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.

The Woodinville Winers attend the Golden Grape Awards

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
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The six winners of the 2012 Golden Grape Awards, pictured from left to right, are Chris Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars, Jody Elsom of Elsom Winery, Sean Boyd of Woodinville Wine Cellars, David Lawson of Covington Cellars, Alicia Hanson of Page Cellars and Darby English of Darby Winery. Courtesy photo.
Two weeks ago, we sat in a conference room at the Willows Lodge and watched some of the best Woodinville winemakers spit out multiple tastes of outstanding Woodinville wine. What was going on? Don’t winemakers like their own wines?  It was the second annual Golden Grape Awards. If you are not familiar with the Golden Grape Awards, don’t feel bad.  It is a relatively new event sponsored by the Willows Lodge in search of the best Woodinville wines and winemakers.  Matt Davis & Jennifer Schmitt ran the show and did an outstanding job.

Any area winemaker can submit their wine in one of six categories, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rhone style varietals/blends and Bordeaux style blends. The catch is, if you submit a wine, you have to be a judge in one of the blind tasting panels.  (Try doing a blind wine tasting with your friends – it’s really a lot of fun).

We heard about this event through Mike Sharadin, of Northwest Totem Cellars, who during the Syrah blind tasting exclaimed, “I have just tasted the best Syrah of my life, and I know it wasn’t mine!” That caused much speculation over the last two weeks about who made this incredible Syrah (keep reading).  The next week, we attended “blend night” and watched 25 winemakers blind taste about 30 wines.  That explains all the spitting going on.  You can’t taste that much wine in one sitting without influencing your palette. Luckily, we weren’t among the judges, so we were allowed to swallow.

In all, 33 wineries participated in the contest and submitted 92 wines in the six categories.  The blind tastings were held over three nights – about 30 per night.  Each wine was ranked on a rating card by each winemaker on six different scales – Color/Clarity, Bouquet/Aroma, Flavors/Taste, Body/Texture, Balance/Finish, and Overall Impression. Nobody knew which wine they were tasting at any time, as the glasses were simply labeled with numbers. A perfect score was 25 points. In all, 919 rating cards were collected and tabulated.  We still don’t know how Matt and Jennifer kept track of it all.

Without further ado, here are the winners:

1) Sauvignon Blanc – Pearl, Sparkman Cellars ( – This is the second year in a row that Sparkman has won this category. Congratulations to Chris Sparkman, dad, winemaker and head janitor, who spent a couple of decades as sommelier and wine buyer before starting Sparkman Cellars.

2) Chardonnay – Autumn Chase, Page Cellars ( – Congratulations to Jim Page who started Page Cellars in 2000.  Jim is also a corporate pilot who balances both full time jobs.

3)  Syrah – Aunt Lee, Darby Winery ( – Congratulations to Darby English, a former professional golfer, who launched his winery in 2005.  This was the 3rd vintage of this wine and the second Golden Grape award that Darby has taken home.  Darby mentioned that Syrah is really his winemaking passion.

4)  Cabernet Sauvignon – Indomitable – Woodinville Wine Cellars ( – Congratulations to Sean Boyd, who we have been following since he joined Woodinville Wine Cellars in 2002.

5)  Rhone Varietals/Blends – Ma Belle – Covington Cellars ( – Congratulations to David and Cindy Lawson, who we wrote about in a previous column. Cindy came up with this blend. Covington has now won three Golden Grape awards in just two years – keep your eye on this winery.

6)  Bordeaux Blends – Isabella – Elsom Cellars ( – Congratulations to Jody Elsom on her first year entering. This wine is named after her six-year-old daughter.

And now for the grand winner – the wine of the year as rated by the winemakers themselves.  This is arguably the most prestigious local award you can win – as it comes directly from Woodinville winemakers.  Turns out, it WAS that Syrah that we were trying to figure out for the last couple of weeks. The winner of the King’s Cup was Darby’s Aunt Lee Syrah. This wine is named after Darby’s aunt, who passed away seven years ago. So here’s to Aunt Lee and all of the winners of the 2012 Golden Grape awards.

The Woodinville Winers visit Obelisco Estate

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
Obelisco Estate ( is located in the North Warehouse District of Woodinville and is in the heart of Area 2 of “The Woodinville Warehouse Wineries” (  Area 2 is home to over 30 wineries in just one Industrial Park, which also now boasts a new distillery.  The address of the Industrial Park is 19500 144th NE.  Basically, you turn north onto 144th NE Woodinville Way and after 300 yards look for winery signs on the left.

If you see signs for Area 51, you are in the wrong state, turn around and come back to Woodinville!

The warehouse wineries have special events all the time, so check out the website before you go.While many of the Warehouse wineries produce their wines onsite, Obelisco’s wines are produced at their winery just outside of the Tri-Cities area.

The Woodinville location is primarily a tasting room designed to showcase their wines. Walking into it was inviting from the minute we stepped in the door.  It was getting late in the day but the staff behind the tasting bar was as pleasant and upbeat about their wines as if we were the first tasters of the day.

The tasting room, which opened about a year and a half ago, has warm colors and is inviting.  There is a larger room at the back of the tasting room with a large table in the middle that is used for winemaker’s dinners and other events.

It was a pleasant surprise to be greeted by Bob Farnus, the best elementary school teacher my kids have ever had (5th grade at Wellington).  Bob, now retired, can often be spotted pouring wine at Obelisco Estate. He says he was lured to Obelisco by their incredible Red Mountain wines, but what keeps him engaged is working with great people and staying connected to families and former students from the Northshore community.

Bob is clearly passionate about education and told us the Obelisco story as he introduced us to their wines.

Bob introduced us to Doug Long, the owner, who is a 40-year industry veteran as a grower and winemaker out of Napa Valley.  In fact Doug was temporarily retired from the wine business when he first moved to Seattle but just couldn’t seem to stay away.

His two brothers continue to own two other wineries in Napa Valley under the label of David Arthur Vineyards and Montagna respectively.

Doug got educated in Washington wines and ended up starting his vineyard and winery located in one of the top grape growing regions of Washington, Red Mountain.  Obelisco Estate had their first release in 2007.

As suspected, the wines we tasted were awesome. They offer several wines to try, a Syrah, Estate Malbec (which is exceptionally good), a 2008 and 2009 Estate Reserve Merlot (both of which reminded us why Washington Merlots are so good), a 2009 Cab., and the 2009 Electrum (which won double golds at both San Francisco and Seattle competitions).  In fact, most Obelisco wines have won numerous awards in different competitions.

Based on this tasting, Malbec may be our new favorite Washington grape – at least for this week.Obelisco wines run between $30 and $65. The tasting costs $10 and was well worth it. The cost is applied toward any bottle purchased, which we did.

There is no doubt in our minds that this winery is one of the up and comers of Washington state.

The Woodinville Winers visit Brian Carter Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
Brian Carter Cellars ( is located in that “Little Yellow House” that you see next to the southern roundabout in the Tourist District as you drive on the Woodinville Redmond Road (just in front of the Purple Café).  The house has a great outdoor deck to the south with sweeping views of the Sammamish Valley and Mount Rainer (on a clear day).

As we entered the building, we immediately got a warm and inviting feeling as we were greeted warmly by Ken and his daughter Laura.  The inside of the house is separated into two sections, one for public tastings and one for private tastings and events.  Ken and Laura were pouring five wines that day, each containing some of the best Washington grapes.  They were expertly handling the full tasting room of eager winers.

Before we were even able to sample our first wine, we ran into Mike Stevens, who founded Brian Carter Cellars in 2005 along with its namesake winemaker, Brian Carter.  We asked Mike what his favorite part about founding the winery was, now that he has been at it for seven years. He immediately said it was making interpersonal connections with people – which seems to go hand in hand with drinking wine.  He sometimes even gets pictures from customers sent to him of places they are enjoying Brian Carter wines. In what other industry do customers send you pictures of them using your product?

During the wine tasting, Laura poured us five different wines, one white and four reds. All Brian Carter wines are blends. In fact, their tagline is “A Passion for the Art of Blending” and these wines certainly have passion.  Each wine’s name matches the painting on the label in some way. Oriana (Latin for “Golden Lady”), is a while blend of grapes from the Yakima valley.  This might be the ultimate red drinkers white wine. It is easy to picture having a bottle on a sunny day from the deck of the tasting room.  My favorite Brian Carter red was the 2007 Le Coursier, a Bordeaux-Style blend that is representative of just what Brian can do with outstanding Washington grapes.

Mike and Brian seem to be doing quite well after just a few short years in business together as they are already winning industry acclaim.  The wines are produced just down the street at the Columbia Winery building, since Columbia moved production to Sunnyside a couple of years ago.  What a great example of coop-etition among Washington wineries.

Our experience at Brian Carter Cellars was outstanding.  The wines, the people, and the tasting room are all very inviting.  Prices range from $15 to $50.  The tasting fee was $10, but is applied to any purchases that you make.  The tasting room is open daily from 12-5.