SCHEDULED TOURS AND BY APPOINTMENT; $53/PERSON
794-0562 or www.washingtonwinetours.com
You're probably thinking . . .
Washington Wine Urban Day Tour? Qu'est-ce que c'est, mon fr貥? Are not these two things, the urban and the making of the wine, mutually exclusive? Mustn't one journey pretentiously in one's Saab, with one's fancy corkscrew, discussing bouquets and tannins and so forth, to the lovely Yakima Valley—or at least the Eastside—to taste the fruits of local winemakers' vines?
Teeny tiny wineries exist right beneath your urban nose! How so? These good people just bring the grapes over from Eastern Washington and smash them here, with, in some cases, award-winning results. The wineries generally aren't open for regular tasting hours, but they're way more fun than any fancy Napa Valley ones, and the reassuringly down-to-earth and fun Laura LoPresti of Washington Wine Tours is here to guide you.
Here's what you get
The lovely Laura picks you up at 10 a.m.—an unholy time to begin anything, but when you're standing in the basement of Gordy Rawson's U District bungalow at 10:15, drinking his excellent champagne and eating strawberries, it suddenly seems very right. Gordy used to work for Columbia Winery and now has an amazing micro-operation occupying his basement, his backyard, and, seemingly, his every waking thought. He entertains silly questions about the neato machine used to insert corks in bottles, provides a fascinating mini-lesson on Washington state geology and its effect on grape-growing regions, explains the riddling of m鴨ode champenoise, and lets you pet the big, furry, black cat wandering around. Meanwhile, you snack on bread and cheeses and enjoy tastes of the excellent nonsparkling wines he's making under his Chatter Creek label, both from the bottle and from the casks of not-yet-quite-ready wine sitting right there.
Soon you are thoroughly in love with Gordy and ready to move in, but Laura subtly glances at her watch and it's back in the minivan, bound for an office park in beautiful Tukwila and Owen Sullivan Winery. Producing between 2,000 and 3,000 cases a year, the small winery is busy bottling on this day. Mr. Owen, Mr. Sullivan, and sundry volunteers (paid in wine, and including the mayor of beautiful Tukwila himself) are working away on a miniature assembly line that's a masterpiece of down-home efficiency and more neato machinery. Owen Sullivan's wines are doing very well, Laura tells you privately (winemakers are a modest bunch), and are available in some of Seattle's best restaurants. Meet Mr. Sullivan! Meet Mr. Owen! Learn that one's a Republican, one's a Socialist! Taste the fine work of their cross-party partnership and discuss bicycle touring in Italy!
Soon you are thoroughly in love with Owen, Sullivan, and the mayor of Tukwila (heard to shout, "I'd do anything for a glass of wine!"), but the tour must go on. Laura favors you with wine talk geared to your level of wine-savvy; she knows all, but, charmingly, professes to always be learning. She favors you with a joke: "How do you make a small fortune in winemaking? Start with a large fortune." This is funny; you are tipsy. Funnier still, you're pulling up in front of a strip mall in Burien and descending some strange, caged stairs to the subterranean home of E.B. Foote winery. The couple that bought E.B. Foote a few years back, Rich Higginbotham and Sherill Miller, knew nothing about winemaking, but their wines are now earning high marks from Wine Spectator, the arbiter of wine taste. Those icicle-type Christmas lights and light-up plastic grapes decorate the small warehouse space, and here's Sherill's dad fixing a stool. Rich and Sherill tell you their whole story whilst you sample their wines (including one created by mistake that's become a top seller); they know how to spin a yarn and give a tutorial at the same time. It's all about the grapes, Sherill says: "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." Damn straight.
Laura prepares a lovely repast of fruit and figs and gorgeous cheeses and meats, and you eat it there at a picnic table. Gloriousness! And you still have a few more wineries to go in your half-day tour. Cheers!
Who knew, again?
A wonderful winery called Cadence, formerly over in Eastlake, just moved into new quarters in an old auto mechanic shop in Georgetown, and the owner has a really cute baby.
Bethany Jean Clement