "The Good Stuff" really means. Not more expensive, not something douchey celebrities mix with Red Bull, just something genuine, crafted with care. That's something we can all drink to, no?

You never know what you'll find in a warehouse - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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