Is South Seattle the Next Napa?

Thankfully, no. Which is why it’s a great place for an unpretentious wine tour.

Trying to get a feel for the wine business by visiting Napa is like hoping to glean insight into 18th-century British trade practices by visiting Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Everything in the valley looks positively picturesque, but you're not likely to see a winemaker or a barrel, and every stop seems to have a turnstile, "Next!" pacing. So why not forgo the glossy-magazine version of wine touring and savor the opportunities that abound in your own backyard? And I don't mean Woodinville. No, for a true urban wine tour, there's nothing like South Seattle. There, four producers who've banded together to call themselves the South Seattle Artisan Wineries pour some mean reds and create an unforgettable afternoon of their own, just minus the rolling hills, mansions, and Bimmers. (For more info, see www.ssaw.info.) As the word "artisan" implies, the guys who make the wine are also the guys who sell the wine and probably drive the delivery truck, too. They bring in their grapes from the Yakima and Columbia valleys. All the labels from these wineries are graphic and to the point; same with the tasting areas—only one (O-S) has something that could be defined as a room. Best of all, these guys are all nerds about wine, veterans of the trade in some way or another who have completely fallen under the beverage's spell. Start by lining your stomach and getting a sense of your surroundings. The Hangar Cafe (6261 13th Ave. S.) in Georgetown turns out waffles and crepes, savory and sweet, seven days a week. The tiny little house sits right under the landing path of Boeing Field, a fine way to acclimate yourself to this DIY neighborhood. It's also a swell place to park the car and switch to bikes if you're so inclined (though Saturday in the South End will still put you on the road with a few trucks). The first wine stop is a tree-lined street right off Michigan. Only the logo of Fall Line Winery (6122 Sixth Ave. S.) marks the door on a deceptively small, one-story office building that looks more like it should house your dentist. One thing's for sure—you could bring your crepe and picnic off of Fall Line's floor; winemaker Tim Sorenson is as fastidious as he is lettered. He has a Ph.D. from Harvard and teaches economics at Seattle University. Of course, an econ professor should be too smart by half to open a money-sucking maw such as a winery. I worked with Sorenson briefly at a wine shop long ago; we were both trying to whip our palates into shape. I remember that he would get caught up trying to understand every facet of a wine. Fall Line wines benefit from Sorenson's attention to detail, and from the fact that his wines contain grapes from some of the state's best vineyards, among them Ciel du Cheval and Boushey. The wines possess lavish fruit and are superclean, meaning that it's all about that fruit without any obvious winemaking. Tim took his palate and apprenticed under the winemaker of one of your next stops (Ben Smith of Cadence) before opening Fall Line with his wife, Nancy, in 2003, so see if you can spot any similarities in style. O-S Winery (1501 S. 92nd Pl., Suite B) sits hidden in a light industrial park right off Director, just before the overpass on your way out of South Park. For all the boldness of the label and the purposefully sharp names, O-S's wines have a particular lightness to them compared to its neighbors. Which is weird because all everyone talks about is how rich these wines are: rich yes, heavy no. From the tiny makeshift tasting room, you can gaze into the winery. The barrel vault calls from the back of the space. Lit from within, the warm glow is like looking in on a family's hearth. The cabernet franc O-S makes from Champoux vineyard could be the poster child of Washington's Grape Red Hope, luscious fruit with a kick of acidity and enough character in youth to make you stop and think. But age a bottle of this wine for a few years, and you start to see why everyone's talking about Washington wine. Taco break! The hunger drummed up by a handful of rich red wines can be maddening. Why power through? Refresh yourself with a couple of carne asada tacos from El Rincon back up on 16th Avenue South, or bag a few tortas to enjoy on one of the grassy knolls of a nearby office park. It's best to reach Cadence Winery (9320 15th Ave. S.) from the parking lot of O-S. March south across 93rd South to the uniform white square building marked "C." The Boeing Employees Wine and Beer Makers Club has served as an unofficial graduate program for more than a dozen commercial winemakers in our state, most noted among them Ben Smith of Cadence Winery. The benefit this club provided for its once amateur winemakers: access to the best grapes from the best vineyard sites in Washington. The winery stopped in SoDo for a few years before coming to its new home in the same industrial park complex as :Nota Bene (see below). Something happened around 2003, and Cadence became the hot topic of wine conversation concerning Washington. Cadence focuses on single-vineyard wines from Red Mountain, one of the most lauded grape-growing areas in the state, and that might have a very big something to do with the buzz. Smith's faithful expression of some wicked vineyards like Tapteil don't hurt, either. The winery will soon release its first bottling from Cara Mia, its estate vineyard on Red Mountain. It's a short parade from CF to CC in the office complex, where you'll find :Nota Bene Cellars (9320 15th Ave. S.). Another winemaker cum laude of the Boeing school, Tim Narby has been making wine for nearly 20 years, even if his winery is only six years old. While Cadence makes wines that express the variations among vineyards within a certain small area, Narby specializes in Bordeaux-style blends. Its Abbinare and Miscela blends are the yin and yang of old- vs. new-school reds. Blending from different vineyards among classical grapes, these wines taste like different instruments coming together. It's here that your brain might start to see the subtleties of each of your four stops, and how the same few grapes can end up conveying different experiences from the bottle. Sated and maybe saturated, take your loot of bottles and pick out a treat for dinner. Soon you'll be able to dine with it at 9 lb. Hammer owner Scott Horrell's new tavern and steak joint, Loretta's, on the main 16th Avenue South drag in South Park. The French Laundry it will not be, but it will prove an inviting space, with a patio and tricked-out Airstream in the back. What's more comfortable than a luxurious, local red, paired with a juicy piece of local beef, surrounded by other locals and artisans? With a few phone calls, and a free afternoon, anyone can give themselves the simple, red-carpet treatment in unaffected South Seattle. mdutton@seattleweekly.com

 
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