On the most glorious day of spring so far, Woodinville was the best place in the world for wine lovers to be. The third annual Passport to Woodinville last weekend drew crowds to wineries large and small, and the warm breezes induced a kind of languorous energy that led some to hike considerable distances between nibbles and sips. We didn't go that far, but at least we walked our way round what you might call the downtown core of vinous Woodinville, struck by the different spirit in which participants approached the occasion.
The biggest contrast was between the biggest players: Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia. Wine tasting is, of course, a profit center for both companies, so it was quite natural to find our prix-fixe party directed away from the serious tasting going on in the dedicated sales room. But how different the reception otherwise: At Ste. Michelle, the wines on offer in a back room of the chateau were, to put it mildly, undistinguished, especially at the retail prices quoted. At Columbia, the experience was totally different: Passport holders were directed down into the agreeably chilly barrel room, and winemaker David Lake put two of his signature bottlings out for the free pour and offered them for sale at a one-third discount off their standard retail price.
The liveliest scene in the neighborhood by far was in one of the banquet rooms at the nearby Willows Lodge, where a variety of Washington's most distinguished white wines were on offer. Also available, for a price, were plates of delectable food from the lodge's restaurant, the Barking Frog. Though tempted, we stuck to our plan of staving off hunger with such squares of processed cheese and bits of bread as each successive host chose to offer.
The prize for most romantic (and crowded) venue of our day went to DiStefano Winery, which though housed in a typically woebegone Woodinville warehouse, was tricked up with candles strategically positioned here and there on upended barrels in the otherwise engulfing darkness. The award for classiest must go to Woodinville Winery: not so much for the appointments of their own tasting area as for the next-door kitchen-range showroom, filled with model after $20,000-and-up model of ill-designed but gaudily brass-and-chrome-trimmed French behemoths.
The cheeriest aspect of the occasion was how it gave the lie to the charge that wine drinking is a habit confined to an increasingly elderly demographic. At Passport to Woodinville, our particular getting-along-in-years party was a mere cork bobbing among waves of young, enthusiastic, and—judging from overheard conversations—knowledgeable bons viveurs, dressed as casually as for the beach (flip-flops abounded) but enthusiastically concentrating on the pleasurable business at hand. In Woodinville, on the weekend, on the first warm day of spring, the future of fine wine seemed happily assured.