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When pioneers Ira and Susan Woodin left their Columbia City-area homestead in 1871, they took a rowboat across Lake Washington and up the Sammamish River. They were looking for unsettled land. Lumber. A home.

They found old-growth cedar, spruce and fir thick on the banks. Passing a settlement in Bothell, they eventually landed on the western bank of the river and built a cabin.

Woodinville was born.

When the state’s oldest winemaker Ste. Michelle Vintners ventured out of Columbia Valley in 1976, they built a French-style chateau on what was historically a dairy farm on 105 acres outside of Seattle. They were looking for access to wine drinkers. Urban culture. A home.

Woodinville wine country was born.

Despite the number of wineries in a small radius, there’s a conspicuous lack of, well, vineyards. There are some actual grapes growing in Woodinville—about 1.5 acres of it. Compared to the 40,000 acres of premium Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling varietals growing several hours away in arid Eastern Washington, the town serves as an agricultural outpost for the other side of the Cascades. And with rising fuel costs and a tougher economy, it’s a role that’s more important than ever.

Nowadays, more than 90 wineries and tasting rooms dot the small town—and it’s growing rapidly.

“When I started four years ago, there were just 31 wineries here,” said Cynthia Dasté, executive director of Woodinville Wine Country, a nonprofit that promotes the collection of wineries. “With a downturn in the economy, people weren’t traveling to Eastern Washington as much as they had been and producers are realizing the importance of having a presence near the population centers.”

Bellevue Club members are deeply intertwined in the Woodinville wine scene. Just ask members Ted Baseler of Chateau Ste. Michelle; Ron and Marianne Lachini of Lachini Vineyards; Dan and Helen Ferrelli and Kevin and Angela Taylor of EFESTE, Tim and Paige Stevens of Stevens Winery; Kathy Johanson of O Wines and more.

With a deliciously overwhelming number of wineries and tasting rooms, it’s the wine version of a kid in the candy store. And what does a kid in the candy store do? He tastes everything he can get his greedy hands on.

Stems, Spokes and Sauce
Bring the bikes and enjoy a morning ride on the Sammamish River Trail before you get to the serious business of wine tasting. Stretching from Marymoor Park in Redmond to Blyth Park in Bothell, the 10.9-mile trail is an idyllic way to launch a preemptive strike on the calorie consumption that’s sure to happen later. Unload the bikes at Wilmot Gateway Park near downtown and start pedaling.

For nourishment after the bike ride, you could eat at the Barking Frog or the Redhook Brewery, or you could take advantage of a hot new trend of wineries building wood-fire pizza ovens.

Both Columbia and Novelty Hill/Januik wineries now serve up fire-tinged flatbread pies to complement their delicious wines. Oven hours vary, but you’re typically safe on weekends.

Settle the Scores
Anybody can be a wine expert in her own right. How do you place a stale numerical value on the highly subjective, visceral experience of sipping a beautiful wine? Simple. Get a scorecard.

Print out 100-point scorecards—widely available online—or make your own. General categories include appearance, aroma and taste. Visit several wineries and score each bottle with your friends. After scoring, compare your group’s results to those of the “experts.”

Love the One You’re With
Choose one varietal and stick with it for an afternoon of tasting. Love Rosé on a warm summer day? Or perhaps you prefer big Cabernet Sauvignon?

Find your favorite Washington label by hopping from winery to winery and note the subtle differences between winemakers on your varietal of choice.

Thrill of the Hunt
You’ve been to Chateau Ste. Michelle. You’ve been to Hollywood Hills. It’s time for something different.

For a fresh twist on wine tasting, split into teams and hold a sophisticated scavenger hunt. Questions can range from serious—find a 90-point red for under $25—to whimsical—find a winemaker or host with a wine-related tattoo. Write the list on sheets of paper and the team that completes the most tasks by a certain time wins.

With 40 wineries in a one-mile radius, try the Woodinville Warehouse District for a compact setting for your game. Happy hunting.

All photos courtesy of Woodinville Wine Country.

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