Woodinville for wine AND whiskey

Woodinville is not just for wine.  In the countryside 30 minutes outside Seattle, known for the many wineries such as Chateau St. Michelle, there are indeed a great number of places to sip the vino.  However, don’t overlook the Woodinville Whiskey Co.  Get yourself a designated driver, then sip, shot and repeat.  Which is exactly what I did recently when Thom and I joined friends for a day of tasting wine AND whiskey.

First stop was Novelty Hill/Januik winery where we found a gorgeous facility with loads of outdoor space to enjoy your wine tasting.  With healthy pours of a tasting of any 4 (including $65/bottle wine) for $12, I started with Januik 2014 Columbia Valley Merlot (which I ended up buying a bottle to take home) followed by two King Cabs and finishing with their Syrah.  All very good and enjoyed with the company of our friends, Kurt and Ernie, who invited us along so we could be initiated in the ways of Woodinville.

Enjoying a short drive in Sexy Best with Thom as the designated driver, we stopped by Chateau St. Michelle just so I could see the beautiful grounds but it was too busy to wade through the crowd for a tasting.  I can see why people love coming here-gorgeous lawn where you are encouraged to buy a bottle and picnic with your family.  I haven’t ever attended one of their outdoor concerts but definitely hope to in the future now that we have a car and get around outside the city.

Nearby, Woodinville Whiskey Co was next on the tasting tour.  Learning about their varieties of whiskey,  Melissa explained how they use ingredients from the Pacific Northwest to produce their award-winning booze.  Ernie and Kurt are whiskey experts so they guided me, the whiskey virgin, through how to properly “smell” each tasting and savor the differences between each type.   Sweet and soft, I took home a bottle of the Straight American Whiskey AND their maple syrup aged in whiskey barrels.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven when they poured us each a shot of syrup with a vodka chaser.  My Belgium waffles (Trader Joe’s) that I love will only be better with this liquid gold on top that costs $20 a bottle and is well worth it.  So.  Good.

All in all, a successful day finally visiting the Woodinville area I had heard so much about but had never had the time to enjoy.  Thankful that Thom was at the wheel, we put the top down and let the sun shine down upon us while I slipped in a quick nap on the way home from our wine and whiskey tasting.  Can’t wait to try the other 130+ wineries and tasting rooms there.  So much wine, so little time!

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My designated driver looking good in Sexy Beast


Wild for Wineries on Waiheke

I picked New Zealand for Thom’s birthday trip based on Bruce Springsteen’s tour schedule. A bonus was that the beach cottage I selected to be our home for the week was on Waiheke Island, the so-called “Island of Wine”.  Score!  Small boutique wineries abound, a total of 20+ on a gorgeous South Pacific island with only 8,000 residents but lots of wine-loving tourists.  The unique warm micro-climate here is perfect for producing grapes that transform into gentle Rose, fruity Merlot and expressive Syrahs.

Right next door to our cottage was Goldie Estate.  How convenient!   A popular place for island destination weddings, you can see why when you climb through their vineyard to the top of the hill by the spreading tree overlooking the bay, which has surely been the backdrop of many a wedding photo.  This was our first stop and I was taken aback by the boldness of the tastings. This is some serious kick ass wine. Only 4 short nips and I was ready for a nap afterward.  What is in the fertile soil of this island that packs such a punch?  Damn.

Next up, we spent an afternoon walking several miles uphill to three wineries conveniently located in a cluster so you can stumble from one to another.  We were good and ready for a rest when we arrived at Wild on Waiheke.  A destination for tour groups, this winery was like a playland for winos, offering laser skeet shooting, archery (always a good idea when drinking) and lawn chess.  We spurned all activity after our hike and sprawled in the always present and now my favorite furniture in the world-lawn bean bags.  Under a tiki umbrella, we rested in the shade and I tasted their Merlot and Syrah while Thom sipped a non-alcoholic ginger beer made locally.  I don’t care for ginger beer-it tastes like Airborne but that’s just me I guess.

Because the wineries are mostly only open from 11-4 p.m., we reluctantly rolled out of the bean bags and off we went racing across the nearby field to Te Motu Vineyard, which overlooks the Onetangi Valley.  I went for a trifecta tasting of their Rose, Merlot and Syrah.  Not having eaten lunch, I ordered a basket of bread and olive oil (locally made) to soak up the alcohol and Thom enjoyed a  Pear and Basil organic soda.  Very interesting and refreshing.  Their Syrah blew me away-the peppery kick to it that comes natural here plus fruity overtones was devine.  A bottle to take home and savor was safely tucked away in the backpack and off we ran once again through the vineyards to the next winery, Stonyridge Vineyard.

Next to a vine-covered brick building, Stonyridge has olive groves and vineyards that surround a large deck with comfy couches.  Best of all, large pillows were strewn all over the hillside with umbrellas inviting you to lie back, enjoy the wine and gaze at the grapes ready to be harvested soon.  Alas, I was at my capacity for the afternoon and I didn’t partake of a tasting there but perhaps another day.  So much wine, so little time.  Cheers!

Seattle to New Zealand-our 24 hour odyssey

The view from our ferry as we leave Auckland for Waiheke Island

You only turn 60 once so off to the South Pacific we went to celebrate Thom’s birthday.  And while New Zealand is a dreamy once-in-a-lifetime trip for sure, seeing Bruce Springsteen play the last concert on his Summer Tour in Auckland will make it even more memorable.  Friday night our trip began heading off halfway round the world to see THE BOSS.

Monday at 1 p.m. our luggage finally caught up with us.  Oh Air Canada!  You are friendly, polite folk but damn it don’t make me start my vacation without a toothbrush.  I joked with the Air Canada dude at the airport when we checked in that it would be a miracle if our bags actually stayed with us through 3 flights from the US to Canada to Sydney to Auckland.  And they didn’t.  Thom says it’s my fault.  I jinxed it.  Oops.  No more joking about luggage.  More prayers and good karma next time.  I’ve already decided to carry-on only to India and Germany next month when I travel for business.  It’s not cool to go to meetings and be a rumpled smelly mess.

Overall the flights didn’t suck too badly and we got to catch up on our movie watching.  I finally got to see Bridget Jones’ Baby which had me laughing out loud on the plane. I noticed the gal next to me also watched it and was laughing too so I didn’t feel so bad.  I also finally had time to check out Jane The Virgin and it was quite funny as well.  Thom took a different path and watched all the dark, violent shows I would never watch with him.  The airplane food was not good as expected but when you are captive for 18+ hours, you get hungry so even the mystery meat sandwich goes down with some free hooch, though I did take the barf bag with me as I exited the plane because you just never know when what goes down comes back up.

Auckland's landmark reminds me of our Space Needle
Auckland’s landmark reminds me of our Space Needle

After spending quality time with baggage customer service to track down our missing bags that decided they liked Australia and didn’t want to make the next flight to NZ, we hopped onto the bus to Auckland to get our ferry to Waiheke Island.  As we neared our destination and were the only passengers left on the bus, our driver asked us, “Did you vote for Trump?”  Spontaneously without hesitation I yelled, “OH. HELL.NO.”  He laughed and asked us how on earth did Americans elect this “nut”.  Thom tried to explain to him about the uninformed, racist, disengaged voters who supported Trump but basically we apologized for the embarrassment of our country to the world.  Well, that didn’t take long!  We’re on vacation running away from the political chaos  at home and we are asked to justify it.  Temporary insanity and suspension of all things right and good by millions of people but not the majority of citizens?  Yep, pretty much.

Thom celebrating his birthday relaxing in a beanbag on the beach
Thom celebrating his birthday relaxing in a beanbag on the beach

The luggage finally arrived at our arbnb beach cottage after multiple calls to the airline.  We refreshed and made ourselves  presentable to walk, yes walk, to the winery next door.  Conveniently, we are staying on Waiheke Island or the “Isle of Wine” as it is now called because, on this tiny rock outcropping an hour by boat from Auckland with 8,000 residents, there are 20 wineries.  So much wine, so little time.  Cheers!

Adventures in Boise!

From discovering an innovative wine bar to shopping downtown boutiques to walking the Greenbelt and more, our weekend in Boise could not have been better.  I love my Seattle but, for a small town, Boise has it all even for urban-loving adventurers like Thom and I.  Where to begin?  With wine, of course!

Bodovino in downtown has an innovative concept for a wine tasting experience that I had never seen before and, you know, I DO get around.  You load up cash onto a chip card and then insert loaded card into a bank of wine bottles hooked up to spouts so you can pay for a taste ($1-3), a half glass ($4-6) or a full glass ($6+) of over 140+ varieties of wine.  Damn, what a great idea!  Hannah and I enjoyed a lazy Friday afternoon sampling the wares.  They even have tasty food if you’re hungry.  We shared a “Frenchy” flat bread with apples, brie, bacon and honey with a salad.  They are opening a branch at the Meridian Mall but they REALLY need to come to Seattle! 

After finding the best wine bar in Boise, we decided the next morning to check out The District, a coffeehouse with not only strong caffeine but cozy atmosphere and friendly baristas.  Score!  Of course, first we checked out the farmer’s market that happens every Saturday downtown.  From lemon squares the size of my head to veggies/flowers to crafts, the downtown streets are blocked off for hordes of shoppers.  I found a $5 Scrabble tile ring that I just love.  We also discovered a hat and accessory shop, Crazy Neighbor, on Grove St., where Thom got the perfect porkpie-style hat he has been wanting to get for so long.  They also had great necklaces, scarves and bowties.  My kind of store!  I love exploring new areas of town-this one is in the Linen District.

But after wine, coffee and shopping, it was time to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and great outdoors so on Sunday we walked from downtown to the Anne Frank memorial by the Library! and onto the Greenbelt by the Boise River.  Our Fitbits needed to hit 10,000 steps before we stopped so off we went.  Not only did we enjoy the water views but the trail took us right by the outside of the Boise Zoo where we were able to catch two giraffes out and about.  What a great way to end our fun adventures in Boise!Boise zoo


Fried Dough & Vino=Happy Saturday

Malasada French Toast..dripping with bacon infused salted toffee syrup.  Holy. Moly.  Brunch at Super Six in Columbia City was just the ticket for a rainy Seattle day sugar high.  Thom opted for the Hawaiian Loco Moco–a big ol’ bowl filled with rice, brown gravy, beef patty and topped with two fried eggs.  Or, as it should be called, the Widow Maker.  Today was an anomaly in our usually healthy diet and boy was it tasty!  The owner was giving out hot Malasada donuts on our way out.  We didn’t want to be rude so we accepted them with a smile.  Now that’s world class customer service-free donuts!

After seeking out the Green Eileen store that sells returns/seconds of the really well-made Eileen Fisher line at a huge discount (score!), we meandered down Rainier Avenue and checked out this cool neighborhood just south of Seattle.  This is where the hipsters live in more affordable digs.  On the main drag is the Columbia City Theater that we’ve been to and enjoyed the intimate concert atmosphere.  We’re so excited to see our new fav, Foy Vance, there in September.  This Irish lad will, I predict, explode as a superstar with his new album and tour.  Ed Sheeran just signed him as his first artist on his new label so he will have good direction.  Who doesn’t love that adorable ginger Ed?

But, back to our wonderful day exploring south Seattle in the Sexy Beast, top up unfortunately due to rain/cold.  Still, we enjoyed the ride very much in our cozy BMW cockpit.  After the yummy brunch, we slid on over to the edge of Boeing Field where Charles Smith of Walla Walla winery fame has his new tasting room.  After sugar-laden carbs, bring on the vino!   Jet City was packed with wine affectionados tasting and communing.  I chose the $10 tasting flight of 8 wines that are more modestly priced ($70 and under per bottle) vs. the $20 tasting flight of more expensive wines.  I have a hard time recognizing the value of a $70+ bottle of wine over a $20 bottle-all wine is good to me (even two buck chuck from Trader Joes) so my palate must not be too discerning.

Now, I’ve been happily drinking their Boom Boom syrah for years so it felt good to branch out and sample some other Charles Smith originals.  Thom, my designated driver, made fun of the interesting ad copy extolling the virtues of each wine on the tasting sheet including somewhat dubious details of the soil that created these wines including the usual fruits but also:  pipe tobacco, fresh bread, lemon curd, crushed granite, and dried hanging meat    Yeah.  Right. Who cares though because by the end of the 8 tastes, I was ready to buy a few bottles for home consumption and head on home to take a nap.  Ahhh….Saturdays are wonderful!