Willows Lodge complements Ste. Michelle Winery
By CARY ORDWAY
In the old days, prominent Seattle families such as the C.D. Stimsons used to escape the Big City, traveling over hill and dale to what felt to them like the far reaches of the Northwest wilderness. Today, Seattle families and visitors hop on the 405 Freeway and reach the same destination – Woodinville – in a matter of minutes.
Woodinville was a true getaway experience for the sultans of Seattle commerce, and so it is today – although for slightly different reasons. Back in the day, it was duck hunting and wilderness that drew the bigwigs – today it's wineries, a micro-brewery and a luxurious resort that seems to embody the Northwest spirit.
The resort is the Willows Lodge – not a hunting lodge like the Stimsons once built on nearby property, but rather a lodge of luxury that has all the refinements anyone of stature could possibly want. No duck hunting here – the fowl in these parts comes already baked or roasted and, like everything else at the resort's famous Barking Frog restaurant, prepared to perfection. Our dinner and breakfast there were occasions to long remember.
The resort itself is a tribute, in some ways, to the huge forest of cedar trees that once covered the entire Woodinville area. The Willows Lodge now incorporates Douglas Fir timbers into the structure of the lodge. The warm, rustic feeling makes this resort feel as Northwest as anyplace you'll ever visit – as far away from other regional cultures as you can get. Adding to the ambience is the giant stone fireplace in the lobby.
Our room at the Willows Lodge had a fireplace all its own, tucked neatly in one corner of the spacious bedroom area. A king bed was furnished with 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets as well as duvets from Europe. Nearby, an office desk and lounge chair-plus-footrest were complemented by a high-definition television and entertainment system. A small refrigerator was available to chill some of the local wine. The bathroom area featured Dombracht luxury fixtures and distinctive Mexican marble bowls and an oversize Jacuzzi tub. Our room opened to a quiet garden area with flowering deciduous trees and Japanese maples organized in a charming landscape that feels more like a city park that a hotel.
With all of this, it's no wonder that some couples come to the Willows Lodge just to wine, dine and then enjoy one another's company in one of these luxurious rooms. But Woodinville offers guests a bonus: About 40 wineries are in the immediate vicinity including Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery just across the street. This winery is another world of exploration for anyone curious about the fine art of wine-making.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery is Washington's oldest winery and really was the genesis for a thriving state wine industry that has spread to several geographic regions. The facility today is located on 87 gorgeous acres with a stately chateau as the centerpiece. Visitors enjoy strolling the grounds and visiting the wine shop and also touring the wine production facilities where a knowledgeable guide will serve you various wines and answer your every question about wine-making in general, and the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery in particular. The Chateau Ste. Michelle winery even hosts big-name entertainment in a series of outdoor concerts held every summer.
On the tour you learn that the winery is built on the estate of lumber baron Stimson and that today's fine wines actually had their roots back with the Pommerelle Wine Company, which later became American Wine Growers after merging with another company. The fine wines began in 1967 and it was in 1972 that Ste. Michelle Vintners planted their first vines in Eastern Washington.
In 1976, Ste. Michelle Vintners built the French style chateau that you visit today in Woodinville and it was at that point that the company officially became Chateau Ste. Michelle. The winery grew and so did its reputation for producing top-quality wines. The winery also worked to get the Columbia Valley region in Eastern Washington – where its vines were planted – recognized as a unique wine growing region or American Viticulture Area.
It's easy to spend hours at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery just soaking up the atmosphere, not to mention the wine samples. But visitors to the Woodinville area will find other wineries in the area to visit – and one of the nation's top microbreweries.
Just a five-minute walk from the Willows Lodge is the Redhook Brewery, a fun diversion for beer-lovers and those interested in how beer is made. Redhook has become a national favorite among microbrews and the tour and tasting room do not disappoint. The cost of the tour is $1, a bargain considering you will get to taste a number of variations of Redhook ale and let's just say the tour guides are not stingy about pouring the samples. The bonus is you get to keep the souvenir glass.
On this tour you'll get to see bottling - if you come on a weekday - and watch the impressive machinery as it takes ale from the creation to the finished product.
The Redhook Brewery has a brew pub as well, which tends to get mixed reviews. The key seems to be expectations – if you're what some people refer to as a "wine snob," the Redhook experience will be less to your liking because the emphasis is on beer, pub food and a party experience. But if you understand the difference between the more refined, sophisticated experience at a winery like Chateau Ste. Michelle and the brew-pub atmosphere, you'll either have a great time at Redhook or won't go in the first place.
While Woodinville is an easy 20-minute drive from Seattle, it's also close to Washington's spectacular Cascade Mountains. Another 21 miles to the northeast is the start of the Stevens Pass route over the Cascades. Visitors to Seattle can quickly get a taste of the mountains by taking Highway 2 through the small towns of Sultan, Gold Bar and Index, where the scenery starts to look every bit as spectacular as the European Alps. The Skykomish River cuts through the mountains and thick green forest in this part of the state to reveal amazing photo opportunities at every turn of the river.
Another day trip from Woodinville is the Snoqualmie River Valley, where you can take Highway 203 on a scenic drive through towns such as Duval, Carnation and Fall City before reaching Snoqualmie, home to the famous Snoqualmie Falls and gateway to Snoqualmie Pass, the other major route over the Cascade Mountains.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Woodinville is about 16 miles from Seattle and easily reached by taking I-90 east and then I-405 north until you see the signs for Woodinville. Once considered a recreation area for Seattle's elite, the area now has become one of Washington's major wine regions and is home to not only the Chateau St. Michelle winery, but dozens of other wineries as well.
WHAT: The Willows Lodge and nearby wineries create an opportunity to experience a luxurious stay in a scenic region of Washington that happens to be in close proximity to many wineries that are open for the public to tour.
WHEN: A visit to Woodinville can be done any time of the year, although the best chance of sunshine will be in late July, August and September. Like the rest of Western Washington, Woodinville can be subject to clouds and rain, especially during the winter months. Summer also is an advantage if you plan ahead to visit when Chateau Ste. Michelle is offering one of its big-name concerts.
WHY: Visitors to Seattle – and Seattle residents – will find that Woodinville is quick and easy to get to, and that it offers plenty of scenery and attractions. The area also is a great base of operations for anyone wanting to take day trips into other parts of King County or the western parts of the Cascade Mountain passes.
HOW: For more information on the Willows Lodge, please visit www.willowslodge.com. or phone 877-424-3930. To learn more about Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, please visit www.ste-michelle.com.or phone 800-267-6793.
Photos, from top: Tree stump at Willows entrance pays tribute to area's forests; grounds at Chateau Ste. Michelle; Willows Lodge gardens; tasting at Redhook Brewery is good time
Please visit California Weekend for more information on California travel and Northwest Travel Advisor for Northwest travel information.
Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway