As the Woodinville wine industry has grown, its signature "Passport to Woodinville" spring wine tour has shrunk in attendance. With most of the Woodinville wineries already open on most weekends, the novelty of tasting wines throughout the city during Passport to Woodinville has been lost. The trend has left many in the Woodinville wine industry wondering about the relevance of the wine tour.
“As Woodinville has grown up as a wine destination the model for Passport to Woodinville has changed,” said Mike Sharadin, vice president of the board of directors of Woodinville Wine Country, the local wine promotional group. “At the beginning, Passport was an opportunity to not just visit a winery but several wineries that were only open three or four times a year.”
The crowds that are drawn to has created resentment and tension at some local tasting rooms. Some staff at tasting rooms that did not participate in Passport to Woodinville were aloof, and others were downright hostile.
Organizers acknowledged the annual spring weekend wine tasting tour needs to be revamped. Many of the Passport to Woodinville guests spent up to $75 for weekend passes to the wine tour for samples poured at the expense of the participating wineries, sometimes more than 10 cases of wine for the weekend.
Most of the guests only spend the $75 for the passes, eliminating potential revenue for wineries from bottle and case sales.
Staffing at Woodinville Wine Country had been in flux for about eight months until Gretchen Smith was hired at the beginning of the year as its marketing coordinator, its only paid staff position.
“The discussions to change the event were strong,” said Sharadin, who is also the winemaker at Northwest Totem Cellars. “We felt we could not make changes and we could not do it well with a new person coming in. The decision is all on (the board of directors).”
Once the decision was made to keep the format, Smith went to work.
“Gretchen did a great job of implementing the plan,” Sharadin said.
Sharadin anticipates changes for next year’s Passport to Woodinville in collaboration with the board of directors and Smith.
“Passport is now a destination for wines that are less expensive. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Sharadin said. “What we have to do is redesign it so that Woodinville has different events for wines of different price ranges and different types.
“Woodinville is going to provide several different opportunities. Our event committee is looking at alternative methods to get wines out there.”
For new wineries such as , Passport to Woodinville provides a marketing opportunity.
“We are still trying to get our name out there,” said Shane Howard, winemaker at Pondera. “It’s a fair amount of exposure. We probably saw about 1,000 people over the two days. A fair amount of those were new to us. Let’s say 10 percent turn into serious buyers, maybe they’ll buy a bottle or two.”
Bunnell Family Cellar is the newest tasting room in Woodinville. Winemaker Ron Bunnell estimated more than 1,000 guests tried his wines during Passport to Woodinville last weekend, the first weekend his tasting room was open.
Some wineries in Woodinville are not members of Woodinville Wine Country and thus are excluded from participating in Passport to Woodinville. Of the member wineries, only about two-thirds participated. Most of the wineries in Woodinville, including Darby Winery, kept their tasting rooms open.
“Passport to Woodinville kills our business,” said Darby English of , which is not a member of Woodinville Wine Country.
Looking around his Tourist District tasting room with just two guests on Saturday, he adds, “Our regulars stay away during Passport.”
Many of the wineries that did not participate feel that pouring wine samples at their expense during Passport to Woodinville does not create enough sales to make it worth their while. Other wineries sell most of their wines the rest of the year or throughout other outlets, such as their mailing list, specialty stores, restaurants and grocery stores.
“As you see some of the wineries that have cycled through, they’ve built their brands and they can sell their brands without participating in Passport to Woodinville,” Howard said. “Hopefully, we are on the cusp.”
Sharadin and other vintners in Woodinville look ahead to the future of the local wine industry with optimism.
“In the beginning most of the wineries were on the same level on consumer visibility,” Sharadin said. “Now there’s quite a spread in visibility. As Woodinville has matured it has become a destination for all wine consumers.”
Tenor strikes a chord with The Coterie Room
winemaker Aryn Morell and The Coterie Room chef and owners Brian McCracken and Dana Tough will be teaming up for a winemaker dinner May 1.
The five-course family style dinner at the Belltown restaurant is $100, non-inclusive. Each course will be paired with a Tenor wine, including the yet-to-be released 09 Tenor Malbec and 10 Tenor Chardonnay.
For reservations call 206-956-8000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wine Pick of the Week: 09 Vine & Sun Red Wine, Columbia Valley
is the second label for Woodinville producers Barons V. But make no mistake about it, this is no junior varsity wine. Consulting winemaker Matthew Loso crafts a muscular Cabernet Sauvignon blend with some Merlot that gives the wine a round and fleshy mid-palate.
The structure, complexity and layers of black currants, black cherries and blackberries are suggestive of a wine more luxurious than its $18 price tag. Smoke, spicy oak, graphite and a touch of stony minerality complement the showy fruit qualities.
Pair this wine with the wokked luc lac filet mignon with organic arugula and cherry tomatoes at .
The wine is available online.