For Seattleites, food and wine pairing has never proved easier, due in part to Washington’s thriving wine industry. According to the Washington State Wine Commission, Washington State ranks second in premium wine production nationwide. Many of the state’s eight hundred and fifty-plus wineries anchor in suburban Woodinville, or rural Walla Walla. Over thirty wineries, however, choose to operate in greater Seattle.
For Emerald City consumers, these urban wineries offer artisan wines at affordable prices, convenience, and a smaller carbon foot print than those across the bridge or mountain pass. Most of these downtown wineries belong to Seattle Urban Wineries, a group dedicated to promoting their wines through events like ‘second Saturday’ tastings, and an annual Valentine’s Day wine and chocolate pairing.
Few urban wineries own their own estates, opting instead to source their grapes from the finest Washington vineyards to craft food-friendly wines of impeccable quality, most at price points well under $40 a bottle.
Here, seven of Seattle’s burgeoning urban wineries share their secrets to success:
8 Bells Winery
8 Bells Winery takes its name from the nautical signal for ‘watch over.” Three owners, Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd, and Frank Michiels run their winery from the Ravenna/Roosevelt neighborhood, and claim their success to a supportive landlord, loyal customers, and ongoing collaborations with the local culinary community.
Now in its seventh year, 8 Bells Winery sells 85% of their Bordeaux style blends, 'Super Tuscan,' and Pinot Gris directly to customers, offering ‘drive-through’ service to circumvent the area’s parking shortage. Volunteer opportunities also allow their fans up-close access to the ‘process’ of wine making, from crush to bottling. “Collaborations with the local community helps to de-mystify the role of wine in our life,” claims Michiels. Case in point: A recent sold-out October winemaker dinner paired Chef Hiro Tawara’s Kaiseki Obento with five 8 Bells wines. Both sittings sold out all forty-five seats.
Bart Fawbush, owner and winemaker at Bartholomew Winery in The old Rainier Brewery Building in SODO, wasn’t exactly excited to locate his winery there back in 2007. “It turns out, there was a need closer to the downtown core for tasting rooms open on a regular basis. We’ve benefited tremendously.” Bartholomew Winery mixes things up with a bevy of buzz-worthy wines, including Carménère, Primitivo, Souzao, and L’Orange of Pinot Gris.
Fawbush reveals what excites him most about owning an urban winery, ”This is what I’m most excited about: a locally owned, 100% Washington State product, being vinified and bottled right here in the city. Restaurants and catering companies that preach local, low carbon footprint, neighborhood vibes now have choices. Customers want to drink Washington State wine...It’s time for wine lovers to see what is happening in Seattle. How we are helping to define the future of food and beverages in our corner of the universe.”
For former furniture designer and maker Tom Stangeland, winemaker/owner at Cloudlift Cellars in Georgetown, wine proved a passionate avocation until a chance winemaking class at Northwest Wine Academy. Bitten by the wine making bug, Stangeland converted his former furniture warehouse to a winery.
Stangeland recalls, “When I started my winery here in Georgetown, I did not have next door neighbors making wine...I felt a bit like I was on an island by comparison but quite a lot has changed since my first crush in 2008.”
Famous for his Bordeaux style blends like Updraft, Ascent, and Halcyon, Stangeland posits the biggest benefit to owning an urban winery, “I would have to state the obvious first and say proximity. Seattle and the Northwest has always been a great community for promoting the local business. Since we have the benefit of world class vineyards and great grapes, we can offer terrific wines that are produced locally.”
:Nota Bene Cellars
Owner/winemaker Tim Narby, a former Boeing systems analyst, and wife Carol Bryant, a corporate counsel started :Nota Bene Cellars at Seattle’s South Park Both with an intense desire to create fine red wine designed to accompany meals. “I hope the culinary community will appreciate our local focus on wine,” comments Narby, a winemaker with over thirty years experience.
“Our hope is they will like sourcing local products,” Narby continues. “We love to have our wine in restaurants because it’s the best commercial showcase for wine,” Narby concludes. “Customers can have your wine with a fantastic meal and associate your wine with a special moment for a long time to come.
Structure Cellars Winery
“Our intention was never to think outside the box, it was to think inside the city,” explain Brandee Soslar and Brian Grasso, owners of Structure Cellar Winery in Seattle. “…it just made sense to us to have the wine where the people are.” And the food.
Structure’s annual release party stipulates it asa ‘drinking AND tasting’ event. featuring items like roasted wild mushroom & walnut salad served with Structure Piloti Cabernet Franc, warm pink peppercorn crusted pork belly offered with Structure Syrah, and black truffle beef tartare on toast points poured with Foundation Cabernet. Beyond the winery, Structure enjoys winemaker dinner and featured winery relationships with Seattle eateries like Daniel’s Steak House in Leschi, and Chandler’s Crab House on South Lake Union.
Brandee Soslar observes, “There has never been a time when the relationship between and food and wine isn’t intertwined in the most perfect way....There is a distinct parallel between the unique chef-driven restaurants in Seattle, the local food movement and wineries with local wine makers literally creating wine four miles from these same restaurants. It is a natural synergy that we think could be expanded further as our communities continue to grow together.”
As the oldest urban winery owner in Washington State, some consider Paul Beveridge (yes, his real name) of Wilridge Winery one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the Seattle urban wine movement. In 1988, Beveridge and his former wife, a chef, opened Madrona Bistro, with the idea of making their own wine as well, an homage to the French garagiste notion of home winemaker/chef.
Unfortunately, a Prohibition-era law prevented him from making and selling wine at the same facility. An attorney by training, Beveridge worked with the state legislature to overturn the law, and in 1990, Wilridge Winery legally opened. In 2007 Beveridge purchased his own 85-acre Naches Heights estate. A model of ‘green’ winery practices and organic, biodynamic farming, today his 22-acre vineyard includes Bordeaux, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese varietals.
Beyond harvest, Beveridge spends most of his time in ‘food-centric Seattle at one of his three locations - his Madrona tasting room, Pike Place Market’s Post Alley, or at area farmer’s markets.
Good luck trying to get your hands on any of Viscon Cellars small-lot production wines like 2011 Long Road Red Cabernet Sauvignon, Heart Box Red Merlot, Black Red Blend or 2012 Perseverance Viognier.
“When presented with the opportunity to open our tasting room in Woodinville or West Seattle, hands down we chose our own neighborhood and do not regret it for one second...Although traffic to our tasting room would be greater if we were in Woodinville, the connection we have made in this community through our wine, far off-sets the additional traffic upside, and we have been selling out of our wines 100% through the tasting room.”
Moreover, Viscon says, some restaurants have inaugurated special dishes designed to pair with the wines during wine maker dinners, later adding these dishes to the menu on a regular basis.
Viscon sums it up this way, “Partnering with local restaurants allow us to collectively tell a very "local" story. Local wines, local foods, both prepared by locals for the locals.”