It’s likely that when you think of Woodinville, one word comes to mind: wine.
When Chateau Ste. Michelle opened in 1976, it became the town’s first wine outpost and a popular draw for visitors who increasingly visited to marvel at its French-style buildings and meander along its exquisitely landscaped lawns and tree-lined walking paths. It also drew other aspiring winemakers.
By 2005, Woodinville (a city of nary 6 square miles) was home to 28 wineries, according to Woodinville Wine Country; today, the city is home to more than 115 wineries (as well as nearly a dozen craft breweries, cideries, and distilleries).
“In a town this size, that’s absolutely crazy,” said Mayor James Evans, who grew up in Woodinville and witnessed the city’s booming wine economy. “Its effect can’t be overemphasized. Come out here on a Saturday, (and you’ll see) the long line of limos and Ubers and everything else for people in the region doing their tastings.”
Data support anecdotal stories about traffic-jammed roads and tasting rooms filled to capacity. A wine study commissioned by King County last year found that approximately 795,000 people annually visit Woodinville — a town that grows no grapes — for “wine tourism.” In 2016, alcohol manufacturing and sales generated $62.7 million for an incorporated area with 12,000 residents, a city study found, and 94 percent of surveyed business owners said tourism was important to their operation.
Business is so good that even negatives become positives.
When Redhook Ale Brewery moved to Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood last year, it left behind a vacant building that quickly drew the interest of Teatro ZinZanni, DeLille Cellars, and Sparkman Cellars.
“It’s going to be amazing in that building,” said Dave Witt, the executive director of the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce. Teatro ZinZanni will stage its first dinner theater performances in the space in November; winemakers DeLille Cellars and Sparkman Cellars are opening later. “There will be two production wineries with large tasting rooms (of) 30,000 square feet each. Those are pretty significant commitments … They’re here for lots of reasons, including the high profile of Woodinville for tourism and wine-related tourism,”
The wine industry didn’t suddenly boom without reason. Grape growers east of the Cascade Mountains realized that the remote locales of their operations — and the low density of other tasting facilities — limited their customer bases, Witt said. As a result, they turned to King County and Woodinville, which is barely 20 miles from Seattle and 10 from Bellevue.
Woodinville’s bucolic setting makes the city doubly attractive to businesses, according to Evans.
“People want to taste and spend time in the valley,” he added. “We try to preserve the atmosphere for them. It can’t be overemphasized that the wine industry grew organically, but not organically by accident.”
That semi-rural atmosphere has spawned several other industries that have nothing to do with wine. Cider presses have operated for more than a century. Farmers grow everything from sod to specialty plants. A farm business incubator focused on teaching sustainable growing practices now operates in Woodinville.
It was that land that gave the town its first economic attention, Evans said. Logging first took over a century ago, as logs could be floated downstream to Seattle and elsewhere. Though that industry eventually faded away, other early stalwarts, like Molbak’s Garden + Home, remain popular today.
Molbak’s follows a common theme for many businesses in Woodinville: lots of space for light manufacturing and agricultural uses. The northern reaches of town include warehouses and distribution centers for a variety of products that range from specialty salts to exercise equipment, Evans said.
“These are not as high-profile,” conceded Witt, the Chamber leader. “But it is a significant part of the economy. We are known for wine, and that’s wonderful. However, there are all kinds of other things going on here that keep the place going.”
Between the spatial succession of warehouses and robust rows of tasting rooms sits downtown, a once-understated area now offering enough everyday services to allow residents to “never leave Woodinville,” according to Evans. But downtown likely will attract more outsiders soon.
Ground will soon be broken on the Civic Campus project, which will turn the old downtown schoolhouse into a retail and upscale-dining destination. According to city officials, the Civic Campus will serve Woodinville residents, visiting tourists, and the expected influx of new residents who will fill the apartment buildings that increasingly populate downtown.
“I don’t think we’re a tourism, boom-and-bust on the weekends (place),” Evans said. “All the Woodinville residents come out after work; happy hours happen (at wineries). It’s a really living, vibrant space because of our density and because of our proximity to the rest of the 425.”