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Bucket List Adventure: Wine and Willows in Washington’s Woodinville Wine Country

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The best (re)use of a strip center surely has to be in Woodinville, Wash., where deserted malls have been repopulated with wineries – dozens and dozens of them. The proliferation of wineries has turned this once-sleepy community located 30 minutes east of Seattle into a veritable tasting room, with 107 of them in a city measuring 5.62 square miles.

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Where Washington pours

To put that number in perspective, there are some 800 wineries in the entire state of Washington. Woodinville, a town founded in the 1880s on a logging homestead along the banks of what is now the Sammamish River, is considered by some to be the doorway to Washington wine. And while the vineyards remain east of the Cascade Mountains, the wineries and tasting rooms flourish in Woodinville, beckoning hundreds of thousands each year to taste the grape.

Woodinville’s four wine districts are bookended by the Warehouse Winery District, home to 48 wineries – many of them production facilities you can tour – and, a mere 2.8 miles away, the Hollywood Winery District where there are 35 tasting rooms as well as Washington’s founding winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle. In between are the West Valley Winery District and the Downtown Winery District.

Each winery has its own distinct vibe, from Patterson Cellars with its urban warehouse feel and jazzy Pondera with piano and art gallery to edgy Mark Ryan Winery, home of Washington’s “Red Wine of the Year 2014” – Lonely Heart – and JM Cellars, which looks more like an arboretum with its treescape, ferns and mass plantings, to William Church Winery, an elegant hole-in-the-wall where you can have edibles from the Purple Cafe next door delivered to your table to enjoy along with your wine flight.

Wine lovers can sip and sample wines from Washington’s 13 wine-producing areas without ever leaving Woodinville. No need to drive across the mountains seeking your favorite varietal; in fact, there’s no need to drive at all.

Guests staying at Willows Lodge can book a guided Willows WineVenture. Every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the lodge’s luxury van wends its way into Woodinville Wine Country while the history of the area is narrated, stopping for personalized tastings at three wineries. At tour’s conclusion, guests may opt to be dropped off near the Hollywood Wine District, armed with complimentary tasting vouchers to continue their adventure.

An oasis surrounded by wine

Located on five lush acres adjacent to the Sammamish River Trail in the heart of Woodinville Wine Country, Willows Lodge is rustic elegance that pays tribute to the heritage of the Pacific Northwest through its design elements. These include the landscaped shell of a 30-foot-tall old growth cedar holding court near the lodge’s front doors and repurposed Douglas fir timbers for floors and staircase. Within the lodge and amidst its gardens is the artwork of Haida Native Americans, the first inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest: bronze and glass sculptures and oil paintings.

Onsite dining includes the Barking Frog, cozy and rustic and known for its American regional cuisine zinged with Pacific Northwest influences; Washington state’s only five-star restaurant, The Herbfarm; and Fireside, a cozy-casual eatery whose doors open into the garden.

The lodge has a spa, library, outdoor garden gazebo and relaxation pool. Bicycles are available for exploring area trails, including one running along a historic railroad bed. The gardens are made for leisurely strolls where you may run into Basil and Borage, the resort’s resident potbellied pigs, who enjoy stepping out (on leashes) themselves.

Special lodge packages

You simply cannot be within spittin’ distance of 100-plus wineries and tasting rooms and not offer a wine package. The Willows Lodge Winecation (starting at $440 per couple, through Sept. 13) includes overnight accommodations; a glass of Sommelier-select wine for two in Fireside; bicycles for cruising the trails; a pedi-cab ride to a local winery; and Le Picnic for two prepared by the Barking Frog restaurant and packaged in souvenir backpack – délicieux!

Woodinville Lavender Farm is located about a minute from Willows Lodge so it makes sense the two would also partner for an only-here experience. The Woodinville Lavender Harvest package (starting at $390 and available in July and August) includes overnight accommodations, a lavender gift, lavender drawn bath, transportation to Woodinville Lavender and two hours at the farm, which includes harvesting lavender with one of the farm’s owners.

“People love the fragrance and know it’s relaxing and are sometimes surprised to learn there are so many other uses,” said Tom Frei, owner of Woodinville Lavender.

Bundle, haul and hang lavender while learning about the care and maintenance of this fragrant, versatile herb. You will see an essential oil distillation demonstration, using the farm’s authentic, hand-formed Alembic still, from the loading of buds to the production of the essential oil from the still.

Woodinville Lavender Farm is located about a minute from Willows Lodge so it makes sense the two would also partner for an only-here experience. The Spa Pamper package (starting at $460) puts you in one of the lodge’s luxurious rooms and includes a relaxing amenity featuring local lavender products and natural spring water. There is also a $200 credit toward The Spa at Willows Lodge.

IF YOU GO

Willows Lodge, www.WillowsLodge.com. Opened in 2000, it has 84 Northwest-style guest rooms and suites, amenity-laden and featuring stone fireplaces, soaking tubs designed for two and balconies overlooking the gardens.

The Herbfarm, www.TheHerbfarm.com: Open for themed multi-course dinners Thursday through Sunday (one seating), with each day’s menu finalized only hours before the meal “to best track the symphony of life on land and sea.” Reservations: 425-485-5300.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, www.Ste-Michelle.com: Summer Concert at the Chateau Amphitheatre: Gipsy King’s 25th Anniversary Tour, Aug. 22; Peter Frampton, Aug. 24; Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Sept. 12. Tickets are available in the Chateau Wine Shop daily between the hours of 10 a.m.-5 p.m. or call 800-745-3000.

Adventure guide to don’t-miss moments

1) Becoming a fly on sticky paper – at least that’s the way the esthetician at the Spa at Willows Lodge describes the lodge’s signature 60-minute Honey & Lavender Body Treatment that involves getting wrapped briefly in a cellophane-like cocoon. This delicious mélange of potions – using local honey, salt and lavender – exfoliates, heals and nourishes the skin. You’ll float back to your room, your skin feeling renewed, your mind at peace.

2) Rolling to nearby wineries by pedi-cab, the Willows’ covered two-person rickshaw drawn by a bicyclist who will drop you off at a wineries within a mile of the lodge, including Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Hollywood Winery District.

3) Reveling in a nine-course dinner at The Herbfarm, an internationally renowned restaurant (and one of America’s 52 AAA 5-Diamond Award recipients) tucked into an enchanting cottage amidst the gardens of the Willows. Sup on seasonal, locally sourced dishes reflecting the gastronomic bounty of the Pacific Northwest and paired with six wines of the region.

4) Touring Chateau Ste. Michelle, gorgeous and massive and spread over 100 acres. This is where all the company’s white wines are bottled (the reds are bottled in Washington’s Columbia Valley region). Daily tours and tastings, plus bustling gift shops, chef dinners, wine and food classes and an outdoor summer concert series keep things hopping here.

5) Breathing in the scent of lavender while standing in a field of the fragrant purple herb at the Woodinville Lavender Farm, www.WoodinvilleLavender.com. This is where Willows Lodge gets lavender for its spa treatments and where visitors shop for lavender oils, bath salts, soap, sachets, lotion, herbs and seasonings for cooking – even ice cream bars (the cardamom and lavender one will make you daydream about enjoying this treat again). Travelers take note: You can buy a TSA-accepted Lavender Travel Pack that includes a 2-oz. lotion, 2-oz. liquid soap and either a sachet, eye pillow or floral water ($13-$24).

Read about a very handy item to pack along on this adventure here.

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