Last week Brian and I joined a couple of friends for wine-tasting at JM Cellars, in Woodinville’s Hollywood District. It felt absolutely amazing to be able to gather again, since all of us are fortunate enough to be double-vaccinated. (Woohoo!) We couldn’t imagine a more perfect reason for toasting! We chose JM because we’d been hearing for some time about how gorgeous the setting is, in a forest, and wanted to experience it for ourselves. More about our wine-tasting adventure at JM below, but now…it’s time for our second installment of all the deliciousness of Woodinville Wine Country!
With more than 130 wineries and tasting rooms, plus breweries, distilleries and restaurants, it can be daunting to know where to start. In a recent post we covered the most-iconic wineries in the Hollywood District, including àMaurice, Chateau Ste. Michelle, DeLille and Novelty Hill-Januik. The wineries are packed into a relatively small area, making it easy to visit many of the best in one day. That said, it’s one thing to know which spots you plan to visit and another to figure out how to piece together a visit to maximize your time.
Make a Plan
To start your day, plan to hit the most-popular and dynamic area, the Hollywood District, early, since tasting rooms can fill up quickly and parking can become an issue. The heart of the Hollywood District lies at the intersection of NE 145th and SR 202, where you can sip and sample some fabulous wines at a low-slung complex anchored by Purple Café and Wine Bar, a highly regarded restaurant with a solid wine list. A number of wineries are represented here, but we suggest you check out:
- Mark Ryan Winery, one of the original Woodinville wineries, offers high-quality pours, mostly big reds.
- Fidélitas crafts excellent wines featuring Bordeaux grape varietals.
- Panther Creek Cellars, based in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, has been making excellent pinots for 35 years.
SKIP THE DRIVING: Everyone can enjoy the outing if you arrange for someone else do the driving. Take a ride share to Woodinville’s Hollywood District and then walk between tasting rooms. Or book seats on a shuttle; options include self-guided or guided tours, some including lunch. You can also visit wineries via a biking tour; a paved bike path wends its way through the heart of this area, and there are several options for bike rentals.
You don’t have to go any farther than across the street to find another complex filled with more top-notch wineries, including our top picks:
- Lachini Vineyards is a very well-respected Oregon pinot noir maker.
- Isenhower Cellars offers very interesting tastings, since they take on lesser-known varietals and blends, including cab franc, grenache, mourvedre and roussanne.
- Dusted Valley, a family operation, makes a wide variety of absolutely fabulous wines, from cabs and syrahs to chardonnays and more. Brian says, “Definitely stop here!”
PASSPORT TO TASTE: Woodinville Wine Country’s Passport to Taste, a digital passport, is a great way to save on tasting fees. Each passport is good for one standard tasting (Mon.-Thurs.) at a select group of wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle and DeLille Cellars, among other top-notch wineries.
Wine-Tasting in the Woods
One of the district’s most-distinctive wineries has a much more relaxing ambiance than most. JM Cellars, tucked into a forest atop a hill at the western edge of the Hollywood District, is centered on a mid-Century home. No other Woodinville winery has the natural outdoorsy presence of JM, which is surrounded by a 7-acre private arboretum which the winery calls “Bramble Bump.” A woodsy trail leads to a small pond, a bocce ball court offers communal fun, and a fire pit with Adirondack chairs gives you space to chill and soak in all the surrounding greenery.
JM Cellars, helmed by owners/winemakers John and Peggy Bigelow (pictured above) began JM Cellars in 1998 in their basement. Today, the winery is best known for its reds, with grapes from Red Mountain, Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley. The Boushey Vineyard Syrah and the Columbia Valley Syrah are two outstanding wines to check out here, and if you’re looking for a fruit-forward white, try JM Cellars’ delicious 2015 Chardonnay. On our visit last week, we gathered around glass-topped barrels on a breezy patio for JM’s Signature Red/White Experience, accompanied by cheese and charcuterie plates. All of us were impressed with the quality of these wines, with the winning votes going to the 2020 Bramble Bump White and 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon – Margaret’s Vineyard.
We couldn’t help but gaze around ourselves in wonder at the remarkable diversity of thoroughly unique trees; one of the conifers was the tallest, narrowest spire of a tree we’d ever seen. John is the green thumb of the duo. He has planted more than 400 rare conifers and pines, 120 Japanese maples and more than a few rare trees. This place feels a world apart from the bustle of the Hollywood District at the foot of the hill.
Reservations are limited, so you’ll need to book in advance. We suggest you schedule your visit for the end of your tasting day, so you can truly relax in this spectacular setting while comparing tasting notes with your fellow wine-country explorers.
BACK TO SCHOOL: In spring 2022, an entirely new wine district will open in downtown Woodinville. The town’s historic Schoolhouse No. 23, built in 1909, is currently undergoing a major renovation, and it will be at the heart of the new Schoolhouse District. The Walla Walla Steak Co. and Crossbuck Brewing (each currently with a presence only in Walla Walla) will take up two floors of the schoolhouse, and there will be close to a dozen wine-tasting spaces on “Wine Walk Row.” The development of the 3-acre site will also include shops and public spaces, as well as apartments.