The blooming urban wine scene of Bothell, Washington

Henry Yuen (Original Chinese posting: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans)

Want to know how flourishing the wine industry in the Pacific Northwest has been?

Compared to British Columbia who has more than 200 wineries in BC and is still growing, with new vineyards planting  in previously unknown regions, the same is happening across the border in the State of Washington. Currently, there are over 700 wineries in Washington State and the momentum don’t seem to be slowing down. Same situation is happening in Oregon too. So are the explosion of wineries and wine being a popular beverage a good thing? Would it benefit wine operators more or are the consumers the ultimate beneficiary? Is there a down side to all the positives?

A trip to the City of Bothell, Washington confirmed a few things.

A short drive from Bothell is the district of Woodinville where over 80 wineries sprouted conveniently for the wine enthusiasts to explore, from the established such as the award winning Chateau St. Michelle Winery to the small scale operations run by individual proprietors.  What is interesting is there are over 40 wineries set up tasting rooms in a cluster within the same vicinity in similar industrial-shop-style setting. Here, you don’t come for the scenery or the view; there is no vineyard or relaxing patio to sip the wine or stretch your legs.  In this warehouse zone, the format is park your car, walk around the industrial complex, enter a tasting room, sip and buy. You will find different tasting rooms representing different wineries.  Sorry, not much of the operations to be seen and no winery tour to speak of. The business model is strictly wine tasting and buying wines on the premises. Customers pay an average of $5 tasting fee for trying out about 5 different wines at one ounce each pour. The fee is waived if a wine is purchased. So from a pure business sense, the wine tasting fee is the break-even proposition even if no wine is purchased. 

It’s somewhat a good way to try different wines from different wineries within short walking distance. You can no doubt discover a lot in a short period of time and have more time to explore other venues, a full day of convenient wine tastings and urban wineries excursion if desired for sure. 

Since it was impossible to cover all 40 wineries so I just walked around a bit and visited a few of the tasting rooms. My observation is that while the concept is quite sound as it would draw a lot of people, casual visitors or wine-lovers alike, to come and sip wines. It has also become a tourist attraction so to speak. Yet, it’s not an area truly conducive of a winery setting to enhance the wine tasting atmosphere. Calling these tasting-rooms "wineries" may be misleading, a discount to the pleasure of visiting real wineries for authentic wine-drinking and winery-touring experience. 

I was given this impression that while some wines were good, there were more that were not as exciting or up to the expected standard. You would think with over 40 wineries packed in the same zone, the competition would push up the quality and lower the prices!  However, with that many wineries, there are unavoidably very young operators/winemakers; amateurs and even pretenders. The down side is that it’s difficult for visitors/consumers to know which ones to choose and the consequence of one bad sip may be costly.

I could see similar concept taken hold in the lower mainland. However, the operators must ensure the overall wine quality and price points to be highly competitive for customers to enhance this urban winery experience so they become repeat customers to sustain this business model.