The Woodinville Winers visit Guardian Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

On this cloudy day we ventured into Guardian Cellars not knowing what to expect. Our first impression walking through the door was this is our kind of place.  The simple but comfortable surroundings were perfect for wine tasting — not too pretentious yet sleek in design, roomy with comfortable tables and chairs. This is a great place to enjoy some outstanding wine with your friends. There was also plenty of cheese and crackers to cleanse your palate between tastings.

We were warmly greeted by the winemaker Jerry Riener along with his wife and co-owner Jennifer.  While both Jerry and Jennifer were quite busy tending to all the people that came in for a taste, they made us feel as if we were the only ones there — seamlessly managing to give time, attention and an education of their wines to everyone.

The story behind Guardian Cellars is quite interesting. Jerry is a winemaker with a degree in chemistry and met Jennifer while she was a reporter at the Seattle Times (she used to write articles about Jerry).  Together, they created a winery with a theme  — see if you can figure it out as you read the rest of this column.

Jerry has actually been making wine for quite some time.  He started out in 1999 volunteering at Matthews Cellars. A few years later he began working with his friend Mark Ryan of Mark Ryan Winery. Jerry had the good fortune to work with this seasoned and excellent wine- maker who helped Jerry and Jennifer get their winery going through his encouragement and assistance. Jerry started making his own label in 2004.  Serious in their endeavor, much of the equipment they use in the production of Guardian wines is the same caliber of equipment they use in many Napa Valley wineries. Jerry and Jennifer felt that paying a little more up front for equipment would mean they wouldn’t have to upgrade as they grew their winery.  And they are certainly growing.

We started our tasting with the 2009 “Chalk Line” which is a blend of 34 percent Cabernet, 24 percent Merlot, 22 percent Syrah and 20 percent Cabernet Franc.  Next up was the 2009 “The Wanted” which is a blend of 64 percent Cabernet and 36 percent Cabernet Franc, all from Stillwater Creek Vineyard. We also had a chance to taste their Red Mountain wines,  the 2008 “Rookie” which is a 71 percent Cabernet and 29 percent Cabernet Franc and the 2008 “The Alibi” which is 60 percent Cabernet and 40 percent Merlot – both were fabulous. But the real highlight for us was the 2009 “Informant,” which is a Syrah that is co-fermented with 4 percent Viognier that helps bring out the deep red color of this spectacular wine. This is one of the best Syrahs we have ever tried, and it is obvious why it was honored at this year’s Golden Grape awards. All of these wines far exceeded our expectations and were in our opinion well worth their price.

Guardian grapes come mostly from Stillwater Creek and Red Mountain but they do source their grapes from a variety of other vineyards as well.

What we liked the most about Guardian is how they do not rush their wine to market.  Many of their wines age as much as 21 months in the barrel and then another 18 months in the bottle before they become available, which is about a year later than many other producers.

By now, you have probably caught on to a common theme with all Guardian Cellars cleverly named wines.  Jerry is also a full time police officer with the Lynnwood Police Department and all of the wines we tasted were named after something related to law enforcement.

Because their wines are not mass produced they sell out quickly, and after having the chance to taste them, we know why.  We made sure to purchase a few bottles while we had the chance.

The Woodinville Winers visit Woodinville Wine Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

Woodinville Wine Cellars ( has a beautiful location in downtown Woodinville, which is perfect for wine tasting both indoors and outdoors on a nice day.  As you approach the building, you immediately notice that this is a tasting room, a showroom, and a full production winery. Inside you will find wine barrels, a tasting bar and tile floors decorated in a red and gold color scheme.  You will also notice some awesome stoves, imported from France, as this is also home to Art Culinaire, the exclusive distributor of Lacanche Ranges (

We were greeted by Joscelyn Jackson, who poured us five wines. The first was their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which had tastes of grapefruit. We then tried the 2009 Little Bear Creek, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc.  It received 90 points from the Wine Enthusiast. Next we tried the 2009 Syrah with grapes from Stillwater Creek which is known for quality grapes.  We both thought this Syrah would be our favorite, but we still had two wines to go.

We then tried the 2008 Indomitable – this is the wine that recently won the Golden Grape award in the Cabernet Sauvignon category that we wrote about in an earlier column. It is aged 21 months in 100 percent new French Oak and won’t be lasting long as only 220 cases were produced which is common for many of the smaller wineries.  It is a fruit forward wine with aromas of blueberry and dark chocolate.  As it turned out, there is a reason for the Golden Grape award and this wine quickly became our new favorite for the day.

We rounded out the tasting with the 2009 GSM, which stands for Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre. This wine is deep purple in color and has tastes of blackberry, cherries and a dusting of cocoa. At only 100 cases, it won’t last long either.

Joscelyn also gave us a quick tour of the production facilities where we ran into the winemaker, Sean Boyd. Sean left home at age 20 to learn the craft of winemaking. His travels led him all over the world to leading viticulture areas such as Australia, Portugal, Spain and New Zealand where he worked for several prominent wineries. Sean joined the Woodinville Wine Cellars family in 2002 and has been making an impact on Woodinville wines ever since.

The coolest thing about Woodinville Wine Cellars is their family-centric vision to “bring your family back to the dinner table” as stated by founder Stan Barrett. In the culture of rural France, wine is essential to everyday living — with food being the adventure. While in France, friends would often exclaim, “eating is the main event, not something we do prior to an event.” This is why Woodinville Wine Cellars combines their fine wines with Lacanche Ranges in one location.

Woodinville Wine Cellars has one of the best atmospheres around for a small winery.

The Woodinville Winers visit Bartholomew Winery

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

It was a cloudy Seattle day and while in the Georgetown area (where believe it or not there are numerous hidden gems of wine tasting rooms) it seemed like a perfect day to do another wine tasting.

The old Rainier Brewery (a Seattle icon) is now home to several types of small businesses. One of those happens to be the Bartholomew Winery.

The first thing we noticed before walking into the tasting room was the cool metal sign just outside the door of this quirky building.

Bart and Chona Fawbush are husband and wife owners of this unique tasting room. Chona, who seemed to be enjoying the crowd as she was pouring to a busy room, told her story on how their tasting room was really a mess before they converted it into a warm and unique place.

The bright yellow walls and the painted-over red brick are great touches that give this place a lot of charm.

They have a room adjacent to the main tasting room where they have hosted- wine tastings with a master sommelier, in addition to offering the room for private parties and events. They even once had a comedy show in there.

Bartholomew Winery started in 2007 after Bart and Chona spent many years immersing themselves in the industry, which included a lot of wine tasting and education with many of the Woodinville wineries where they developed a huge appreciation for the wine business.

At the same time, Bart consulted and volunteered with other wine makers where he honed his skills in winemaking.

In fact, Bart was a mortgage broker by trade. After the economy started deteriorating in late 2007, both Bart and Chona took their passion and plunged into the wine business.

They realized you don’t need a large chateau or winery to get into the business; you just need great wines.

Their wines are made in Grandview, Wash., where they lease production space.

On the day we tasted, they had 10 different wines available to taste.

Their 2008 Viognier had hints of citrus and melon which was delightful.

Their 2008 Cabernet Franc (which is 100 percent cab franc) and their 2008 Jaxon (which is a varietal) were both notable reds.

In addition to their wines, they were offering a chocolate pairing with a new up-and-coming chocolate company out of Vashon Island called Tease Chocolates.

Julie and Topher Farrell are both escapees from the corporate world and became founders of this new venture in chocolate.

They were offering handcrafted artisan chocolates which included filled truffles and solid bars  –  one with hints of cinnamon and pepper to excite the pallet and one with hints of salt and toffee crunch. They made for delightful pairings with the variety of wine that was being offered at Bartholomew.

Bartholomew Winery is located in the Old Rainier Brewery Building at 3100 Airport Way South in Seattle. Their tasting hours are from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

There is no charge for the tasting and their wines are reasonably priced between $10 and $32.

The Woodinville Winers visit Northwest Totem Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

During a windy day in Woodinville, we decided to visit Northwest Totem Cellars (, a winery that is only open once a month.

This winery is operated out of Mike and Kate Sharadin’s home, just off Woodinville -Redmond Road.

The first thing you notice about this “home in the woods” is the great Northwest touches throughout the property.  The winery operations take up the outbuildings and garage, while the sport court doubles as a crush pad.

As we approached the main house, we were greeted by Luke, the resident dog of the winery.  Luke escorted us to the tasting room, which is the kitchen and dining area of the main home.

Mike, the winemaker, poured us five different wines that day, all red.

The first was a grenache, which we decided was a great example of a white wine drinker’s red. It would be perfect on a sunny day with smoked salmon.

We also tasted Mike’s merlot, Qo-né (Cab Franc Blend), sangiovese and recently bottled cabernet sauvignon.

All were excellent examples of locally made small-batch wines with our favorites being the sangiovese and the cabernet sauvignon.

Mike only makes about 1,500 cases of red wines and 600 cases of white wines a year, so the odds of these wines being available for very long are low.

Mike sells 80 percent of all of his wines to the local community, both directly from his home and through local businesses like Village Wines, Italianissimo, and Russel’s.

An interesting feature of NW Totem Cellars red wines is that they all come with a glass cork.

Mike explained to us that this is an attempt to be more wine and environmentally friendly; as glass closures can be recycled.

It also eliminates the problem of a “corked” wine.

Mike’s favorite part about the wine business is meeting eclectic people (We think he was referring to us).

He pointed out that wine has a way of making people interact and he is certainly a people person.

What got Mike into the business was his interest in the multiple areas of winemaking, including agriculture, business, engineering and art.

Mike is the only employee at Northwest Totem Cellars.  During crush season, he relies on volunteers to help him sort grapes and bottle the wine.

Volunteering during crush season is a very popular thing to do in Woodinville and you are guaranteed to have a great time at Northwest Totem Cellars.

He also enlists the help of his wife Kate, who designed the striking labels for the winery, which feature a totem pole and eagle against a Northwest sunset.

Even though the Sharadin home is only open to tasting once a month, Mike does over 100 events a year around the community, many of them for charities.

The best way to find out about where Mike will be pouring wine is to check his website, join the NW Totem Cellars Facebook page, or join the email mailing list.  That is how we found out about the recent Cabernet release he did.

Northwest Totem Cellars is located at 15810 NE 136th Place in Redmond.

They do not charge for tastings, as Mike says: “If you like our wines, we hope you buy them!”

Their wines are priced from $30-$35 and they also offer a half bottle of select wines for $19  — good for those times you just want a couple glasses of wine and don’t want to open a full bottle.

The Woodinville Winers visit Delille’s Carriage House

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

The Carriage House is Delille Cellar’s ( newest tasting room, located in the Tourist District next to Brian Carter Cellars and just in front of the Purple Café.  Don’t go to the main Delille Chateau down the road, as this is not typically open to the public.

As we entered the tasting room, we were impressed with what a great job the winery has done with such a basic building (an older small house).  We were able to ask some questions of Catherine Hay, who designed the Carriage House along with Theodora Upchurch.  Catherine told us their intent was to create half of the space in a Mediterranean motif and the other half in a Bordeaux style motif. Repurposed cedar is used throughout and the floors are covered with wood from reclaimed wine barrels. In addition, there is a private tasting area and two small decks – one to the north and one to the south of the building.  It makes for a very inviting space to hang out for wine tasting.

The Carriage House is well staffed and we were warmly greeted by manager Deb Stadelman who introduced us to Krista, our host for the tasting. Tasting the wines at Delille is always a treat as their wines are known throughout the state as some of the best. One thing that was pointed out during our tasting that we want to pass along to the readers is that it is better to rinse your glass with a little wine instead of water. Water tends to dilute your next taste.

Our first taste was a 2010 Roussanne which is 100 percent Roussanne and received 93 points from Wine Enthusiast.  We enjoyed it so much we had to buy a bottle.  This wine had a refreshing but light taste with hints of melon, peach and citrus — a perfect wine for any  light food.

We moved on to the 2009 Doyenne Aix which is 56 percent  Syrah, 38 percent Cabernet, and 4 percent Mourvedre. This was a particularly delicious wine.  It is a big wine with a lot of fruit, spice and some smoke all hitting the palate at once.  Fabulous is how we would describe it. This particular wine was just released this past November.

The 2008 Doyenne Signature Syrah (98 percent Syrah 2 percent  Viognier) was one of the best Syrahs we have ever tasted. Krista educated us about co-fermentation, where the actual dark color comes from an enzyme in the white Viognier grape that pulls out the color of the red Syrah grape. This vintage received 94 points from Wine Spectator.

While all of the wines we tasted at Delille were very good, our favorite is still their D2.  Some years this is a Cabernet-dominated wine and other years a Merlot-dominated wine. The 2009 is Merlot dominated.  Delille commits half of their product to this particular wine.  It has always been consistently good over the years and still one of our favorite Washington wines.

The best story we were told about the winery is from Delille’s founding in 1991/1992.  Charles Lill made his kids promise they would never sell his warm and cozy paradise (the current Delille Chateau).  This prompted a discussion during a golf game between Greg Lill, Jay Soloff, and Chris Upchurch about the possibility of turning the house into a winery and a “back of the napkin” business plan was written.  Greg presented the plan to the Lill family to get their input.  Greg’s mom, dad and sister all voted yes, to proceed with the business plan.  When it came Greg’s turn, he voted no.  When asked why he wrote a business plan, only to vote no on implementing it, he replied “I’m already outvoted and I don’t want to be blamed if it doesn’t work.”  Today, the Chaleur Estate wines are named after Charles “warm house.”

The plan obviously worked, as Delille is coming up on their 20-year anniversary.   It is impressive that in this short time they have been named one of the top 100 wineries in the WORLD by the Wine Spectator, the Wine Enthusiast and the Robb Report. Frankly, we are not sure if any other winery can make that claim. We think the secret is the three founding partners who are all still with the winery: Chris Upchurch, the winemaker; Jay Soloff, the master of marketing and Greg Lill, the industry evangelist.  In our opinion, the founders represent the three critical areas needed for success in the wine business — a great product available through multiple channels and supported by creative marketing.Our experience at The Carriage House was outstanding.  The wines, the people, and the tasting room are all very inviting.  You really can’t go wrong with any of them.