Passport Control in Wine Country

One of the best parts of a wine-tasting trip is being able to taste several wines from several producers at one time. In some ways, though, this can be the worst part of a wine-tasting trip. After 20 or 30 tastes, even if spitting, your palate can become fatigued. A wine's finer nuances get lost, and you may begin to blur the petit verdots and the petite syrahs.

In Seattle's backyard, the "wine country" of Woodinville, are over 80 wineries with production facilities or tasting rooms, and most are open to the public. In just under 30 minutes, you can be swirling, sipping, spitting, and on the way to discovering your next favorite wine. Every spring Woodinville hosts a "Passport to Woodinville" wine-tasting weekend, but this year they're doing things a little differently.

Recognizing that it's nearly impossible to visit all 35 or so participating wineries in one weekend, and that inviting thousands of people to try makes for God-awful traffic jams, this year's Passport to Woodinville is spread out over six weeks. $75 buys your passport and tasting glass, and gets you tastes at any of the participating wineries between April 16 and May 31. Since most wineries charge $5-$10 per tasting session, it doesn't take long to get your money's worth.

Some advance strategy is still recommended, since many wineries are only open weekends. Other wineries have special events, or are releasing new wines during that period. Airfield Estates will host a barrel tasting of its Sangiovese April 22 and 23. DiStefano is selling bottles of a special blend they made to commemorate the 10th anniversary of this year's Passport.

And while Woodinville isn't a huge city, tasting rooms are still scattered from one end of town to the other. Most people are familiar with the big tasting rooms at Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia. The so-called Warehouse District on the opposite end of town houses several of the wineries participating in Passport, like Des Voigne, Sparkman, Baer, and Gård. And the historic Hollywood Schoolhouse and buildings surrounding it make the Schoolhouse District. This area, just a stone's throw from Chateau Ste. Michelle, is home to wineries like J. Bookwalter, Gifford Hirlinger and Alexandria Nicole.

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